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You are always on stage when you are a leader. Every action, verbal or non-verbal is being clocked by your team. The Google Aristotle project which studied team effectiveness identified a number of the areas as a basis for team success. Of these, psychological safety was found to be integral to performance. This means that team members must be comfortable taking risks and speaking their minds. They need to be sure that their team members will support and not ridicule them.

So how does this apply to the leader? In every meeting you attend, those around the screen/table will be assessing who you look at, who you listen to, how much time those who are not high performers are given, and how less-than-optimum ideas are handled. Are these ideas given the same weight as others or swept under the table? These behaviours will determine the psychological safety we feel to be able to speak up and know that our words (and consequently, our identity) will be acknowledged.

We have all sat in meetings where we have not felt safe, or that we know our words will fall on deaf ears. These are the meetings when we are asked if we have anything to say, silence falls like tumbleweed in a dusty desert.

So how do we go about becoming a great role model? Unless we have had the privilege of being led by great leaders in the past, we will have to learn the skills of integrity. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Self-reflection – who are you and what do you stand for? Are your values evident?
  • Listen – listen to the words and the emotions behind them. What is this person telling you?
  • Get into the trenches – One director of a large organisation found out that one of the public-facing buildings was going to be closed down due to fire regulations on Friday at 5 pm. He called on all the managers he could muster, and he and they spent the whole weekend clearing the clutter which had filled the basement and posed a fire risk. He earned the respect of his staff that weekend.
  • Phones – put your phone out of reach when you have someone in front of you or are in a one-to-one meeting. If you do need to have a phone on, ask for permission and explain you are expecting a call IN ADVANCE
  • Keep your word – every time we cancel a 121 meeting, don’t respond to an important email or ignore the work experience trainee, you said you would mentor, we have lost credibility. Do not say anything you do not intend to fully commit to doing.
  • Demonstrate you care – Tim Waterstone of Waterstones Bookshops used to write five handwritten notes of thanks to employees in his stores, up and down the UK. Make a note of congratulations, commiserations, family illnesses in the team and make a point of asking (not emailing) the individual.  But no one else does it, I hear your wail. That may be true, but we are the leaders and we are always on stage!

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