These 8 little words resonated with me last Fall, as I struggled to heal a running injury to my achilles tendon. For the last 15 years running has been my fitness and sanity go-to. I traded in the structure of gym memberships and aerobics classes for the schedule-free, instructor-free world of running and the endorphin-hit has kept me coming back for more. Through the dark, cold mornings of winter to the heavy, humid days of summer, I have been a (slow &) steady, running machine. Until this Fall, when I hurt my leg.
The injury was an overly stretched achilles tendon. This was very inconvenient as it threatened to interrupt my well-planned training schedule. A schedule that was preparing me to run a 10 km race. My first instinct was denial. I could feel the beginning of a tinge in the tendon…but chose to ignore it, stuck to my schedule, pushed through, got my long run in for that week and then rested. (Type A personalities: does this sound familiar?)
In the last blog, I introduced the concept of psychological safety. Researchers at Google discovered that teams that nurture spaces where team-members can be themselves, will move from simply surviving the daily uncertainties, complex interdependencies and ambiguity that our work presents to us, to thriving in them.
A few years ago, a colleague and I had the opportunity to work with and advise a senior leader who was facing many large changes within her team, from structure to strategy to systems. She modeled the following leadership characteristics:
1.Curiosity: She was open to consider new ideas and learn from others’ experiences. She surrounded herself with different groups of people (at all levels), advising her, drawing from the wealth of knowledge throughout her organization. By modeling this attitude early on, she fostered an open-door policy of ideas, feedback, reflections and early warnings, if things went a bit sideways. No-one feared this leader.
2.Lifelong Learner: She was comfortable with failing fast, or as we re-framed it: learning fast. To her, the very act of doing something outside of her comfort zone was a positive move as it signalled that she had an intention to do things differently and that this would include a learning curve, even for her. She was forgiving of herself, and those around her, as they learned fast in their commitment to the end-goal, even if there were a few missteps along the way. I remember early on, in an effort to increase this leader’s accessibility and reach across her large employee base, we tried a new communication technology. And as with new technologies, there were a number of “glitches” and the experiment was less than perfect. For some leaders this would have shut down their openness, but this leader was able to see the upside of the parts that had worked well (e.g., hearing directly from employees about issues that were bothering them) and learn from what had not (e.g., improving our technology capacities).
3.Carved out the Space: As a senior leader, she had NO extra time in her day, but she would ensure that the meetings with her network of “advisors” always had dedicated time on her agenda. Even if she missed a week or two, she would instruct her office to find the time, the space, for these important conversations. This was important to her and she advocated for this space.
Over the course of my working life inside organizations, I often had the opportunity to be a member of a team. And as a result, I quickly came to recognize familiar team pain points (if you’ve ever been part of a team, you these may resonate for you too):
-too much or too little communication,
-not enough trust,
-the challenge in valuing diversity (of opinions, strengths, values),
-the ongoing quest to align around shared focus & mission, etc.
Getting the team-thing right is a tricky challenge with no simple silver bullet of a solution.
Turns out that Google was also seized with this challenge and in 2012 embarked on an initiative to study hundreds of teams inside their organization to learn what made some stumble and others soar. The main finding was that a team’s dynamics are more important than the talents of the individuals that make it up in determining a team’s performance. And of the 250 team-dynamics identified, psychological safety was by far the most important one.
And what you may be asking yourself is psychological safety all about? Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor defines psychological safety as an environment where all employees can feel safe to speak up without fear of being embarrassed or rejected. It’s a team climate characterized by trust and mutual respect where people can be themselves. Google found that when teams have psychological safety in place, team members are more likely to own up to their mistakes, be better partners to colleagues, open to diverse ideas and are less likely to leave the organization.
When it comes to Spring yard-work I have, over the years, developed certain habits & rituals of prepping my gardens. One such habit is raking leaves. I enjoy the physicality of the work, the discovery of the shoots of green that manage to grow under the dark, cold, mucky leaf covering, and I even get smug satisfaction from my lightly calloused hands. This year, however, my raking happy place had to make room for the leaf blower.
You see, my hubby broke his leg (that’s a whole other blog post!) and was unable to take on this job, HIS job. So one brisk spring morning, he gleefully handed over the ear plugs, the gloves, and the mighty leaf blower -- exhibiting full confidence in my ability. I on the other hand was overcome with a chorus of voices, all fueled by fear:
-The voice of Distrust: what if this power tool exploded the minute I turned it on?
-The voice of Incompetence: I will never succeed at this, and will blow more leaves into the garden than out of it, which I will have to rake out later anyway.
-The Judging & Comparing voice: I will never be as good as my husband at this, why even bother, I’m defeated before I begin.
-The Rigid voice: I don’t DO leaf blowers, this is just a fact, that’s not how I’ve ever gardened, why start now?
I have 2 well-used, well-loved bird feeders perched outside my kitchen window. The feeders are a source of nourishment for my diverse and busy bird community as well as a source of constant awe and joy to me. I’m telling you - this bird thing never gets old! Seeing a “yellow bird” (official name: American Goldfinch) elicits from the depths of my being a small, involuntary shriek, EVERY time I see one. It’s gotten to the point that if my kids (and even their friends) want to get my immediate attention all they need to shout is “yellow bird” while looking out the kitchen window. They know I’ll drop everything and show up.
So, what is it that draws me to the promise of the yellow bird, or the grosbeak, the blue jay or the woodpecker? What is it that keeps my gaze lingering out the kitchen window for a few extra seconds? What is it that taps into an almost visceral reaction from the depths of my being? How can these little creatures generate such powerful behaviors?
Oh, now I get it!
Have you ever found yourself having one of those Oh-now-I-get-it-moments? They just seem to kind of happen, and then you realize, “oh…so this is what all the fuss was about, I get it now.” It’s like you finally tap into this deep wisdom that’s been lurking under your nose all along, but that you’ve just been unable to see. It’s a combination of the obvious with a dash of Oprah-level “aha”. In this blog, I will be sharing some of my experiences with these kinds of moments as they show up in my life on a pretty regular basis! Enjoy!