Heartstyles blog

How do leaders create safe places?


Stephen Klemich – Founder

We believe an important principle for a leader is to create a safe place. Effective leaders breathe life into the environment by making it a safe place for team members to express opinions and ideas, to disagree and push back.

Many leaders have unknowingly learned DIM principles: domination, intimidation and manipulation—the old school leadership style. These behaviours can generate fear and team members might be too scared to express themselves. If the leader is perceived as not creating a safe place, most people will find it challenging to be authentic—to be their true self. They are likely to hide the truth and play the ‘please the boss’ game. As a result, the leader is often the last person to know the truth. The irony is, the leader has been led to believe this leadership style drives performance, when all it does is stifle growth, innovation and effective (Above The Line) behaviour.

Five things that create an unsafe place:

  1. Language—verbal and body. Be aware of ‘nasty words’ like: must, always, never, have to, need to, mandatory, now listen to me, you’re wrong, etc. Using them can shut down communication. Don’t lean forward, point, chop with your hands or use hand-in-fist gestures when communicating—it’s scary.

  2. Showing frustration. The leadership role is about managing problems and often, very frustrating issues. It requires calm command from the leader to maintain composure.

  3. Avoiding. Talking about others behind their back and not dealing with issues.

  4. Sarcasm. Be careful to not use sarcastic humour to try and build relationships.

  5. Heart attitude. The ineffective heart attitude is often based on the leader’s need to prove themselves, to perform, self-promote and be ‘right’. Humility is seen as weakness. This drives the behaviours in the Heartstyles Indicator Pride quadrant and can create fear.

Twelve things that create a safe place:

  1. Humility and vulnerability. Be willing to change your mind and be OK about being ‘wrong’.

  2. Admit mistakes. When you do this as a leader, you give other’s courage to do the same.

  3. Slow down the energy. Take time to listen even when task urgency is high. Facilitate, not direct meetings.

  4. Ask questions. Rather than make statements or assumptions, ask questions.

  5. Be authentic. Make time for genuine relationships and be open to hear other points of view.

  6. Be congruent. Have a consistent temperament and consistency in the way you treat team members, so they know what to expect.

  7. Laugh at yourself. Especially when you’ve made a mistake!

  8. Lighten the atmosphere. When it all gets too serious at work, be the one to lighten the atmosphere.

  9. Model the model. Live, talk and breathe the organisation’s values.

  10. Heart attitude. It’s not about you! The effective heart attitude, based on humility and openness, love, care and honouring people will change the workplace atmosphere. Achievement thinking, and results and task effectiveness will result in greater engagement if you create a safe place for people to be ‘adult’ rather than ‘child’ in their approach to the objectives.

  11. Create safe spaces. Watch as creativity, innovation, productivity and effective culture thrive.

  12. Finally, build trust with your team by leading with integrity.

Ready to start your own Heartstyles journey? Contact us.