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Psychological Safety for Managers

Psychological safety has been found to be the number one variable in team performance, and in recent episodes we've discussed the most important variable for psychological safety was the leader of the team. As a manager, as a leader of people, you either lead the way or you get in the way. Much of what dictates whether you're leading the way or getting in the way is the way in which you integrate or don't integrate psychological safety into your work.

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Episode Show Notes

Psychological safety has been found to be the number one variable in team performance, and in recent episodes we've discussed the most important variable for psychological safety was the leader of the team. As a manager, as a leader of people, you either lead the way or you get in the way. Much of what dictates whether you're leading the way or getting in the way is the way in which you integrate or don't integrate psychological safety into your work.

In this episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior discuss exactly how to incorporate psychological safety as a manager, and will introduce you to some tools that'll help you along the way.

What makes a manager good or bad? Effective or ineffective? (02:56) Our ability to manage and to lead depends on how well we interact with others. McKinsey has found that only 15% of managers create a psychologically safe work environment. This is the biggest and most chronic deficiency in all of leadership.

Most managers have not been trained to lead. Why? (12:48) Leadership as an investment activity isn’t profitable short-term. Leading teams and businesses requires much more than technical competence, it requires cultural competence, at the heart of which lies psychological safety.

How do you implement psychological safety on your team? (27:47) When sharing the concept of psychological safety with your team you need to define the term, set clear expectations, enforce those expectations, live those expectations yourself, and reward vulnerability.

Important Links:
Forbes: What Psychological Safety is Not

The Ladder of Vulnerability

Episode Transcript

0:00:02.3 Freddy Producer: Welcome back, Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, one of the producers of the podcast. In today's episode, we are going to talk about how to incorporate psychological safety as a manager. Psychological safety has been found to be the number one variable in team performance, and in recent episodes we've discussed the most important variable for psychological safety was the leader of the team. That means there is some pressure on managers and people, leaders to create an environment of psychological safety. So how do you do that as a leader? That is the question Tim and Junior will tackle today. Before we dive into this conversation, I'd invite you to look at our latest content at You could find this episode show notes, a brand new behavioral guide that's 120 plus behaviors on improving psychological safety, a ladder of vulnerability, self-assessment, our upcoming public workshops and webinars. There's a lot of stuff there, and I invite you to take a look. Again, that's Thanks again for listening. Enjoy today's episode on how to incorporate psychological safety as a manager.

0:01:12.5 Junior: Welcome back everyone to Culture By Design. My name's Junior. I'm here with Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing how to incorporate psychological safety as a manager. Tim, how you doing? 

0:01:27.3 Dr. Tim Clark,: I'm doing well, thanks Junior. How are you doing today? 

0:01:30.2 Junior: I'm doing well. I'm looking forward to talking about this much needed, much requested topic. We like to say that as a manager, as a leader of people, you either lead the way or you get in the way. And much of what dictates whether you're leading the way or getting in the way is the way in which you integrate or don't integrate psychological safety into your work. So many of you'll remember last week we talked about some of the blocking and tackling of management coaching and holding people accountable. So check out that episode if you haven't yet. But our hope today is to explain a bit more about cultural competence, not technical competence, and to give you a few tips, few tricks, few tools regarding how to bring psychological safety to your team. And if you're a leader of leaders, how to help others do the same. Tim, any aspirations for today's conversation? Anything that you hope to accomplish? 

0:02:23.3 DC: The corollary principle comes to mind, Junior, that we'd like to share often as well. And that is that teams or organizations, whatever the organizational unit is, they don't outperform their leaders, they reflect them. And it takes us right back to the incorporation of psychological safety as the foundation of the culture. And if it's not there, then you're not gonna be able to compensate for the absence of that with anything else. And we'll talk about how that works. So I'm excited for the conversation.

0:02:56.3 Junior: Awesome. So let's start with some definition of terms. I'd like to start here. What is a manager? Here's what the internet has to say. It's a person responsible for leading or administering a part of a company or similar organization, a person responsible for achieving the goals and objectives of an organization through managing its resources. I like that definition a little bit better. And resources in this case are what? What is the main resource that an organization has? Well, it has lots of them, but one trumps all, and that's people. If an organization has no people, it has nothing. It may have few people and a lot of other things, but if it does not have people, then the organization doesn't exist. So if that's a manager, what makes a manager good or bad, effective or ineffective? It's how they manage those resources in achieving the goals and objectives of the institution. It's their ability to influence others and not just influence, but influence through healthy means over a long period of time. I put those qualifiers in there because I think they're both really important influence through healthy means, and over a long period of time, if you pull those qualifiers out, then you get a lot of other stuff that can start to fill the gaps and you can become pathological. So what do you think about my definition of a good manager? Is that fair? 

0:04:18.6 DC: Yeah, I think it's fair. Junior, you've gotta be able to do that over time, right? It's not an event, it's not episodic. It's consistently being able to do that. I think another way to break it down is you could say the manager, you have to hit the numbers and you have to develop the people, or you can say, you gotta develop the people and then hit the numbers. So think about that sequence for a minute. How do you think about that sequence in your own head as it relates to your job as a manager? Do you think about hitting the metrics and the numbers first? Or do you think about developing the people first? It's a bit of a trick question, but I want to ask that of all of our listeners, just so you can reflect on that. What comes to mind first? Where do you go first? May we suggest that you develop the people and then you hit the numbers and you put in place the culture, and then you hit the numbers. So that sequence is crucial. And hopefully by the end of this episode, you'll be convinced that you need to go to people first. And then numbers second.

0:05:18.2 Junior: Part of what I've been pondering in preparation for this episode is this element of sustainability, because you can hit the numbers in the short term, but the pattern that we often see is that if managers are numbers first, they will achieve those numbers through some type of pathology. And it may just be a little bit pathological, or it may be very much pathological, but what defines pathology, one of the ways that you can look at it is that it is not sustainable. So that's an indicator of pathology is if a course of action is not a sustainable course of action, chances are there's some pathology involved. Whereas if you focus on the people first to build the system to then achieve the outcome, is that a sustainable course of action? Yeah, absolutely. So that in and of itself tells us where we should go. Now, there are some trade-offs that we have to make, which we'll talk about, and that short-term investment is often really costly in people first, depending on the situation.

0:06:23.6 Junior: So it's not terribly cut and dry, but that's an angle to look at it. So our ability to manage to lead depends on how well we interact with others. Now, that has to be true. That's a fundamental assumption of this entire conversation. If that's not true, then nothing else that we say today matters. So that's a key point. Our ability to manage and to lead depends on how well we interact with others. So there's a McKinsey study that we found that was really interesting, looking at the responsibility of business leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace. So that's what this survey did, is went out and asked people, what's the responsibility of business leaders to create a safe and respectful place to work? 9% said that it was important, but not essential. 2% said it was not important. 89% said that it was essential. Do those numbers surprise you, Tim, or not? 

0:07:17.1 DC: No, not at all. Well, if anything, I'm actually a little bit surprised that even 9% said important but not essential [laughter] I know, I don't, I can't even understand that.

0:07:25.9 Junior: Yeah, I thought the same thing.

0:07:28.4 DC: Basically, nine out of 10 said it was essential. So most people then universally acknowledge that it's essential. It's central to what the manager is supposed to do, what the nature of that management stewardship is. So, okay, so we've got that now. So we understand [laughter] that that's crucial regardless of where you are in the world, regardless of what industry you may be in, regardless of what level of management you may be functioning at, it is a universal responsibility to create a safe and respectful workplace.

0:08:07.8 Junior: So it's basically unanimous. We're basically at consensus that it's essential, yet here's the next piece of data. McKinsey also found that only 15% of managers create a psychologically safe work environment. So those are the two pieces of data that we're dealing with right now. Almost all of us say that this is essential, yet almost all of us don't do this well. So think about those two things. I find that really interesting.

0:08:37.2 DC: I think it's more than interesting, Junior, this data, this is a bombshell. This finding is a bombshell. What it's saying is that 85% of leaders and managers are failing. If only 15% of managers are creating a psychologically safe work environment, 85% are not. And if creating a safe and respectful work environment is central, if it's core to the management's stewardship, we have a failure rate of 85%. That's pretty incredible. And so this is a key and perhaps the key to helping us understand why so many leaders are struggling, why so many managers are struggling because they're not doing people first. They're doing numbers first. They're not nurturing, they're not cultivating an environment of psychological safety. They're not getting there. Well, this is a huge finding.

0:09:43.9 Junior: You know, it's a huge finding and for argumentation sake, the burden of proof for the other side. In order to dismiss this, you would have to say that it is not important for a business leader to create a safe and respectful workplace. Yeah, that's gonna be a difficult argument to make.

0:09:57.9 DC: Well, Junior, there's a massive disconnect here because virtually everyone is saying it is crucial to create a safe and respectful work environment. It's the manager's responsibility to do that. And yet 85% are failing. You almost couldn't get a bigger disparity between what we should be doing and what we are doing. And so the knowing doing gap is a massive chasm here. And it's so wide, so broad, so deep that it requires a sense of urgency. We should have a great deal of urgency about this and around this.

0:10:40.3 Junior: So Tim, you've worked with a lot of organizations, a lot of leaders. Why the chasm? Why do you think this is, does it boil down to anything in particular? Can you help us see any overarching patterns? We'll get into some of them, but I'm interested if there's one or two in particular based on your experience that you think are responsible for this disparity.

0:11:01.6 DC: Well, I think it goes back to the progression of leadership, to be honest, Junior, and spending enough time making the required investment to be able to lead yourself as the first domain of leadership and then going out from there, right? I think we were gonna talk about that a little bit. I think this is a good time to talk about that. Therein lies the deficiency. People are trying to catapult forward. They're trying to leap forward and almost skip some steps in the process of leadership. And you can't do that. You can't cheat this principle, you can't negotiate with this principle. It doesn't work that way. So I think we're seeing the evidence of individual managers not investing and mastering according to the natural progression of leadership.

0:11:54.1 Junior: And often by no fault of their own, often the institutional incentives and the institutional infrastructure are moving in that way. So they're trying to skip ahead, but not necessarily at the individual level. Like, oh, I'm intentionally trying to skip a few levels. It's often just what the organization is asking. And one crucial point here, I guess I'll frame it as a question, is can you compensate on the technical side for what you lack on the people side? Because another burden of proof, if you were to argue the other side, is that the people side is less important. That the technical side is much more important. So much so that we can disregard the people side. And again, these arguments stacking up just become really, really difficult to make just on core grounds, like really fundamental principles from an argumentation perspective, it really hard to strengthen the argument of the other side.

0:12:48.0 Junior: So you mentioned most managers are trying to skip through levels of leadership. So let's get more explicit about that. The core principle here is that managers have not been trained to lead. There are three levels of leadership, lead self, lead the team lead the business, and they build upon each other. If you haven't learned how to become self-directed, if you haven't been able to earn and deal with autonomy, if you haven't mastered that level of discretion at the individual level, you're certainly not going to be able to do that effectively at the team level. Yet that's often what organizations ask. And I think that this, if I had to point to something, is probably the thing that I would point to and say, this is the biggest disconnect that is responsible for that gap. The knowing doing gap is institutions moving people artificially because they haven't graduated from lead self to leads the team. What do you think about that? 

0:13:52.7 DC: I agree with that. Junior. Think about what happens if you are a manager or you're elevated, you're promoted into a managerial role and you have not learned to lead yourself very well. What are you going to do? Well, you're going to take with you the deficiencies and the insecurities that you have, and you're going to bring those into your management role. You have no choice but to do that. So all of that comes with you. The deficiencies and the insecurities come with you. All of those things are reflected in your performance as a manager. As you now have a responsibility to lead a team well, how are you going to create a safe, respectful work environment, climate, atmosphere, culture? If you haven't learned to lead yourself and you're not confident, you're not comfortable, you don't have the self-efficacy, you're not going to be able to do that. Because what you're going to take, you're, the deficiencies come with you and the insecurities come with you, as I said. Well, what does that do to the culture of the team? Well, it's a massive liability. You're not confident, secure about who you are and your ability to do the job. And so that is reflected in the micro culture of the team that you are shaping whether you like it or not. So do you see how the liability follows you? 

0:15:26.8 Junior: Yeah. Well, it makes me wonder what are the criteria for graduation? And it makes me think about last week's episode and the coaching and accountability matrix. We want to see people at box nine where we've been able to transfer accountability and transfer critical thinking where that person's operating with a high degree of autonomy and a high degree of initiative. And if they haven't got to that place, I think that's a fairly objective, at least relatively way to evaluate if someone's ready to go to that next level, is if they are operating at outcome level accountability. If they're not, almost by definition, they have not yet learned to lead themselves, at least to the fullest extent. Is that fair? 

0:16:18.0 DC: I think it's fair, Junior. It's very fair because when you become a leader of a team, you yourself become the embodiment of psychological safety. Could be high, could be low, could be somewhere in the middle. But you are the embodiment of that psychological safety. You are the personification of that. So whatever you do reverberates, and as you said, you can't delegate culture formation. The responsibility for culture formation lies squarely with you as the leader of the team. You can't delegate that out to someone on your team. And I personally, I've reflected on this a lot. I wish I would've understood how profoundly true this is when I was a young manager. I wish that I understood that de facto when I led a team, when I was first given the opportunity and the responsibility to lead a team that de facto I was the primary cultural architect.

0:17:31.8 Junior: What would you have done differently? 

0:17:35.9 DC: I would've been more present, more deliberate, more intentional about culture formation. Because I knew that I was doing it no matter what, I couldn't delegate it. I couldn't abdicate that responsibility. It was mine. And I just would've invested more into that. Every interaction with my direct reports, what I said, what I asked, how I interacted, my written communication, my verbal communication, my nonverbal communication, I would've been processing that more carefully. Reflecting on that more carefully, becoming, trying to become more self-aware. I don't think that I was a liability. I think I did a reasonably good job, but if I would've understood this better I think I would've been an even better cultural architect. That's what I'm trying to say.

0:18:33.0 Junior: It makes a lot of sense. And I like what you're saying that you are necessarily a liability, and I think a lot of people may feel that way, that they are trying to be good leaders, and they know fundamentally they're acting... They're acting ethically, they're technically competent, but there is some discretionary effort that they could be getting from their team, or there is some modeling that they could be taking advantage of being more intentional about, and it's not that they're actively not doing that. It's maybe just out of ignorance.

0:19:08.3 DC: And a lack of awareness... Let me share a couple of other points here, junior, that I feel very strongly about. Leadership as an applied discipline reveals all of your fears and doubts and insecurities, there's nothing to hide behind with leadership, and so What do leaders and managers do, they often, as I said, they bring those insecurities and those fears and doubts, and so often what they do as a result of that is they manufacture fear to hide their own fear... Is isn't that ironic? It's a paradox, they manufacture fear to hide their own fear, they use fear to...

0:19:52.9 DC: Stamp out or hide behind our own fear. Interesting. So if we think about that, creating psychological safety as a matter of moral courage, if you don't act with pure motives, we can see that all of your direct reports, all of the members of the team, we can see that if your selfish or egotistical or insecure, we can see that you're not hiding that if you don't really care about people, if you don't find joy and satisfaction contributing through other people, we can see that if you think you're superior, we can see that if you need to hear yourself talk or you can't handle being wrong, we can see that.

0:20:38.5 DC: Isn't it interesting? So leadership is revealing, it exposes you, whatever is on the inside, it's coming out. Now, you can try to hide that, but we can see the fact that you're trying to hide that. So when it comes to psychological safety and creating psychological safety for a team, there's no faking people out, you will set the terms of engagement and everyone will catch on very quickly, we will all discern your motives, and then we will open ourselves to you or we will close down and shut down to you, we will respond to whatever you do as the leader, right so if you use fear as a tool, you already lost because you broke... The feedback loop isn't this interesting, you're a cultural architect, whether you like it or not, that's what we're trying to say here. So you may as well embrace that stewardship and start with people first as the priority and be very deliberate about the way that you're trying to create the terms of engagement, the conditions, the atmosphere in the climate of your team, because you're gonna do it anyway. You just have to choose, or am I gonna do it by designer by default, but you're going to do it...

0:22:04.6 Junior: Sometimes I feel like even as a co-host of this podcast, I need to have a pen and paper out because there are about nine things just so that we're really interesting to me, and I had a couple liable moments, the fear veins really interesting to me, and I wanna emphasize this point that you made, you said many leaders manufacture fear to hide their own fear, now, fear as an organizational indicator is really interesting because it's a symptom, it's always a symptom of some type of pathology that is lurking underneath. Now, fear, why would they manufacture fear to hide their own fear, why would they be scared? So fear is the opposite of what could be said that its confidence, that fear and confidence are opposites. What begets confidence.

0:22:55.1 Junior: Competence with a P. This is something that is really fascinating to me. Fear is almost always symptomatic of incompetence, if there's fear in the organization, and that competence could be technical or it could be cultural, as we said as a leader, you need to do both, you need to be culturally competent and you need to be technically competent, and so often, if a leader is incompetent in one of those domains and doesn't want to be found out, they manufacture the fear to hide what's going on, but what's so ironic about that? As you've explained, is that you're not hiding anything, you're telling us absolutely everything by manufacturing that fear, so it's not mysterious to anyone outside looking in like, Oh, I wonder what's going on... No, no, no, it's very straightforward. If there's fear in the organization, there's pathology behind that fear, and that almost always lives at the level of the leader, and so inside an organization, if you see fear, you can identify that as a symptom and say, Okay, where in the leadership do I need to go look, to figure out what's going on. And you can say this to yourself as well, and be introspective, if there's any fear that's going on around you, then there's issue with you, and it probably is technical or cultural competence, and you need to be open enough to ask the question and then go figure out what's going on and make some efforts to improve, which we're gonna talk about...

0:24:23.9 DC: Well, junior, you make a good point, the fear could be coming from either side, it could be technical incompetence, or cultural incompetent, so I appreciate that you synthesize that, and then that fear equal sign, incompetence, but it could be coming from both either one side or the other ball... So that's a really good point.

0:24:47.2 Junior: And that's not something that is sustainable, name an organization of any sort, it could be a political scheme, for profit organization, government institution or whatever, that was able to operate healthily over a long period of time with a lot of fear. It doesn't happen. And why, because you mentioned it again in another point, I wanna emphasize, you broke the feedback loop, and that feedback loop is fundamental to the sustainability of any team, any organization. Because you need to adapt to a changing environment. If the environment is changing and you're not... Because of the lack of feedback, then you're done, it's just a matter of time, and it may happen really quickly if you have a very dynamic environment, it may be long and painful if the environment's not shifting terribly fast...

0:25:36.7 DC: Yeah, Junior I'm. I wanna make one other comment, I'm gonna extrapolate a little bit, and let's take this concept that fear is a symptom of incompetence, and that over time, it's not sustainable, you cannot sustain high performance over time with fear as your primary source of fuel and motivation, if you don't think that's true. Look out over the world, and I'm not going to name names. I'm not going to name nations, but the nations that live by fear.

0:26:13.2 DC: Or political, social and economic basket cases, they do not perform over time, and they can't seem to pull themselves out of the pit that they're in, and I'm not gonna call any of them out, but you can see very clearly that a fear-based organization, a fear-based family, a fear-based society of fear-based nation, it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and it's a reflection of poor leadership every single time, every time it's symptomatic of leaders that are not doing the job they're not performing the stewardship of leadership.

0:27:00.0 Junior: Part of what fascinates me about that point is even if you try to make the argument stands morality, it still stands... Even if you look at it through a lens of purely efficacy, it still stands, if you are a bottom line driven innovation only institution that's all that you care about, and the people are absolutely secondary, it still makes sense to take this approach solely for the purposes of feedback, and that's why I think that this argument becomes so bulletproof add morality and ethics to the equation and... Yeah, of course, it's obvious. But even without that, purely through the lens of efficacy, it's still the smart thing to do.

0:27:44.0 DC: It's still the right thing to do, yeah.

0:27:47.6 Junior: So let's talk a little bit about solution, what should we do if we know that there is this massive gap of knowing doing that we're saying psychologically, psychological safety is essential, yet we're not doing it, what should we do as managers? How do we incorporate psychological safety as a manager... We're going to give you a few points. The first is to define psychological safety to the team, if you don't have shared terms and shared language, it's going to be very difficult, and so...

0:28:16.6 Junior: What is the definition? We say it's a culture of rewarded vulnerability, and then we define, well, what is culture? It's the way we interact. And what is reward me, it means reinforce. And What is vulnerability any time we stand to lose something socially, politically monetarily, and what is an act of vulnerability, asking a question, you start to unpack that definition, you go through it with a team, you say, Okay, this is psychological safety, what don't we understand... If everyone gets on the same page, okay, now we're operating under the same assumptions, and another critical point along these same lines is to define what psychological safety is not, and this is where a lot of people miss, and this is something that we emphasize with the organizations, with which we work is what isn't psychological safety be... That may be equally important. So Tim, you wanna take us through how we approach that in describing to people What psychological safety isn't...

0:29:14.7 DC: Well, we've identified, I think, some pretty consistent patterns of what it's not, but yet these are misconceptions, these are misconceptions where we misinterpret and we mis-apply psychological safety as a concept, so it's not a shield from accountability. That's number one. A lot of people think, Oh, we're doing psychological safety, that means I can kinda go do what I want, diplomatic community from accountability. It's not that. That's number one. Number two, it's not calling, we're not gonna roll everybody and bubble wrap, we're not going to contribute to your fragility. It's not what it's about, in fact, it's about the opposite, it's about establishing terms of engagement and conditions that allow us to have the tough conversations to be able to speak openly and honestly about issues. Three, it's not consensus decision-making, it doesn't magically change the decision-making model and give you a vote. Everyone has a vote. That's not what it means. That's another misconception. It's not unearned autonomy. It doesn't magically give you autonomy that you didn't have before, autonomy has always earned on the basis of performance and results, so it's not going to suddenly bestow autonomy on you that you didn't learn.

0:30:39.9 DC: That doesn't make any sense, but yet it's a misconception. A fifth one is is it's not political correctness, it doesn't subscribe to some political agenda or policy stance or ideology, right, people try to hijack it and use it for that kind of... Weaponized it for that purpose. Sometimes, but it's not that. Another one is what rhetorical reassurance, Junior talk to us about this one... This one is amusing.

0:31:09.6 Junior: Yeah, so rhetorical reassurance. What is that? It's rhetoric, it's just language, it's just words, we're declaring to the organization that is now psychologically safe, and that's ludicrous, yet a lot of organizations do it, Hey, we're establishing a Speak-up culture. Okay, how... I don't know, we just told you that we are so it's safe now, so we want your feedback. And how many of us have been asked for feedback yet the environment did not support the giving of feedback... Probably all of us can raise our hands. So you can just declare psychological safety or a healthy culture into existence, and I love the word reassurance to... No, it's okay, it's a... Here, don't worry, right? It's gonna be, okay, just give us your feedback. That does not work with organizations, but it's very easy to do, and so I think that that's why we often fall into the trap is what, it's just a big communication plan, just an email, an all-hands meeting, Hey, that's pretty fast, and then, take me five minutes to explain that, Hey, we wanna speak up culture, so go ahead and from here on out, we want your feedback doesn't work.

0:32:21.4 DC: It's disingenuous to approach an organization like that, because if you're a leader, you're responsible for conditions, and what you're doing is you've abdicated your responsibility to create the conditions that are conducive for people to provide the honest feedback, and you're trying to do it by fear. Right? You're trying to de-create into existence. That's not integrity. So I think that's a pretty big issue when leaders approach organizations that way.

0:32:53.4 Junior: Well, and it's safe to say that it's worse if you do it that way, then if you didn't declare it at all, because people see that it's duplicitous. So that is the first step, define psychological safety to the team, define what it is not, so that you have shared terms and same language, same shared language. Number two is to set clear expectations, so this is the rule setting phase, what's allowed here, what are the terms of engagement, how are we going to work together? So one of the ways that we do this with teams and organizations is additional definition, we'll say red zones are environments of punished vulnerability, blue zones are environments of rewarded vulnerability.

0:33:39.2 Junior: And here in this team, we're not going to tolerate red zone behavior, so we're not going to tolerate personal attacks, we're not going to tolerate any sort of put down culture, we're not going to tolerate off-color jokes, we're not gonna tolerate this and this and this, we expect professionalism, we expect this, we expect this, and setting those terms of engagement, because if you don't then what standard are people beholden to, now there is none, right? And these norms just emerge, and people kinda figure it out by trying to figure out where the lines are, it becomes very murky, and guess what also becomes really hard, accountability, if you don't have clear terms of engagement, really, really difficult to hold people accountable because it's to water we held accountable, I'm not sure. Not sure.

0:34:28.8 DC: Yeah.

0:34:29.2 Junior: Hard to have that conversation.

0:34:30.6 DC: That's right. The standard is not clear.

0:34:33.3 Junior: Next, we have enforced the expectation, so after we set the expectations, if we don't enforce them, we've got a problem, so we need that accountability piece. And Tim, you and I were talking earlier about the fact that we're not coming to this from zero, it's not tabula rasa every time, it's not like we're spinning up new teams, these teams are going to come with some norms, they're going to come with some habits, they're gonna come with an existing culture, and any time we learn something, almost by definition, we need to unlearn something, and so there may be some unlearning that has to go on before we can institutionalize the new norms that we want right? .

0:35:10.9 DC: Yeah, that's very true. And so what that means is we have to identify the cultural liabilities that exist in the legacy culture, what are the norms that need to change, and so we gotta do it, we need to do a little cut and pasting some restorative work, some root cause analysis and corrective action, but that's what needs to happen, and that's not easy, because there's an equilibrium that has developed around the existing norms. Right, let's just go back through Junior, the anatomy of a culture. So a pattern of behavior in an individual is the habit, a pattern of shared behavior with the team, right so let's say there are eight people on the team and we have a pattern of behavior that we share, that's a norm, the collection of our norms becomes a culture so we have habits, we have norms, and then we have a culture, the culture is the collection of the norms, so if we need to change the culture, which is what we're talking about doing here, then we need to go back down and we need to change norms and then we need to go all the way down to an individual level.

0:36:28.2 DC: If we're holding people accountable and we need to change patterns of behavior at the individual level, it really does come back to enforcing those expectations, there has to be accountability at that level.

0:36:42.5 Junior: And that accountability has to be terribly consistent. That has to be the same every single time for every single person without variation, otherwise you're gonna get variability in the system and with accountability, that's not something that you want.

0:36:56.6 DC: You're the one that likes to say it, what you tolerate, you normalize, and I love that.

0:37:03.0 Junior: Yeah, I believe that is my norms, and that's true at an individual level, right what you tolerate in yourself is what will repeat... That is a fact I've never seen that not be true at the level of the individual, a team or an organization, you will get what you tolerate and what you tolerate will repeat, and so let's say that you tolerate a personal attack... What's gonna happen again in the future? A personal attack, right? 

0:37:29.3 Junior: Let's say that you tolerate insert behavior insert undesirable behavior, you tolerate that it's gonna happen again. And so it's your responsibility as a leader to patrol the boundaries of respect more than anything else, we talk about Stage One, inclusion safety, you are owed that respect, you are owed a degree of permission to participate in what we're doing as a team, and if someone encroaches on that boundary. Hey, careful, someone passes that boundary, there needs to be accountability, and that is your job, that is also something that you cannot delegate as a leader, you can't say, Oh, you know, someone else go, just patrol the boundaries right and just let me know... No, no, that's your job. You can't abdicate that. Next is live the expectations, live the rules yourself, you are not immune from them, it's not just that everyone on the team needs to abide by these principles, you do too, and you need to model the appropriate behavior, and that goes all the way back to modeling the acts of vulnerability, and there are many, many behavioral guide items inside of the document that we will put in the show notes if you haven't looked at, there's a new version that we released, it's really, really good, but this will give you an idea of some things that you can do to start, but here's one, share your story, share your story, that's an act of vulnerability, and maybe your team doesn't know your story.

0:38:58.0 Junior: Who are you, where did you come from? That's an interesting place to start. So if you haven't done that, maybe do that, it's an idea for you, and then there's another angle here, which we've discussed before Tim, moments of truth, so tell us a little bit about moments of truth and what that has to do with living the expectations that we've set for the team.

0:39:19.3 DC: If it's crucial to live the expectations, not just enforce the expectations, but you need to live model the expectations, then at what moments is that most important? And we would say, Well, there are these moments of truth where the stakes are high, emotions are running high, and your response is going to reverberate throughout the team, throughout the organization, your behavior, your modeling behavior, is going to have a massive influence on people. So think about those moments of truth, how do you handle them, What is your emotional response to descent and in bad news. Are you composed? Are you poised? Are you demonstrating emotional intelligence? Are you demonstrating humility? Are you still listening? Are you still asking questions or have you gone headlong into a directive mode and advocacy mode, a mode of not listening. Right, so all of these things come into play when we have an important moment of truth where the stakes are so high, and you know that whatever happens is going to travel in the organization, it's going to reverberate, it's going to ripple through, and so you've gotta handle those moments of truth really, really well.

0:40:54.9 Junior: One of the ways that you can become better at this is through practice, now you don't know when that dissent and that bad news is going to come, when those moments of truth will show themselves, but when they do try to create some space between that moment of truth and your response and identify it, call it out and say, Okay, this is a moment of truth, here it is, and then be intentional about your response, okay, how I respond to the situation is going to matter, and it's going to set precedent for the team and then say, Okay, I'm going to approach this with real intent, I'm gonna try and do a good job and I'm gonna be humble while I do it, if you can create space just for a couple of seconds to identify that moment of truth and then try to pre-program that response, it'll be much better off because what do we normally want to do when we hear descent and bad news is have an equal and opposite reaction that's instantaneous and just go right back into it.

0:41:53.6 Junior: But try and create some space. That'll be really helpful. Okay, last one, reward the vulnerability of others... And this is the crux of the issue. If you don't reward the vulnerability of other people, you're not going to continue to get their vulnerability, and what their vulnerability will be coming in the form of what... It may not look like vulnerability on the front end, it may not be what people would typically be called vulnerable, but it's gonna come as questions, it's going to come as feedback, it's gonna come as information, and you have to be very careful with how you treat that, psychological safety is a culture of rewarded vulnerability, that's the mechanism by which we increase or decrease psychological safety is that response to vulnerability, so your ratio should be pegged out on the rewards high, or if you're a leader, especially because you're setting the norms for that team, one of the things that we like to do as an organization is help leaders understand and team members understand for each other what's vulnerable for them, so as a team activity this week, you're welcome to use the free ladder of vulnerability on the website.

0:43:02.1 Junior: It's a self-assessment, it's 20 items. It takes literally five minutes. We'll put a link to that in the show notes, but it's a really cool activity to show you what's vulnerable for each team member and how to effectively reward their acts of vulnerabilities if you do it generally and blanket, it's not as effective as... If you understand each individual where they're at and how you might engage with them to better respond to their feedback and questions.

0:43:27.0 DC: Yeah, I love that. I would encourage everyone to take advantage of that and take the ladder of vulnerability, I promise you, you've never taken a self-assessment like this to systematically measure your own vulnerability. It will be eye-opening.

0:43:41.7 Junior: So to summarize, there is distance, there's dissonance between where we are and where we think we should be, we think that psychological safety, a respectful, safe work environment should be table stakes. That's basically consensus from the data, yet we also have seen that only 15% of us are doing that well, 85% aren't, so there's an 85% failure rate at what is the most important job that we have as leaders, so that should get our attention... Your effectiveness as a leader boils down to the way that you interact with others, and as it pertains to psychological safety, we have five rules, define the term or suggestions, define the term, set rules, enforce the rules, live the rules yourself and reward the vulnerability of others. There are other things that we could put on this list, but those are five suffice for today, and you'll have to wait for some more episodes as we continue to dive into this, but I've really appreciated the conversation today, Tim. I've had some liable moments myself, and it's always a pleasure to talk about these things with you. Any final thoughts? 

0:44:52.0 DC: Oh, I just go back to what we said at the outset, and that is people first, number second.

0:45:00.7 Junior: Love it. Thank you everyone for your time, your attention, we appreciate your listenership. We're very grateful for the work that you do in the world, and we are here to support you if you like today's episode, leave us a like, leave us a review and share it with someone you think might find it valuable. With that we'll say goodbye. And we'll see you next time. Take care.

0:45:25.6 FP: Hey culture by design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at, and if you found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share it with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about leader factor and what we do, then please visit us at Lastly if you'd like to give any feedback to the culture by design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior then reach out to us at or find and tag is on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design not by default.

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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