By Salina Williams
Psychological safety is defined by Amy C. Edmondson from Harvard’s Business School as ”the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation.” She goes on to write in the Harvard Business Review for April 2021 that psychological safety “has been well established as a critical driver of high-quality decision making, healthy group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, greater innovation, and more effective execution in organizations.”
Global research performed by McKinsey during the pandemic found that “psychological safety is a precursor to adaptive, innovative performance – which is needed in todays’ rapidly changing environment-at the individual, team, and organizations levels.”
McKinsey suggests that leaders can best foster psychological safety when leading in a consultative leadership style versus an authoritative leadership style. Leaders who invite input from their team and integrate the team’s views on issues, particularly ones that affects them, supports psychological safety. Their research also finds that a supportive leadership style, described as one that “involves leaders demonstrating concern and support for team members not only as employees but also as individuals” enhances a positive team climate, whereas the command-and-control leadership style was found to negatively affect the team climate.
Additional leadership behaviors that enhance psychological safety include having confidence as a leader, but not to the degree of needing to always have perfect answers. Leaders who can demonstrate that it is safe not to have all the answers and/or develop on the job will create room for others to learn on the job and be more open to exploring options within a team setting.
One way organizations can support the development of psychological safety in their leaders is to provide executive coaching and team development to leaders across the organization. Executive coaching enhances self-awareness and can bring about lasting change in mind set necessary to the development of new leadership behaviors which demonstrate psychological safety.
McKinsey’s research concludes that “a positive team climate is the most important driver of psychological safety.” By investing in developing the right leadership mindsets and behaviours organizations can thereby move towards managing more effectively through uncertain times.