As a leader, it is important to create a workplace environment of safety and security for staff, especially in times of turbulence – something which we have felt all too keenly in the last few years.
As a leader, it is important to create a workplace environment of safety and security for staff, especially in times of turbulence – something which we have felt all too keenly in the last few years. In my definition, leadership is about people. Leaders achieve more than they could alone by engaging others and therefore must understand, connect with, and inspire their people. Effective leadership makes the workforce feel safe which in turn inspires them to do more: to create, to innovate, to work a little harder and ultimately perform at their best.
What are the key leadership qualities to nurture a feeling of safety in staff? First and foremost, it is necessary to have self-knowledge and self-control before you can effectively lead others. Effective leaders know themselves well and work hard to understand and control their emotions, so that their effect on people and events is positive. The opposite of this is the emotionally reactive leader that people approach with caution, whose uncontrolled emotional highs and lows set the tone for the organisation. This sort of leader generates fear and uncertainty. To be an effective leader and to create an environment in which there is trust and people feel safe, being able to understand and control our own emotions and feelings is essential.
Knowing yourself well as a leader equips you with the tools to know your team better. To lead others effectively, emotional connection is important, so understanding and working to understand their viewpoints and feelings is an important part of winning their emotional engagement to make them feel safe and valued in the team. Some leaders I have worked with actually prefer not to know what others are thinking because ‘if we know, then we have to do something about it’. To me, that seems a bit like the pilot of an airliner not wanting to find out why the engine is making a funny noise. Often the outliers who are not engaged, or whose emotions don’t align with what the leader expects or hopes to see in the team, feel the way they feel because they have spotted something or have a better idea. Understanding what others are thinking and exploring it can be a really effective way of developing a better plan or stopping yourself from leading the team in a way that makes them feel unsafe.
This effort to understand your team naturally develops safe and trusting relationships, and effective leaders work hard to build and nurture such great connections with their people. If you are a shy or introverted person this can feel uncomfortable, but the benefit is worth the cost. You will make people feel connected, engaged, valued and safe. There are things you can do right away to start building great connections. The main thing is to create time to get to know people, listen to their ideas and opinions, and be open to their perspectives. Relationships, trust and mutual understanding are essential elements of a positive working culture, and a positive culture is essential in a high-performing team.
Taking the time to understand your team and build great relationships with them demonstrates a level of care which is crucial for creating safety for staff. An effective leader’s focus is outwards, on others and on the objective - they care for the people in their team. When I was a cadet at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, we were taught to check our soldiers’ feet for blisters and injury after long marches. There is very little glamour in checking smelly feet. But by caring for the team, the leader makes sure they are fit and able to focus on the objective. The team notice and people feel safer working for leaders that care. In your environment, checking your team’s feet might be unwelcome attention. But there will be other ways that you can show you care for your team. You can make sure they have the best possible working conditions. And that they get a decent amount of time away from the office – encouraging people to go home on time, and to take their annual leave. If you care for your people, they will be better able to focus on whatever purpose your team is working towards.
In my experience, if a leader can apply these principles; to know themselves, to create an emotional connection with their team, to nurture trusting relationships and demonstrate their focus on care, then they will be setting an example that inspires others and at the same time makes others feel safe.