Does Your Leadership Style Create a Sense of Safety?

Years ago, with my family’s encouragement, I decided to try to overcome my fear of the ocean and become a certified diver, along with our son. We read the books, watched the movies, and did all the underwater exercises as if our lives depended on it–which, in fact, they did. In spite of my fears, my weak swimming aptitude, and my failure to fully master the compass, I actually passed the test. But now, as much as I trust my husband and son, when we go diving, the leader I choose to follow is neither of them. Why? It all has to do with safety.

When we dive, my water-loving husband and son are like two fish who have been set free! Cameras in hand, they dart off to explore every nook and cranny they find along the way, regardless of where the group may be headed. I, on the other hand, am extremely worried about how I will get back to the boat or shore intact. Therefore, the leader I choose to cling to (yes, often literally!) is the dive master, whose sole responsibility is my safety. Depending on him frees me to enjoy all that the underwater world has to offer, and allows me to make it back in one piece (well, maybe minus my breakfast!).

In the workplace, does your leadership style create a sense of safety among your employees? Simon Sinek, the author of Leaders Eat Last, talks about a mixup in values that often occurs: “In the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain.” This backwards, “me first” thinking creates unsafe conditions where employees are forced to expend their energy and time protecting themselves from each other and maybe even from their leader.

The business world is full of dangers, says Sinek–new technology, competition, and stealing customers, to name a few. True innovation requires risk, experimentation, and failure, and if employees feel threatened, they will stop innovating and giving forth discretionary effort. A good leader knows that he or she must make sacrifices to put others first, creating a sense of safety and belonging. Just as a parent provides the resources, discipline, and caring that a child needs to achieve more, so a good leader provides what his or her employees need to innovate and succeed.

To create a circle of safety, every layer of bureaucracy must protect the layer beneath it, all the way down to the most junior person, asserts Sinek. Only then can employees naturally combine their talents and strengths and work tirelessly to face outside dangers and seize opportunities. In this atmosphere of trust, they will willingly sacrifice in return because of the feeling that their leader would’ve done it for them.

So how about you? Does your leadership style create a sense of safety? Do your employees know that if they try and fail, you’ve got their back and a plan to help them get back on track? Have you made sure they have all the tools and resources they need to achieve more? Do they believe you will defend them if a misunderstanding occurs? Can they confidently say that you’ll do everything in your power to protect them, even if it means enduring an inconvenience or sacrifice on your part? If so, you can expect great things as you unleash your employees’ full potential and they dive headfirst into innovation!

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