Leadership Creates Safety

Trust and coop­er­a­tion emerge in a cli­mate of psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty. Where, con­verse­ly, com­pe­ti­tion and fear have been the pre­dom­i­nant themes, strong uni­ty can­not be expect­ed in a crisis.

Orga­ni­za­tions are full of con­tra­dic­tions. A very fun­da­men­tal one is that val­ue cre­ation depends on coop­er­a­tion, where­as cul­ture is usu­al­ly ori­ent­ed towards com­pe­ti­tion. The desired pro­duc­tive team­work thus degen­er­ates into the envi­ous oppo­si­tion of a zero-sum game in which the gain of one is the loss of the other.

Dri­ve out fear, so that every­one may work effec­tive­ly for the company.

W. Edwards Deming

The nev­er-end­ing strug­gle for bud­get, head­counts (sic!), posi­tion, influ­ence, pow­er and pres­tige caus­es plen­ty of frus­trat­ing fric­tion even in good times. In times of cri­sis, how­ev­er, the full tox­ic effects of such a cul­ture, based on com­pe­ti­tion and ulti­mate­ly fear, unfold. The threat posed to the orga­ni­za­tion by exter­nal cir­cum­stances (com­peti­tors, new busi­ness mod­els, a pan­dem­ic, etc.) requires inner uni­ty in the fight against it. But if you don’t trust the oth­er depart­ment even in good times, you can’t rely on trust­ful and uncon­di­tion­al coop­er­a­tion in case of a crisis.

Source: re:Work

Effec­tive team­work and val­ue cre­at­ing coop­er­a­tion needs safe­ty. Only when the mem­bers of a group trust each oth­er and feel secure enough to speak their minds open­ly and take risks, will the whole become more than the sum of its parts. This psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty is the most impor­tant fac­tor influ­enc­ing the effec­tive­ness of teams, as Google found out in Project Aris­to­tle. This main prin­ci­ple of psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty is fol­lowed at some dis­tance by depend­abil­i­ty (can we be sure that every­one does qual­i­ty work on time?), struc­ture and clar­i­ty (are team mem­bers’ goals, roles and plans clear?), mean­ing (are we work­ing on some­thing that is impor­tant to every­one in the team?) and final­ly the impact (do we believe that the work makes a difference?).

Lead­er­ship is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many peo­ple at the senior­most lev­els of orga­ni­za­tions who are absolute­ly not lead­ers. They are author­i­ties, and we do what they say because they have author­i­ty over us, but we would not fol­low them. And I know many peo­ple who are at the bot­toms of orga­ni­za­tions who have no author­i­ty and they are absolute­ly lead­ers, and this is because they have cho­sen to look after the per­son to the left of them, and they have cho­sen to look after the per­son to the right of them. This is what a leader is.

Simon Sinek

The Roman emper­or Caligu­la was there­fore wrong with his mot­to oderint, dum met­u­ant (in Eng­lish: Let them hate me as long as they fear me). For­tu­nate­ly, there are not so many of this rad­i­cal type in pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics today. Nev­er­the­less, fear, com­pe­ti­tion and mis­trust are more or less deeply inter­wo­ven in the cul­ture of many hier­ar­chi­cal orga­ni­za­tions. Lead­er­ship must there­fore start right here, stop unhealthy com­pe­ti­tion and instead pro­vide psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty. This is exact­ly what this TED talk by Simon Sinek is all about.

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