Culture by Design is Now ---- The Leader Factor

How to Build Learner Safety

We can either cultivate or crush, nurture or neglect, stimulate or stifle learner safety, the second stage of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. When we have learner safety we feel safe as we ask questions, give and receive feedback, experiment, and admit when we don’t know. Listen in as hosts Tim and Junior discuss how to build Stage 2: Learner Safety individually, on a team, and in an organization.

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How to Build The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety™

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Episode Show Notes

We can either cultivate or crush, nurture or neglect, stimulate or stifle learner safety, the second stage of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. When we have learner safety we feel safe as we ask questions, give and receive feedback, experiment, and admit when we don’t know.

As the highest form of enterprise risk management, learner safety opens the door to innovation. Leaders committed to safeguarding learner safety know that learning is the source of competitive advantage.

An emotionally bruised learner is a cognitively impaired learner. An emotionally empowered learner is a cognitively enabled learner. The choice is yours: What kind of risk will you entertain in your culture? The risk of learning, or the risk of not learning? 

Listen in as hosts Tim and Junior discuss how to build Stage 2: Learner Safety individually, on a team, and in an organization.

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Episode Transcript

0:00:02.0 Junior: Welcome back, everyone, to the LeaderFactor. I'm Junior here with my co-host, Dr. Tim Clark, and today we're going to be discussing stage two of the four stages of psychological safety.

0:00:20.1 Tim: Stage two.

0:00:25.5 Junior: Learner safety. So if you missed the last episode, we would encourage that you go back and watch that for context, and then pick up here. If you want a fast track to this episode, download the Complete Guide to Psychological Safety, that ebook will still be available. You can skim that, come right back and get started. So, where did we go last time? We talked about the four stages of psychological safety as a model, and we talked about stage one, inclusion safety. Now we're going to be moving up to here, learner safety. So permission has gone up, respect has gone up and now we've moved, we've graduated to learner safety. So, Tim, tell us about the, kinda the operating assumption here about threat detection.

0:01:08.2 Tim: Well, threat detection means, that you're in a social environment and you're watching, you're listening, you're perceiving, you're observing, and you're trying to figure out how safe or unsafe the environment is.

0:01:25.7 Junior: So how does threat detection work in stage two? So what are some acts of vulnerability that we are trying to threat detect?

0:01:35.0 Tim: There's a subset of acts of vulnerability that are related directly to learning, so for example, asking a question, giving and receiving feedback, maybe trying something new, even making a mistake. There's a whole set that are related to learning. And you're gonna be doing, kind of a risk reward analysis right? In a social setting to, as you think about, well, should I engage in one of those? Do I think I'll be rewarded or punished if I do that? And how many of you, think about all the viewers and the listeners, how many of you have been in a meeting or a social setting and your hand went up to raise a question, but then you stopped midway and you took your hand down? We've all done that.

0:02:32.4 Junior: We've all done that.

0:02:33.8 Tim: Why did you take your hand down? Because that you were doing the risk reward calculation real time. And midway through raising your hand, you said, oh, I don't want to do it. I think that's not gonna go well.

0:02:44.2 Junior: Yep.

0:02:45.0 Tim: And it's probably dictated by your environment, right?

0:02:52.2 Junior: Yes.

0:02:52.9 Tim: In another environment, maybe that hand would've kept going up.

0:02:55.9 Junior: That's right.

0:02:56.1 Tim: Because of who was at the front of the room.

0:02:56.3 Junior: That's right.

0:02:57.9 Tim: Or the peers that were sat next to you, there are a whole host of variables that we're considering all the time. And that's why I wanted to bring this up again, to start off this episode, is that it is environmental. So it's not just your responsibility.

0:03:16.6 Junior: No.

0:03:17.5 Tim: To figure out, you know, is it, should I raise my hand or not? It's the environment's responsibility. In our case, the leader who is responsible for the environment.

0:03:23.3 Junior: Sets the tone.

0:03:25.2 Tim: To make sure that when someone does threat detection as it relates to learning in their environment, they say, oh, this is a safe place, hand's gonna go up. I'm gonna ask the question. So that's where we want to get.

0:03:38.7 Junior: That's right.

0:03:40.8 Tim: What is the definition of learner safety? Learner safety satisfies the basic human need to learn, grow, and develop mastery. You feel safe in the learning process? Asking questions, giving and receiving feedback, experimenting and even making mistakes, so learning process, learning process, it's ongoing, it's evergreen, it's something that never stops. When we say learner safety, some people think about onboarding and they think, well, yeah, you gotta make sure that people get up to speed and they're safe to figure out what to do and ask...

0:04:13.3 Junior: Then it's over.

0:04:14.2 Tim: Them questions, and then we're done.

0:04:15.8 Junior: Then we're done.

0:04:17.3 Tim: And we're done, that's not true.

0:04:18.0 Junior: It's not true at all.

0:04:20.9 Tim: It's an ongoing process.

0:04:24.7 Junior: And, Junior. But let's think about what are people worried about in the learning process? What does punished vulnerability look like in learning? People are worried about being embarrassed. They're worried about being marginalized, they're worried about being socially rejected, they're worried about being demeaned or belittled or ostracized in even mild and subtle and nuanced ways. If not out outright ways, but we're worried about all those things.

0:04:55.8 Tim: We are, let's talk about why, because learning is intellectual and emotional. There are two sides to the equation, we have the thinking brain, which a lot of people think about. Well, it's purely in my brain, I just think about it. I just have to ask a question, and that's all, it's mechanical. There's a feeling brain, this puts simply that may interfere, and it's that feeling brain that is probably what's going to pull the hand down when it gets halfway up, tell me about this.

0:05:35.0 Junior: Well, junior, it reminds me of this really important statement that the social psychologist Daniel Kahneman said. He said, "We are not thinking beings that feel, we are feeling beings that think." So it highlights the role of emotion in human interaction and the part that it plays in who we are, it's that fundamental, there's no learning that isn't interwoven with the feeling brain. Those two things don't come apart, you can't take them apart, they don't come apart. They are interwoven and they just don't come apart.

0:06:28.1 Tim: Well, let's go to the social exchange, and then I want to get into a few examples about this.

0:06:30.9 Junior: Alright.

0:06:32.6 Tim: The social exchange is encouragement and exchange for engagement. Encouragement to learn in exchange for engagement in the learning process. Why is this the social exchange? And why is it incumbent on the leader to go first? You put this first encouragement.

0:06:51.3 Junior: That's right. Well, the leader, again, the leader is responsible for creating conditions, so the leader has to go first to encourage your learning and to also reward the vulnerability of your learning when you do it. And then, but then what do you have to do? You have to engage in the learning process. So this is the, reciprocal relationship. The leader in the team encourage you, invite you, and encourage you to learn, and then you engage in that process, that's what it looks like, that's the social exchange.

0:07:26.3 Tim: So if we move down here, this is a visual that I like in particular, an emotionally bruised learner is a cognitively impaired learner. So this goes back to the thinking brain and the feeling brain. So when we get emotionally bruised, let's say that we ask a question and someone shoots down that question, especially if they're in a position of authority. The teacher says like, eh, I don't know, don't ask that question, or whatever, that's a dumb question. We now get emotionally bruised. I don't care who you are, this has happened to you? And I also don't care who you are as it relates to whether or not it affected you.

0:08:04.3 Junior: It did, it did.

0:08:04.4 Tim: We know that It did. You may like to think that it didn't, but there was a point some time where it affected you. And especially in childhood, these things make a big difference. In adulthood is it all of a sudden that we graduated and it doesn't matter anymore?

0:08:20.6 Junior: No, no it's the same. Even though you may not show it, it's the same. And so think about being repeatedly punished in your learning vulnerability repeatedly over time, it's a pattern. That has an impact, give you an example, two examples come to mind. And for all of you viewers and listeners, as I share these two examples, I want you to think about your own life, I want you to think about someone that had a profound impact on you that gave you learner safety. So the first example is there's a writer that some of you may be familiar with, his name was Albert Camus, he was a French writer. He won the Nobel Prize in literature. When he won the Nobel Prize in literature about two weeks later, he wrote a little note, a little handwritten letter to a teacher that he had had when he was a boy.

0:09:24.2 Junior: And I wish I could quote it, but I'm gonna paraphrase. He said, if it weren't for you, none of this would've happened. This is, can you imagine why would he do that? Why would he take the time to write this letter to his teacher from his boyhood? Because it had that profound and effect. Now, let me give you a more contemporary example, and you can go back and you can watch this. Oprah did an episode several years ago on her show when she was doing her talk show. Right. And they brought on her, I believe it was her fourth grade teacher. And I still remember her name, her name was Mrs. Duncan. They brought her on the show. Oprah didn't know she was coming, and Oprah went just, she went to tears. She became very emotional, and then she proceeded to help us understand that it was Mrs. Duncan who was the one that encouraged me to get in front of the room and do recitations and do all these things to build my confidence. So Mrs. Duncan gave her learner safety. That's what this is all about. And as you said Junior, does this change when you become an adult? No, it doesn't, we're all in need of learner safety so that we can continue to learn. We need to have our learning behavior consistently rewarded, not punished.

0:10:58.4 Tim: Yeah. And I'll clarify too, that when I say that it will affect you as an adult, it doesn't have to affect you in a way that you're floored. It doesn't have to destroy your confidence, for some it still will, for some it won't. But that's something that you have to learn over time, is how to filter that feedback and develop self-efficacy and develop confidence.

0:11:22.1 Junior: You do, you do.

0:11:24.1 Tim: But if you are in the position of leader, think about the way the operating assumption has to be, that you have the potential to emotionally bruise people. That has to be the assumption. Regardless of what you think about yourself and your own ability to be bruised, it's only useful if you operate on the assumption that other people can be emotionally bruised. And it would be helpful if you thought that about yourself too. But having that lens should influence your behavior, I can think about several examples in my own life where early on this started to affect me. I started seeing this play out, I remember I was 14, I was in English class, and I had just finished reading Ayn Rand Fountainhead, and I asked my.

0:12:17.6 Junior: That's a big book.

0:12:18.3 Tim: It's a big book. And, anyway, I asked my English teacher a question about that book. She said, you didn't read that book? I'm like, what do you mean?

0:12:30.9 Junior: Don't pretend.

0:12:32.6 Tim: Yes, I did. She's like, no, you don't read Ayn Rand you're 14. I'm like, oh, okay.

0:12:42.3 Junior: Deflating.

0:12:44.1 Tim: I guess I, sorry.

0:12:47.2 Junior: Yeah. What do you say?

0:12:47.6 Tim: I'll go sit back down. I guess.

0:12:50.5 Junior: Yeah, sorry, sorry for coming up.

0:12:54.9 Tim: Like, I was kind of excited about this idea, this concept. I don't even remember what the question was, and it was very apparent that like, okay, that's not welcome here for some reason. You didn't even believe that I read the book. And there were other instances like that. I remember, try to have a conversation with, an English teacher in high school about the Gulag Archipelago, and just like, not interested in having that conversation with me. And so over time, like there were several instances where that vulnerability was punished. Where I thought, okay, well, I guess I'll just keep to myself. It's like, I think these books are pretty great books, but I guess no one wants to talk about them, so I'll just keep them to myself. Thankfully, I had a whole bunch of experiences on the other side of the ledger.

0:13:44.9 Junior: Yes.

0:13:48.1 Tim: Where I took some shots and they were rewarded by teachers and professors, and we were able to have good, productive conversations. But I think each of us has enough of those that we can look back and for different people, thumbs up, thumbs down, rewarded, punished, good experience, bad experience. We want to be those good experiences for other people. So I'm trying to let that experience dictate my own behavior as it relates to other people now. If I have someone come up to me and ask me some question about something, I know what it feels like.

0:14:20.5 Junior: You're gonna be quick to reward that vulnerable behavior.

0:14:20.6 Tim: I'm gonna try. I'm gonna try, 'cause I've been on the receiving end of some punishment that didn't feel good.

0:14:24.0 Junior: That's right, let's talk about a pattern. So one of the statistics that we give in the book, the four Stages of Psychological Safety, is that a student drops outta high school every 26 seconds in the United States. Now, you know what the real tragedy about that Junior is. That most of those students have the mental, the intellectual, the academic capacity to do the work. Why are they dropping out? They're dropping out because they fall behind. They don't have the support, they don't have the encouragement, so they'll fall behind and then they'll start to lose confidence, and then they call it quits. So are they dropping out on the emotional side or the intellectual side? It's the emotional side, most of them, barring some legitimate learning disability, they can do the work, they don't have the support, they don't have the learner safety, the encouragement, and the support that they need to be able to do it. That's the tragedy, it's the same, these are the same patterns with, whether it's children, adolescents, adults, same patterns.

0:15:39.3 Tim: Yeah, same patterns. One more example. I remember in, fifth grade, I got a B- on a grammar test. And there aren't a lot of people now that would think that I got a B- on a grammar test, 'cause I like grammar. And I had a teacher who said, how do you feel about the B-? I go, not good, I didn't do very well. And he said, do you think you could do better? I said, yeah, I think I could do better. And he asked me, what do you think it would take to do better? Well, I probably need to practice. He said, would you let me help you practice? Yes. And throughout this year, in fifth grade, I'll never forget this, he gave me a little bit extra help here, a little bit extra help there. When I got the B+ it was like a massive celebration, look what you did, that's amazing. And then it was an A- and then as an A. And, I really dug in, and I think that if I would've been punished at that moment, I don't think that I would've made that transition to become better. So anyway, all of these examples are just flooding into my mind, and it's probably happening to some of you listening.

0:16:52.5 Junior: That's what learner safety is all about.

0:16:57.0 Tim: It's, so, so, so important. I can't emphasize that enough. It comes through in the way that we engage with people every single day. And if we want people to learn and let's, bring this back institutionally and move away from, fifth and ninth grade. If we talk about a Fortune 500 institution, and we talk about big high power leaders, what do we want out of our organizations? We want high performance. We want high achievement. We want innovation. What does that have to do with this mechanism? The exact same thing.

0:17:25.8 Junior: It's the same junior, I gotta insert this example. Okay, I spent a lot of time with executive teams. Do we really think they're different? Do you know they are just as insecure about asking a question in the presence of their peers as any population that I've ever seen.

0:17:48.3 Tim: Maybe even more.

0:17:48.4 Junior: Maybe even more so because they're terrified of appearing foolish in front of their peers. And so they're very guarded, they're self-censoring, they're being very careful about what they're saying, let alone asking a question. So, come on this is the human experience, this is common, it doesn't matter what your demographics are, it doesn't matter what your status is in the hierarchy, you're going to be feeling these influences, and you're going to be hoping that you're learning vulnerability is rewarded.

0:18:30.2 Tim: Yeah, can't emphasize that enough. So what does that have to do with the Leaderfactor? Well, the leader sets the tone. The leader's the most important factor in creating the environment in which learning vulnerability is rewarded.

0:18:45.0 Junior: That's right.

0:18:49.1 Tim: So let's go to the slide model. As we talked about last time, we're gonna engage in these acts of vulnerability ourselves, we're going to ask questions, we're going to admit we don't know, and then we're going to reward.

0:18:58.6 Junior: That's right.

0:19:02.3 Tim: When someone ventures a guess, when someone raises a hand, we're going to key on that. And we're gonna say, okay, light bulbs on, this is an act of vulnerability. I am now in charge of rewarding or punishing that, which of those am I gonna do? I'm gonna reward that.

0:19:20.5 Junior: And you, have to be able to, you have to be sensitized enough that you're identifying these acts of learning vulnerability real time, and you're rewarding them immediately. Because you see that people are taking risks and they're going out on a limb, and they're unsure and they're worried, and there's some anxiety and there's some real worry that, oh, what's gonna happen? And then you give that reassurance, you give that reward, you start to establish the prevailing norm on the team, everybody else is watching, and then hopefully that's perpetuated.

0:20:01.8 Tim: That's a good point, because it's not just the relationship between the person asking the question and the one receiving. It's everybody in the audience, they're all watching.

0:20:09.8 Junior: They're all watching.

0:20:11.8 Tim: They're all watching keenly. What's going to happen? What is this person going to do?

0:20:16.1 Junior: That's right.

0:20:18.1 Tim: So what do we do? Here are three behaviors. Share what you're learning. This is a powerful one, is in learner safety, this is one of the most important things as far as self-directed continuous learning goes. If I'm a leader and I show up to my team and I say, "Hey, here's this thing I learned that I didn't know yesterday that I went out and found that I learned, that will affect today." That pattern hugely important, because what's going on, it's an admission of ignorance because you're implying that you didn't know before and it may be a simple thing. Hey, do you know that this button in this software does this thing? So easy and so benign. Some of these things that actually go a really long way. Just showing other people that you're engaged in this process, you're interested in getting better, you're interested in what you don't know, and in closing the gap. So this one I like.

0:21:12.0 Junior: Well, you're sharing, Junior you're sharing your delight in the learning process, and that's contagious. And so hopefully any potential embarrassment or marginalization, that's like gone. And that's the kind of pattern that you're trying to establish.

0:21:32.8 Tim: The next one is take notes. This one is powerful. And if you don't do this, do this, take notes. Next time you go into a meeting, bring a pen and paper, not your computer, unless you have to, bring a pen and paper.

0:21:46.4 Junior: No hard copy.

0:21:48.0 Tim: Hard copy.

0:21:50.4 Junior: You gonna retro.

0:21:51.5 Tim: Yeah. Why? Because this is not just, this is not a move for utility, it's a culture move, so the act of taking notes is not just about the information that you jot down. Anybody can take notes. An AI note taker is part of almost every meeting we have. We have minutes, we have callouts, we have next steps that are taken for us.

0:22:14.0 Junior: We use that for the podcast.

0:22:17.4 Tim: So why then would we take notes if it's all captured for us? Because it's a cultural signal, to everybody else in the room that I am here paying attention, trying to get something outta this meeting.

0:22:33.6 Junior: I'm learning.

0:22:35.3 Tim: I'm learning, right? There have been team members that we've had that have come with hard copy notes and have jotted notes during meetings, others who have taken digital notes, others who have just sat there. I've seen this in our own team, I've seen it in teams out there. And it could be that every single one of those people is retaining the same information. But what do I see when I see someone taking hard copy notes. For whatever reason, I immediately know like, well, they're not drawing, they're not doodling, they must be present in this meeting.

0:23:09.6 Junior: They're focused.

0:23:10.4 Tim: Focus on what's going on.

0:23:14.3 Junior: They're learning. It's an expression of humility in a way that I'm a student.

0:23:22.3 Tim: Yeah. And like, if you don't, let's say that you're really against this pen and paper idea, make sure that nothing else is open on your computer, here's another like, just tip, turn your brightness all the way up so that everyone can see what's on your screen. You ever notice that, that's what people do, they'll dim their screen so that you can't see what's on it. What do I think you're doing?

0:23:38.7 Junior: How do you know all these things, Junior.

0:23:43.0 Tim: 'Cause I do them all. We all do them, that's why. And so, yeah. So for anyone on the LeaderFactor team, have you ever seen me with a dim screen, I'm doing something else. No, but that's an easy way, to show everybody else. Hey, I'm paying attention, if all you see is a blinking cursor on a white page, that's what's going on. So take notes. Last one, identify and share what you unlearn. Respond to that one.

0:24:10.3 Junior: Unlearn. Well, learning implies unlearning, especially these days. And it becomes all the more powerful when you share that with others because you're helping them understand the discovery process that you're going through your journey of, right. Your learning and what we're trying to get to Juniors, we're all trying to become aggressive, agile, self-directed learners. But then so we can do that kind of on our own, we develop those habits, that learning disposition, but then we have to get together, and now we're learning together, right? So now learning becomes social. So then think about the imperative of learning agility to learn at or above the speed of change. You can't do that together unless there's learner safety between and among us. You can't be able to, you can't do that. So part of that process is to share not only what you're learning, but what you're unlearning, that really gets people's attention.

0:25:24.4 Tim: Often we have to unlearn because of mistakes we made, and so admitting mistakes, I think is pretty tied into sharing what you unlearn.

0:25:33.7 Junior: It's implied.

0:25:38.6 Tim: And doing that both individually and collectively as a team is an important dynamic to establish. It's important that as a team, you have this pattern, right? Hey, everyone, we tried this thing, it didn't work, here's what we learned. Here's what we're going to undo, we're going to fill this information and take this out. I heard a quote once that knowledge or information is knowledge. What was it? Learning is knowledge, unlearning is wisdom, something like that.

0:26:05.9 Junior: I like that.

0:26:07.2 Tim: That's pretty good.

0:26:08.5 Junior: Yeah, it is.

0:26:11.9 Tim: I think that it's not just about how much information can we possibly pack in here? It's about what information should we keep in here that will be useful to our objectives? Those are the wisest people that I've ever met.

0:26:21.9 Junior: And share it.

0:26:23.4 Tim: And share that with other people. Because that pattern of sharing is what's going to make the difference, if you just unlearn things and you try a different route, but you don't tell anybody about it, you lost an opportunity for cultural impact.

0:26:36.1 Junior: So what we're saying is not only learn, but share that experience with others. Because that reinforces and supports stage two learner safety.

0:26:47.3 Tim: So as an operationally minded person, myself, one of the patterns that I'm finding from our conversation today, is that it is not just about the mechanics of the situation, it's about the cultural implications of the mechanics.

0:27:05.0 Junior: That's right.

0:27:06.4 Tim: They're so important.

0:27:07.3 Junior: That's very true.

0:27:09.6 Tim: So it's not just about having the notes, it's about how you got the notes and what everyone else thinks about that process. It's not just about changing your mind, it's about taking the cultural opportunity to change your mind publicly. Your leadership influences everything around you, and so you have to be very cognizant, very conscious of these decisions and their consequences so that you can control those cultural implications in the way that's positive. Why do I say that? Because we're rewarding and punishing learning vulnerability.

0:27:41.8 Junior: That's right.

0:27:42.8 Tim: We have to be conscious of that fact. Because it is a fact, you can't opt out, you're going to either reward or punish, so reward, be conscious of that because you understand the implications in a really tactical way. It's not just soft, it's not just nice to have, this makes real difference in business because of all of the reasons that we've described, not at least for stages three and four that are forthcoming, that are gonna talk about contribution and innovation. So as we wrap up today, final thoughts from you.

0:28:10.8 Junior: Just a reminder, Junior, that learning is both intellectual and emotional. You cannot separate the thinking brain from the feeling brain.

0:28:21.7 Tim: Agreed. So for everyone listening, we appreciate your time, your listenership. We know that you could be doing a whole host of other things. You could be listening to something else, watching something else. And we appreciate that you've chosen the time to watch today's episode. We hope that it is helpful in your leadership journey. If it has been, please comment down below what your biggest takeaway is from today's conversation. With that, we will see you next episode for stage three contributor Safety, bye-bye.

Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

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