Exhausted? Help Your Team Focus Their Energy On What Truly Matters

Category: Blog

Do you ever wonder why honesty seems so rare at work? Despite our society’s value of truth, many of us skirt straight answers because we’re working so hard to manage the impression we’re making on others. It’s exhausting.

Poet and leadership consultant David Whyte said, “The antidote to exhaustion isn’t rest; it’s wholeheartedness.” As leaders, creating a psychologically safe space and encouraging team members to bring their whole selves to work is critical so you can help them mentally make room for innovation and problem-solving.

What is psychological safety? Author Amy Edmondson explains that “it’s the belief that this workplace is where I can bring my full self. I can ask questions, offer ideas, speak up, and feel expected to do so because of what I can offer. It’s the absence of interpersonal fear; you’re not tied up in knots about ‘Oh, you might not like me if I say that, or ask a question, or admit that error …’”

A leader and mentor once told me that “we affect the weather in the room.” At first pass, this insightful comment reminds us that a leader’s inner thoughts and outer actions can significantly influence a team’s mood and performance. But after deeper reflection, it’s really about showing our vulnerability and honesty.

Why? Because a leader who models these qualities actively cultivates psychological safety—a must-have for innovation and competitive advantage. Years ago, Astro Teller, the “Captain of Moonshots” at Google X, said that their level of innovation “requires bravery that borders on absurdity.”

Bravery is the takeaway here. We assume that people are rational creatures who will say what they’re thinking and offer ideas. But we’re social creatures who want people to think well of us. So we err on the side of silence when we’re unsure of our team culture. It’s up to our managers (and colleagues) to exhibit bravery and model voice instead.

So what sets the great teams apart from the good teams?

Edmondson explained in an interview with Orzan Varol that there are three qualities she’s observed in teams that push interpersonal fear aside in favor of failing fast and supportively:

1.           Leading from the middle. When Edmondson began studying teams, she noticed that the proximal leader has a tremendous impact on how employees perceive safety, share ideas, and broach problems. While many think the C-level executive is in the best position to cultivate safety, it’s often the middle managers who have more access and regular influence.

2.           Asking good questions. A manager might say, “What are you seeing? I wasn’t on call last night…” Framing the question this way elevates the receiver’s potential response because they’re the only source of information. It empowers the employee while gently obligating a response. This starts the habit of providing candid input.

3.           Admitting we’re all fallible. Another strategy that reduces interpersonal fear is to demonstrate vulnerability. Admitting that we’re all fallible human beings or fessing up to one’s own mistakes—even humorously—helps your team say to themselves, “Oh, that’s what good looks like around here,” says Edmondson.

If psychological safety sounds like a nicety rather than necessity, consider this: What innovations are you missing out on because your team doesn’t feel safe to ideate or brainstorm their wildest ideas? What mistakes or failures are waiting around the corner because someone is afraid to speak up about system flaws?

It could be said that your competitive advantage is only as strong as your climate of psychological safety. Businesswoman and philanthropist Sara Blakely said, “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensures that you do things differently from everyone else.”

This philosophy is a testament to exploring fresh ideas fearlessly and modeling behavior that’s made her teams successful. David Whyte might say that Blakely doesn’t sound like she needs any rest; she’s living wholeheartedly.

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