You can say you have Psychological Safety in your organization, your division or your team, but saying it doesn’t make it so.
You can say you have a culture of candor and curiosity and are open to feedback and dissenting ideas and opinions, but saying it doesn’t make it so.
You can say you have a Learning Organization, but saying it doesn’t make it so.
You can say you value diversity of opinions and perspectives, but saying it does not make it so.
You can say your people are your greatest asset, but saying it does not make it so.
Using any of those words in your talks, in your ‘message from the Boss’, in your company documentation or on your website, does not mean it is actually part of the culture. Talk is cheap. It is easy to throw around these key words and phrases, but doing so does not make it so.
What people are paying attention to are your actions. If you get angry when people ask you the hard questions, or speak up and challenge the status quo or the plan you are putting forward, the message is very clear and that message is, “Regardless of what I say, do not ask me tough questions, or challenge my ideas.”
If you put on the fake smile in the meeting, but your body language is clearly stating that you are pissed off, and then you move that person from their current assignment to a less desirable job for “developmental purposes”, or you take action behind the scenes to subvert them and their authority, the message is very clear that it is not safe to speak up.
There may be one or two courageous people who are willing to take the heat, speak up, ask the hard questions and offer suggestions to a plan that may be flawed. The remainder of the people however, will likely become bobble heads to avoid the wrath of the boss.
If you say your people are your greatest asset yet you fail to invest in them, train them, trust them, look after their wellbeing, tell their stories, engage them, allow them to make decisions and take action to solve problems and continually give them credit for the work they do, then the message is very clear. The message is that your people are simply a resource you can use to accomplish what you want. Resources that break down or burn out are put aside, discarded or replaced.
It is easy to be a student of leadership. It is hard to be a practitioner of leadership. It is easy to say all the right things. It is hard to always do what is right. It is easy to say you want input and feedback. It can be hard to hear some of that feedback. It is easy to say you value contrarian thinking and diversity of opinions and ideas. It is hard to hear feedback that challenges your thoughts, beliefs, ideas and plans. It is easy to only answer questions people have submitted in advance so you have time to develop well-rehearsed answers. It is far harder to simply show up and answer the hard questions people ask in real time.
Creating a true culture of psychological safety, inclusion and belonging takes a lot of work and it is a never-ending process. You never “arrive” and get to stop doing the work. It also requires courage and vulnerability on the part of the leader. If you are not willing to do the hard work it takes to be a leader, and to create an environment where you regularly get honest feedback then don’t accept the leadership position or be honest with people and stop turning important concepts into buzz words that you simply throw around.
People do not expect you to be perfect as a leader. They do expect you to practice what you preach. Remember, “Practicing your values, not just preaching your values.” was the third element of integrity from Brene Brown.
Being a Leader is hard work. It is easier to just be a Boss.
Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.
Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.