More Love

Safety First

leadership Feb 05, 2021

During a recent eye exam, my optometrist sat me down for a glaucoma test.

She explained that she would use a machine called a tonometer to blow a “light” puff of air into my right eye, but that it was important for me to keep my eye open.


The back of my brain asked, “Hey, is there a draft in here?”

I dabbed at my eye as the tears welled up.

“Okay, now we’re going to do the left eye.”

Yeah, right.

Something similar can happen during our team-based work.

As leaders, we can undermine psychological safety—a team member’s assurance they won’t be negatively impacted if they share or speak up.

“Bob, that was the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. Do you have another one?”

“Um, no... Just that one.”

Unfortunately, it takes a lot less than that to drive team members down.

If we cut off a comment, check our phone during a meeting, or dominate the conversation, we may jeopardize the type of safety that is critical for team-based creativity and problem solving.

To create and protect safety:

> Emphasize learning as the target outcome

> Be willing to be imperfect and vulnerable

> Ask gobs of questions

> Ensure that all contributions by team members are constructive

This is one aspect of leadership where it pays to play it safe.


If you have a few extra minutes, here’s a great HBR article on psychological safety among high performing teams: