A leader’s self-trust brings psychological safety to the team

In my previous article, I talked about how self-trust fosters “horizontal relationships” with people, allowing us to be true to ourselves and others to be true to them.

In this article, I will talk about how a leader’s self-trust brings psychological safety to the team.

What is psychological safety?

The concept of psychological safety became well known in Japan when Google introduced it as an answer to the question, “What makes an effective team?”

In response to this question, Google’s research team found that what really matters is not “who is on the team” but rather “how the team works together” and concluded that the most fundamental aspect of this is “psychological safety”. (Click here for a summary of Google’s study)

Let’s review the definition of psychological safety here.

Definition of psychological safety (Amy Edmondson’s definition):
A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking

Reading this definition, some of you may think that it is a little different from your first impression of the term “psychological safety.” When we hear the term “psychological safety,” we may think that we always feel safe and secure when we belong to that team. It’s the impression that the people in the team are friendly and peaceful, and that there is no conflict.

However, in the above definition, it is described as being able to feel safe even when taking risks in interpersonal relationships. There is no doubt that this is the image of always feeling safe and secure, but it does not mean that the harmony is established because both parties are reserved and do not step over the line, but rather that both parties can continue to feel safe even if they step over the line. This is what is called psychological safety.

Is there anything in your workplace that you feel could be improved? You probably can think of at least one or two issues or areas for improvement in your workplace.

Taking a risk in interpersonal relationships means to be able to say, “If I tell people about the problems and improvements in the workplace, it might make the atmosphere in the workplace a little awkward, but I think the people in this workplace will understand, so I’ll be brave enough to tell them”

In contrast, if one thinks, “I don’t want to talk about issues or improvements in the workplace because it might offend someone,” or “I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to be seen as someone who will disrupt the harmony of the workplace,” then it would be difficult to take risks in interpersonal relationships.

Now, why is this psychological safety important?

Professor Edmondson of Harvard University, a proponent of psychological safety, published a study in 1999 showing that psychological safety increases the learning attitude of teams, which in turn leads to better team performance.

In other words, psychological safety allows us to grow as a team. It is easy to imagine that this is because psychological safety allows us to see and discuss things from multiple perspectives, to talk openly about team problems and improve them, and to incorporate new ideas outside of the box, which enhances our performance as a team.

In contrast, many of you may have actually experienced that if you cannot speak up within the team even if you think it is a problem, or if the opinion of the person in charge is absolute and there is no room for other members to speak up, team learning will not proceed and it will be difficult to achieve successful outcomes as a team.

If I were to ask myself whether I have been able to bring psychological safety to my team, I would say that I have yet to do so. Even though I would like to create a team with psychological safety, I have yet to realize it because I let my ego get the better of me in some situations, a sense of responsibility from my position as president often backfires on me, and I am sometimes skeptical of members who make comments that disturb the harmony.

As we can see, even if we understand that psychological safety is important for creating an effective team, it is not a simple matter to materialize it. It’s important to want to create a psychologically safe team, but that doesn’t mean it will happen immediately.

Then, what brings about psychological safety?

Self-trust brings psychological safety

What I am about to write is not the result of authoritative research, but a hypothesis generated in the course of a project to explore the ISHIKI(Consciousness) management. However, I am personally quite convinced of it, and the degree of my conviction is increasing through my daily practice.

The answer (hypothesis) in our quest project was that self-trust leads to psychological safety.

Our team’s idea of the mechanism by which psychological safety is created is as follows.

In a previous article, I talked about how self-trust creates trust in others. Believing in oneself unconditionally leads to believing in others unconditionally. Conversely, if we can only believe conditionally in ourselves, we can only believe conditionally in others.

When we have self-trust, we are able to self-disclose. When we have unconditional trust in ourselves, we don’t need to hesitate to disclose. If we have unconditional trust in ourselves, we will feel less resistance to self-disclosure of our weaknesses, challenges, mistakes, and other things that are normally considered difficult to talk about.

When we have trust in others, we are able to accept others. If we can believe in others unconditionally, we can accept their ways of being, their behavior, and their words and actions, suspending our judgment of what is good or bad.

In addition, self-disclosure and acceptance of others have a mutual influence. The more self-disclosure, the easier it is to accept others, as we can easily imagine when we think of a good friend or a reliable comrade.

And as self-disclosure and acceptance of others progress, mutual acceptance and understanding develops, and psychological safety is created in the relationship.

Self-trust of the leader is important

Since psychological safety is a belief shared in a team, the source of this belief is each team member. In this sense, the self-trust of each team member contributes to the psychological safety of the team.

Among them, I believe that self-trust of those who take on the role of a leader is very important. This is because the way a leader is and behaves has a great impact on the entire team.

So, if you are leading a team in a leadership role, it is good to be aware that your self-trust will bring psychological safety to the entire team.

In situations where you are participating in the team as a member rather than a leader, it is recommended that you view your own self-trust (as well as the leader’s self-trust) as providing psychological safety for the entire team.

You may be thinking that since self-trust of the leader is important, if you are participating as a team member, you are not really relevant to the team. It is true that the degree of influence of self-trust as a leader is higher, but as I mentioned earlier, the self-trust of each member also has an influence.

Therefore, in terms of concentrating on what can be changed by you, I recommend that you regard yourself as the subject and that your self-trust will also bring psychological safety to the entire team.

I’m sure you’ve seen cases where people who take the attitude that they can influence the team and think about how they would behave if they were in the role of a leader have been recommended by others to take on leadership roles in the future.

Why “Let’s create psychological safety” is not enough?

Some of you may be wondering why we need to bring up the concept of self-trust and explain its relationship to psychological safety. It is reasonable to say that if psychological safety makes for an effective team, then we only need to think about creating psychological safety.

Nevertheless, I believe it is important to be aware of the fact that self-trust creates psychological safety. This is because I believe that self-trust is the cause and psychological safety is the result.

Earlier, I told you about my own story of wanting to create a team with psychological safety, but not being able to realize it yet. In this situation, what I feel deeply is that if the cause (self-trust) does not change, the result ( psychological safety) will not change easily.

In my own case, I was originally a person with weak self-trust. I think I am gradually overcoming this, but I am still in the process of doing so. I believe that the degree of psychological safety of the team is increasing in proportion to the degree of my self-trust, but it is still not at a sufficient level. I believe that this is because my self-trust has not yet been fully developed.

However, I don’t think we need to be pessimistic at all. As I have mentioned in my previous articles, self-trust is something that can be cultivated. Self-trust is cultivated through the accumulation of self-consistency.(To capture intuition, thinking, and bodily awareness as they are from meta-consciousness)

Self-consistency
(To capture intuition, thinking, and bodily awareness as they are from meta-consciousness)

Self-trust
(Unconditional trust in oneself)

Psychological safety of the team

Facilitate team learning

Team performance

The above figure summarizes what we have talked about so far. The accumulation of self-congruence creates psychological safety and team performance. And the important thing is that self-congruence can be done anytime, anywhere, if we want to do it.

Since I realized that self-trust brings psychological safety, it has become much easier for me to collaborate with my team and build relationships with the people around me. Sometimes such collaboration and relationship building goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t, but no matter what the situation is, being able to believe that “ self-trust is the base” and that “the situation can be improved by accumulating self-congruence” has made me crystal clear on what I need to focus on and what I need to be aware of.

In this article, I talked about how self-trust creates psychological safety. There are many situations in which we collaborate and communicate in a day, such as meetings at work, 1-on-1 sessions with subordinates, and conversations within the family. In such situations, if you approach the situation with the awareness that “self-trust creates psychological safety,” you may find yourself feeling a little differently than before.

Here are the quests of the day. (If you’d like, please share your thoughts in the comments.)

・What kind of team makes you feel psychologically safe? How does your behavior and actions on that team differ from your behavior on other teams?

・In the team you just described, what seems to be the relationship between the self-trust of the people in leadership positions and the members of the team and the psychological safety within the team?

Bunshiro Ochiai

Founder and CEO of a training company, Alue | MS in Particle Physics. | BCG | Questing “What is the paradigm for integrating contradictions in management?”