Leaders Are Safe

In Simon Sinek’s second book, Leaders Eat Last (Portfolio 2014), he offers this important perspective:

“Leadership is about making people feel safe. When someone feels heard, they feel safe.”

Carrying this concept to its logical conclusion, it’s also true that when someone does not feel heard, then they do not feel safe.

As leaders, we all know this to be true, yet we often fail to live it in our day-to-day communication and interactions with team members and others. And while it’s bad enough to fail to listen to your team members and have them feel like they’re not heard, it’s even worse to claim to hear them when you actually are not open to hearing them or their ideas.

There are many ways that leaders fail to hear their team members and thereby miss the opportunity to allow their team members to feel safe. In fact, leaders often engage in actions and behaviors that directly make their team members feel unsafe. This week I want to explore a few leadership realities that demonstrate the difference between hearing (team members feel safe) and not hearing (team members feel unsafe).

The following list of contrasting behaviors highlights the ways that leaders miss the boat and create an unsafe working and team environment, often without intending to.

  • Leaders Ponder Rather than Pounce – When people offer a perspective or opinion that’s different from your own, do you listen and ponder (and seek to understand their perspective) OR do you pounce in (and on them) with your own perspective and tell them how they are wrong (and how you are right)?
  • Leaders Question Rather than Proclaim – While everyone’s opinion and perspective is worth hearing, when someone offers their perspective, do you ask questions in order to better understand OR do you immediately proclaim your own perspective and the rightness (or correctness) of it?
  • Leaders Find Common Ground (Rather than Identifying Uncommon Ground) – When someone offers a perspective that’s different from your own, do you most naturally seek out, identify and explore common ground OR do you see only the uncommon ground and seek to prove that your ground is more right than their ground?

While it’s important to be clear about what you believe (especially in terms of core values), your team members are craving a place where it’s safe to have different perspectives, to ask questions and to challenge the status quo.

Bottom line – your team members (and other people in your life) want to feel heard in order to feel safe. Be aware that your own convictions may lead to behaviors that don’t serve your leadership, your team or yourself, including pouncing, proclaiming and focusing on uncommon ground. It’s even more true today than ever that people are looking for leaders who hear them, who are safe and who create safe environments. If leaders are safe, then ask yourself – Are you safe?

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