WAIT! Don’t quit reading just because you read “safe space”. It is critical that leadership creates an environment where everyone feels welcome to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas without fear. How many of you have sat in a meeting with an idea you wanted to share, but were too afraid to share it due to the fear of being ridiculed, judged, or given a negative response? The expectations of a meeting should be set by the leader, and the leader should set the expectation that all ideas are welcome, all opinions will be heard, and everyone has something to offer. The leader needs to set the tone for the environment and then lead by example. Don’t just give lip service, rather, set the expectations for yourself and live by them.
As a reminder, the foundation of leadership is about how one life influences another. During staff meetings, professional development, and team building, the focus should constantly be on how leadership is influencing others. If you find yourself asking questions in a group and getting little to no response in the group, ask yourself why. Don’t assume it’s the group's problem or issue. Ask yourself if you are promoting a safe place for people to speak freely without fear of repercussions, or if you give off vibes that do not welcome the sharing of ideas. Leadership should be the example people look to follow. If leadership does not have an open mind to accept or hear what others might have to say, then don’t expect people to problem solve and collaborate with leadership. Leadership’s goal should be to influence staff in a positive and encouraging way, and to encourage the sharing of ideas and thoughts without fear.
There are reasons meetings are quiet, and people have little or nothing to share. Speaking in front of peers and leadership can be intimidating; especially for those who do not like to be put on the spot. A good leader realizes that their employees bring amazing potential to the group, company, and/or organization. If people do not feel comfortable or encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas, that means potential is lost. Some of the greatest ideas might come from those you are leading. I believe people assume that leadership should be the one that has all of the answers, but the truth is, some of the greatest answers to the worst problems come from the people who are most affected by the problems. However, if leadership does not provide an environment or an opportunity for staff to share their problem solving ideas openly and safely, then leadership runs the risk of losing out on the answers they might need.
Some might ask how to encourage staff to share openly in groups and meetings. If there is already a history of little to no collaboration happening in groups, then the answer is to address the problem head on. Leadership needs to take responsibility, share their views and beliefs openly and transparently with staff, and give staff the example of vulnerability. Again, staff look to leadership as the example to follow. If leadership is rough, abrasive, and quick to shut down other’s ideas, then leadership needs to self assess their effectiveness as a leader. I believe Colin Powell stated it best when he said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Leadership must have an open mind and an attentive ear to allow others to share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Get rid of fear in the room by showing your staff your willingness and desire to hear what they have to say. Show them that you value their input and welcome their ideas. Fear stifles progress.
Encouraging and establishing a safe environment for collaboration and sharing of ideas can be the difference between a successful organization and an unsuccessful organization. Have an open mind, welcome the ideas and thoughts of others, and be the example you want others to follow.