The Importance of a Safe Leadership Team

February 22, 2013

Safety, really? Why safety?

This may sound counter-intuitive to the typically touted strong, courageous, “go get ‘em”, Rambo-esque paradigm that we so often hold up as the perfect leadership model. But I would argue that one of a leader’s greatest needs is safety.

What safety doesn’t mean is a low-risk, overly comfortable, and tenured job security that keeps the wrong people on the team because you don’t like to deal with conflict. Rather, safety does mean a strong foundation, a refuge from the demands of the job, and a place of strength for the team to work from.

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How safety is developed:

  • Safety is built through honest communication. If you deal head-on with difficult issues and conflict, it keeps you from getting bitter, frustrated, and simply gossiping about people. Honest communication strengthens relationships within your team when you go to battle with each other. Patrick Lencioni gives an insightful look into dysfunctional leadership teams in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
  • Safety is built through authority and submission. In my book, Authority, I examine why leaders should be both in and under authority, creating a culture of trust, accountability, and clear jurisdictions. Individuals within a leadership team are humble and submit to each others’ wisdom, they will be able to endure conflict and difficult seasons together.
  • Safety is built by creating clarity. Leadership teams who articulate the vision and mission, as well as what organizational health looks like to them, will save themselves a lot of stress. On the other hand, a lack of clarity creates chaos and frustration—the enemies of safety.
  • Safety is built through hard work and sacrifice. When you and your whole team are all-in, you will all be mutually encouraged by the visible commitment. Your team will be stronger as you see firsthand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the work. A team full of people looking out for one another is a safe team—and a fun team, for that matter.

What safety provides:

  • Safety eliminates the politics. Trying to be someone that you aren’t, or working around certain people in the organization, or tip-toeing around personalities in the organization—these disappear within a secure leadership environment.
  • Safety eliminates the fear. The fear you might lose your job if you make a mistake. Safety doesn’t breed laziness or a fear of failure—it motivates people by creating a love of and excitement for the mission.
  • Safety allows for innovation and risk-taking. If your environment is a safe place it actually allows you to take greater risks.
  • Safety creates trust. We naturally seek to protect ourselves from harm and one of the ways to do that is not trust anyone too much. A safe team turns that on it’s head and instead of self-protecting they collectively build trust and therefore protect each-other.

Safety might not be the first word that comes to mind as your top need, but think about it. Think deeply about what you have, what you want and what you need.

Are you a safe leader? Is your team a safe team? What steps can you take to make it safe?