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Creating a Safe Place: The Catalyst for Authenticity in Your Career
How many times have you been told you’re too much? Been talked over in a meeting? Or outright passed over for a career move that you were 1000% qualified for because you were born a woman?
If you are like me, it happened more times than you would like to remember or admit. I started my career in corporate healthcare. It had so many policies, rules, and guidelines for how I could show up at work. I was told I could only have 1 ear piercing. I was demanded to keep a makeup bag and blazer at my desk because I was not allowed to walk into a conference room without a full face of makeup on. I was expected to leave my personal life at the door. And when passed up for well-deserved promotions, I was “mentored” to leave the company to get additional experience and then try and come back later after already giving them 6 years of my life.
My professional career was built on showing up inauthentically. That was ingrained in me. And the people pleaser in me accepted all of it because I knew I was destined to make an impact, so I was willing to listen to how to play the game. It wasn’t until my life took a drastic turn after my son’s passing that I decided no more! Life is way too short to go through it, day in and day out, not being myself.
This is when I learned about psychological safety as my tool to show up authentically. As shared by Harvard Business Review, “Team psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that it’s OK to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes — all without fear of negative consequences.” That sounded exactly like what I was desperate for.
I needed work to be a safe place more than ever after my leave. I needed it to be my escape from home. I needed to be able to show up raw, unfiltered, and not have it all together. So I decided to really dive deeper into psychological safety. I found myself in a position where I led a team that I did not directly manage, and it was the perfect place to try. I have since followed these 4 steps with most of my clients and teams. It has drastically changed the way we show up and work together. I now show up unapologetically as myself, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
If you still haven’t found your safe place in your career, model these steps and magically watch your work environment transform in front of you.
Creating Your Safe Place: Magical Steps to Transform Your Work Environment
1. Set the tone for yourself
The way you “should be” acting in a professional capacity is all made up in your own head. It is likely created from past experiences, what mentors have told you, or how you have seen behavior modeled in professional settings. Take the self-reflection time to decide how you want to show up in your professional setting and begin modeling that behavior. This allows the change to be progressive versus a jarring all-or-nothing feeling. And as you continue to model that behavior your team will pick that up and begin to feel safe to do the same.
2. Accept who people are, for who they really are
I never understood the common practice of new team members having to mold themselves into the current dynamic of the team. That’s like saying you are going to bring a new puppy or baby into your family team and expect that nothing changes. I don’t know about you, but as a mom of 4, I have yet to experience bringing home a new baby, telling them the schedule of the house, and finding them to fall right in line without any disruption. Now as adults, we hopefully have more self-control, but each person on the team brings a new perspective, personality, and past experiences. Appreciate that. Celebrate that. Be proud that you all collectively are different and make a more well-rounded team!
3. Openly talk about what your dream team dynamics are
Continuing the “this is how we do it here” mentality. Who decided that was how it was done in the past? Why did they decide that? When was that last revisited? Spoiler alert – for the majority of my clients they can hardly even answer those questions because they likely weren’t even a part of those decisions. There is a place for tradition! For instance, our family does trips instead of presents. That is a tradition I hope to see continue for as long as I am a part of the family leadership team. But when I pass off my seat at the table, my kids will need to make their own traditions that are in better alignment with the life they are actively building. But you know how that tradition came to be? We sat down and talked about what everyone enjoys, dislikes, or is passionate about. It was a team decision on how we were going to work together.
So, I supercharged this for my work team by creating a new ceremony, called a Futurespective. (Learn the details here) Since watching repeated positive changes happen, Futurespectives rose to the top of my tools for teams. And it creates such positive change, that I encourage them to revisit anytime team dynamics change. We openly talk about how each person gets their best work done, what level of support is important to them, how they want to be communicated with, etc. Sometimes the answers are as silly as “I am not a fully functioning human being before 10 am” to as personal as “I need to take the week off during my son’s birthday because I take sabbatical time to grieve.” And though we don’t have policies and procedures to write up from these answers, we know a lot.
Team Member 1 – we are not getting value from this person when we keep scheduling 7:30 am meetings. In fact, we’re doing the opposite and driving them to hate showing up for this place every day. So let’s allow them to block their calendar in the morning and work flex hours.
Team Member 2 – The PTO request here is of course a yes because we know that allows them to show up fully any other time, and we as a team should help make sure their plate is light enough leading up to that week so they can actually take a sabbatical without worrying about here.
4. Operate by the definition of agile
Now if I only had a $1 from every one of you who just rolled your eyes at the word Agile because you have seen it butchered and abused and know it hasn’t really made an impact, I would be in Greece already! But hang in there with me (or email me and we can chat all day about it because as a Product Process Improvement Specialist, I am with ya and try to help teams break free of that every day.) I don’t mean be Agile in the way your company has adapted to its own version of it. I mean by the definition of the word agile: able to move quickly and easily. Meaning the team has a shared mindset of being open to each other and continually improving that there is no idea immediately off the table. This really means never be so married to how it has always been done that you judge any chance of change before you have even considered it.
I would be remiss for sharing these steps with you knowing there are some career environments that are not willing to transition into a safe place. There were environments I have chosen to remove myself from because I so deeply believe in the power of psychological safety. If you are not given that safe place, it’s time for some self-reflection to find out if where you are is in alignment with where (and who) you want to be.
I will leave you with the most tactical way I can tell you to implement this in your world with my favorite quote from my business partner, Jackie Flake: “Be okay with failure. From failure comes learning. From learning comes change.”
About the Author
Professional Title: Founder, Product Process Coach & Instructor
Bio: Gabrielle Hayes is a problem-solving expert with a knack for developing seamless workflows and building products that deeply resonate with customers. She excels in teaching teams to be inquisitive, firmly believing in identifying and solving user-centric problems. As a dynamic and engaging leader, Gabrielle’s infectious energy, innovation, and dedication to excellence inspire audiences to tackle challenges with newfound motivation. She is the go-to choice to drive transformation, personally and professionally.
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