Psychological safety is a hot topic in leadership circles right now, and I wonder if you are letting yourself off the hook?

Psychological safety, a concept codified by Dr Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.

Our current focus on developing psychologically safe workplaces is an important one. Establishing a work environment where people feel safe to raise worries, flag issues and take stretch risks should be a leadership KPI, because it’s good for business as well as good for humanity.

So why is psychological safety not enough?

My concern is that some people seem to be confusing psychological safety with being comfortable. Having a belief that I won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking out is NOT the same as the belief (or the actuality) of feeling warm and cosy!

Voicing a concern at an executive team meeting about a proposal that all your peers seem to endorse should be psychologically safe i.e. you should be confident that you won’t be punished or humiliated for challenging an almost unanimous decision. It may not (probably won’t) feel comfortable! Everyone else is keen and you are dampening enthusiasm and slowing down a decision, and possibly action.

When I facilitate leadership team Fearless Feedback sessions, they are psychologically safe, and can be awkward. Leaders feel uncomfortable and vulnerable as they share their insights on each other.

Psychological safety is the ticket to play. Leaders also need psychological bravery – a willingness to show vulnerability and be uncomfortable. This is inherent in the ‘interpersonal risk taking’ element of Amy Edmonson’s definition, and yet we can conveniently forget this.

Jumping off the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown unsupported is unsafe. Bungy jumping off the Kawarau Bridge is safe, and yet still requires bravery. For most people just knowing bungy jumping is safe is not enough – they also need to tap into their personal courage to make the leap.

Thinking about a leadership challenge you are currently facing, how could tapping into your personal courage help you build a culture of psychological safety?

Go Fearlessly –  Corrinne