How the phenomenon of psychological safety fosters creativity in leadership

Psychological safety fosters creativity

How psychological safety fosters creativity in the workplace.

Let me tell you a story about an old client of mine. A story that shows how psychological safety fosters creativity and innovation in the workplace. My client came to me feeling very dissatisfied with his current job. He was an engineer who designed after-sales modifications for a specific range of motor vehicles. He was working on a new and revolutionary design for the way the tray of a utility vehicle (ute) attached to the body.

My client (let’s call him John) believed he had come up with an ingenious solution that was cost-effective and made the vehicle stronger and more stable under load. In his own time, he had designed a practical solution to a problem that customers had been complaining about to the business he worked for. He felt he was sitting on a goldmine for the company plus meeting a clear need for drivers. The problem was that his manager was the kind of person to dismiss ideas without hearing them through. Even worse, John wasn’t comfortable talking about the idea with his teammates because they were afraid to try something new. Failure was not acceptable in his workplace.

After working with John, he realised his workplace was not psychologically safe. There was no mutual trust and respect, and none of his team felt comfortable to honestly express themselves without fear of punishment. People learnt to keep things to themselves and avoid anyone who stepped out of line.

John decided to find a new job and soon found himself in a similar role for a competing company who were very excited to hear about a possibly business-changing invention.

Unfortunately, John’s first attempt failed. The modification didn’t work. Instead of putting him down, John’s new manager encouraged him to try again. He did and this time, it worked.

It turned out that John’s invention was brilliant and not only did his specific brand of vehicle want it but so did their competitors. John’s new work environment encouraged new ideas and supported their testing and development. Failures were seen as a learning point and instead of being punished for them, John and his new team were rewarded for taking a calculated risk.

The new team working under John were inspired by his invention and with his help went on to develop related products which were so successful they generated millions of dollars for the new company. This is just one example to show that psychological safety fosters creativity within organisations.

The point of this story is not the money. It’s about the environment. The new company offered a psychologically safe space to explore, critique and invent. It showed that true psychological safety fosters creativity within it's environment. The people were supported whether their ideas succeeded or not. There was no fear of failure, so the team could work together in harmony. They trusted each other enough to run ideas past the team, knowing nobody would laugh at or humiliate them.

Out of this environment sprang a team creativity that would never have developed at John’s old workplace. While the creativity did generate an excellent financial return for the company, it also stimulated more and more creativity over time. Engaged and motivated people will deliver!

I don’t think you can put a dollar value on psychological safety any more than you could put a value on potential, but we all know how much you could miss out on if you ignore it.

Given what you’ve just read, do you think you have created a psychologically safe space in your team? A space that proves that psychological safety fosters creativity?

If you’re struggling, let me help you. We can work together to give you and your team the psychological safety you deserve.

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Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished, award-winning CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience-based to achieve rapid development and growth.


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