In my previous two blogs, I explored the reasons why Refinery decided to design a leadership development program focused on psychological health and safety in the workplace; a two-module program that would focus specifically on psychological resilience (leading self) and psychological safety (leading others). Here, I will share our approach to how.
Psychological resilience is defined as “the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly.” Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors.”
The strengthening of psychological resilience requires self-exploration, deepening of awareness and consistent practice around how we think. It is about taking control of our personal experience by honing in on our power and ability to choose how we think, feel, respond, and adapt more productively to the systemic stressors of life today. Focused development in this area would involve creating opportunities for participants to uncover truths about how they see the world and make sense of it, what makes them tick and how they react; it would require the practice of challenging assumptions, cognitive distortions, self-regulation, and activation of our rational thinking brain system – the place from which we have that power of choice. With knowledge and practice, we can build up our psychological resilience and be more proactive with our mental well-being.
Those who have developed the capacity to productively lead themselves in stress are better positioned to create an environment of psychological safety that enables others to do the same. Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard, Amy Edmondson, defines Psychological Safety as “a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” Timothy R. Clarke, in his article What Psychological Safety is Not, added, “Psychological safety is not a shield from accountability. It’s not niceness, coddling, consensus decision making, unearned autonomy, political correctness, or rhetorical reassurance.” We agree with both. In fact, the greatest challenge with creating a culture of psychological safety at work, besides clarifying what that actually looks and feels like, is the culture part. Culture, to put it simply, is “the way things are” – a collection of behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs – reinforced over time. Leaders do have the ability to shape culture by modelling and rewarding desired behaviours that over time will contribute to a healthier team environment. Sadly, a company-wide statement announcing that the workplace is now “psychologically safe” will not do the trick – an open-door policy does not automatically result in open dialogue. Focused development around leading psychologically safe teams requires an understanding of the principles of trust. Trust is open to interpretation and perception. It needs to be cultivated in an authentic manner and takes time to develop. Understanding what to do when it comes to growing trust in relationships is a great first step to cultivating an environment for others to thrive in.
In 2021, Refinery created The Better Boss program as our chosen proactive response to the challenges facing leaders today and most certainly tomorrow. This 2-module program builds the capacity in leaders to, in times of complexity, chaos, and stress, tap into their deep knowledge of self and exercise their power of choice to productively cope with the pressures of life while staying centered, whole, and healthy. It enables them to show up to work with empathy and awareness among peers and model the way to build trust and psychological safety, and by extension, promote a state of well-being for themselves and others. This, in turn, increases discretionary effort, productivity, and innovation, while decreasing the direct and indirect costs of absenteeism and presenteeism. For business owners, business leaders, and employees, the outcome is win/win/win!
Jelena Vath is the Director of Design at Refinery, a global leadership development firm that specializes in experiential leadership development programs.