Recently, I was talking with someone with a considerable amount of background in continuous improvement about the challenges related to building coaching skills. Having known each other for some time, we felt comfortable admitting to each other that we occasionally find it difficult to coach.

As the conversation happened, I had an epiphany: this kind of conversation is probably rare, and in general, organizations are not necessarily conducive to people admitting when they’re struggling.

Are you one of those people who thinks you should be able to lead?
Do you find coaching your team harder than it looks?
Do you talk to others about your challenges in leading your team?

At some point in the last several years, it dawned on me that most people think they’re “supposed” to be able to coach their teams. Yet everyone I’ve ever spoken to about how well it’s going, typically finds coaching quite difficult.

As I continue working with leadership groups to both build skills and create a leadership community that shares their experience, this principle continues to become more evident. Why?

Over 20 years ago, I first learned about psychological safety and its role in successful workplaces. Psychological safety refers to “being able to show one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.” It requires both the absence of conditions that create fear and the presence of conditions that allow people to take more risks.

Taking these principles into account, my experiences have shown me that when people in leadership roles feel safe enough to share their challenges from a place of vulnerability, they gain noticeable momentum in their growth. On a larger scale, when the individuals in a leadership community share their experiences, they visibly build the effectiveness of their leadership skills and abilities.

In fact, it’s a risk to admit when you’re struggling to be the leader you believe you need to be or should be. The question we all need to ask ourselves is whether our working environment is in fact a place where people feel safe enough to admit we aren’t all we want to be.

At first glance, I never would have thought this would make that much of a difference. But after watching it for three years, I’m convinced it’s one of the missing elements we face in the developing lean cultures.

Here are three suggestions for strengthening psychological safety in your leadership community:

1. Hold peer coaching sessions where leaders can share their experiences and challenges as well as gain support from others in a similar role.
2. Create opportunities for people to gather in small groups to support each other in achieving leadership growth (i.e. buddy groups).
3. Provide support well beyond typical training events to ensure long-term, ongoing support is continually available for leaders to grow their skills as a team.

I often say “leadership is a team sport.” If your leadership team needs support creating leadership community of growth, please reach out here.

For additional resources on this, consider the work of Dr. Timothy Clark in his book The Four Stages of Psychological Safety or Professor Amy C. Edmondson’s The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth.

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