My husband and I have been a part of Teen Leadership programs for nearly 10 years. It is something that is dear to our hearts, as we feel that the development of leadership skills in addition to strong academic skills prepare our teens for the 21st century global workforce.
Leadership and the workplace are two words that cannot be separated. However, it is important that we point out that not all who have authoritative roles also take on the role of effective leader. It is not uncommon to find a boss that lacks leadership skills and the consequences of this may have an effect of division on the team.
In Simons Sinek’s TED talk entitled, “Why Good Leaders make You Feel Safe,” he speaks about the concept of the circle of safety. He discusses that 50 000 years ago the world was filled with danger. These dangers, which may have been weather, animals, lack of resources etc. were all forces that reduced the lifespan of the early homo sapiens. As we homo sapiens evolved into social animals, we began to work and live together. Tribes were formed and in these tribes, when there was a feeling of safety, the natural reaction was trust and cooperation. This allowed us not only to stay safer but also to achieve more. He refers to this as the Circle of Safety.
In today’s workforce, we need circles of safety. Although we may not be as concerned about the wild animals after our lives, danger takes shape in different ways in the workplace. Overnight changes in the economy and job markets can make an employee go from feeling safe to feeling in danger. This can lead to lack of trust and an unwillingness to cooperate with others. According to Sinek’s Ted Talk, he sees trust and cooperation as feelings and not skills that can be solely taught or instructed to use on demand. When we lack trust and cooperation in a workplace, employees focus their energy on protecting themselves from each other rather than working together. The presence of the circle of safety in the workplace allows for less time being spent on protecting oneself and more time being spent on combining efforts and talents to reach common goals.
We need to create environments that foster a circle of safety. Look at your employee recognition programs, do they foster the type of team atmosphere that you want to see in your company? Do our school systems foster skills in our learners to ensure that they will be able to work with others? In addition to raising individuals, we need to ensure that they understand that they are a piece of a larger puzzle.
The Turks and Caicos Islands has a very competitive education system. Although a certain amount of competition is healthy and motivating, it is important to ensure that we are fostering the type of competition that is creating the type of citizens that we would like to see. Much emphasis is put on the ranking of term grades and standardized exams. This is motivating for many and has its benefits. It is, however, important that we remember when too much emphasis is put on children winning, as opposed to excelling to their own individual potential, it is often difficult to turn around and ask them as they grow up to focus less on always appearing to be first or the winner and turn their energy towards collective achievement.
In order to increase the levels of trust and cooperation in organizations, we need to create environments where individuals feel safe and supported, which will allow trust and cooperation to be more easily achieved.
Therefore, whether you are a designated leader of a school, team or organization, or if you take on leadership roles in the way you do things, ask yourself if you are promoting an environment where your team members feel safe. Take the time to jot down what safety looks like in your organization and make an action plan which will help you improve the likelihood of trust and cooperation.