You’re No Steve Jobs, Be the Director of Emotional Safety

Be the Director of Emotional Safety.

Hi, I’m Henry Evans, Managing Partner of Dynamic Results and as you know, I’m author of the
bestselling book, “Winning with Accountability the Secret Language of High Performing Organizations”.

When we’re out working in our client organizations, sometimes we say something, when I do it, it’s
usually by accident, and we get clients to say, “Wow, you should say that to all of your clients”.

So this month I am going to talk to you about one of those moments. We were explaining to a group
of engineers in a very technical organization that we think that whatever their current business title is, the title of their position, they should start to re-frame it and think about it differently. And we said that everyone’s got the same title once they are in a leadership role. It’s Director of Emotional Safety.

And, here’s what we mean: We mean that the higher you go on the organizational chart, the more
responsibility and authority you have, but, perhaps the less accountability you have. There are fewer
and fewer people who are willing to tell you when you are screwing up or when you haven’t kept your
promises. And so, you might be operating at this point of really high leverage where you are making big
decisions but you are not making them with real time information because people are afraid to come
talk to you; maybe because you’ve chopped the head off the messenger a couple of times.

We think people need to feel safe when they are bringing you bad news or you are going to be making
big decisions, again, with little or no real time information. We suggest that you encourage people to
point out problems in the organization if they exist even if they are with you. My team does it all the
time; they point out my imperfections in most of our Monday morning huddles. So, your job is to make
it safe for them to keep doing that. You want to encourage them and thank them. And we this tough
love.

Organizations who want to thrive are comfortable having these uncomfortable discussions when they
are necessary. Now you might be thinking along the lines of this client organization I was working
with during a Strategic Planning Session a few weeks ago. One of their people who might be a genius said, “What about Steve Jobs? Steve Jobs used to berate and belittle people if he didn’t like their ideas.” And I said, “You’re right, Steve Jobs was an exception to the rule I’m offering and he achieved amazing, earth shattering, industry changing results while treating people very harshly.” Then I said, “you know, I might not be an expert like all of you are, but, I don’t think any of us in this room are Steve Jobs. I think he’s very much the exception.” So, while he could achieve those results being the way that he was in meetings, we don’t think most leaders are exceptional enough that they are going to turn the world over with their ideas and have people follow them even if they are beating them up in meetings.

In short, we think it is your job as a leader to create emotional safety for others so that you remain
aware of what is really happening. This allows you to make informed decisions with real time
information.

For more on how to make Emotional Intelligence tangible in the workplace contact us.

Join us on facebook to share your experiences or email us at [email protected].

And of course, as always, we look forward to seeing you again next month.

2 replies
  1. Sandy Geroux
    Sandy Geroux says:

    WOW, Henry… awesome post! I love the title of Director of Emotional Safety, which speaks to much of what I do, as well in my programs for leaders. In fact, my first WOWplace Rule is “A WOWplace is Safe,” where I have leaders ask themselves, “Are our employees trying to succeed… or simply trying NOT to fail?” If they don’t feel safe to try new things, they never will… and everyone suffers (or at least stagnates) for it.

    Reply
  2. Dan Ahern
    Dan Ahern says:

    Great notes on emotional safety, Henry. One challenge in getting there is that too many people do not know how to participate in the upward/downward feedback cycles without causing additional dissonance. Folks toil over the what/when/where/why of the communication for lack of a feedback strategy or technique. The key is in delivering concise, non-accusatory, situation-specific information and then personalizing it by sharing its impact (e.g. feeling flattered, disrespected, compromised, elated…) on self. This technique invites further constructive conversation and tends to lead to regular feedback being welcomed. It creates a more emotionally safe environment for giving and gathering information.

    Reply

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