Hint: It means you’ve made them feel safe and worthy
Whether you’re a new leader or a senior executive, a parent of a toddler or teenager, you’ve probably felt challenged by someone you lead at one time or another, at least I hope you have. Sure, life would be smooth sailing if no one ever challenged us, but we wouldn’t accomplish much at work, we would never learn anything about who our team members or little humans really are, and we would miss out on some great stuff that makes life worth living!
I recently watched a TEDTalk-style video hosted by Energy Disruptors (“an initiative designed to accelerate global clean energy and climate solutions by uniting the world’s boldest trailblazers”). Guest speaker, Chris Foster, CIO of TC Energy, offers a vulnerable, heart felt human take on the link between psychological safety and innovation. Says Foster, “Innovation is a mindset, and that has more to do with success than any technology ever will.” This, from a senior leader in technology.
Workplaces that encourage, even expect, or dare I say, demand, that employees offer ideas and dissenting opinions in the name of innovation are the ones that succeed. The key is to reward and support ideas when they are offered. Anyone who has suggested an idea and been dismissed or scoffed at is sure to never make that mistake again.
Companies like Uber and Airbnb were born from ideas that would make most people scratch their head. How can anyone in their right mind think that people are going to jump in a car with a stranger … or pay money to sleep on a stranger’s couch!? The difference between them and other companies is that the people who had the ideas were trusted to have the company’s best interests in mind, celebrated for offering a unique perspective, and supported in doing the work to find out if their idea was worth pursuing.
Apple and Amazon have intentionally cultivated environments in which employees are expected to offer fresh ideas. I’m sure only a very small percentage of ideas turn out to be winners, but what these companies know that others don’t, is that continuing to do what they’ve always done, even if it has been incredibly successful, will spell eventual downfall. Nothing stays the same, and what’s comfortable now doesn’t stay profitable in the long run.
If you get challenged or pushback from your employees (and kiddos), congratulations! You have made them feel safe in doing so, and worthy of their unique thinking. If those around you are heads down and a little too quiet, why not ask them what they’re thinking? You might be pleasantly surprised.