“I may miss something, so I need to hear from you.” 

This simple phrase, repeated throughout different situations and interactions, creates the safety for speaking up, even for the team members who find themselves on a lower rung of the ladder. Soliciting feedback suggests that the opinions of team members are valued and respected, and it establishes a team norm of active participation. 

Creating safety starts with the leader acknowledging their own mistakes. By doing this, the leader models taking interpersonal risks. 

Another aspect of acknowledging their own fallibility is for leaders to be open to becoming securely vulnerable. Think about it: Can you trust someone who never admits to any weakness? In other words, the purpose of the vulnerability is to show your team what you expect of them and to build trust. You don’t have to reach the extreme of team members being your emotional crutch, though. 

One important factor in making these changes is continuous self-evaluation. Workplaces are full of leader who knows, in theory, that they should recognize their own limitations and vulnerabilities, and yet act contrary to that knowledge. It is very difficult, even for the most well-intentioned people, to change their habits and to challenge the status quo. (Bonus points if you remember that we all engage in impression management, and this makes being vulnerable quite difficult.)

On the other hand, the leader must purposefully refrain from penalizing failure - well-intentioned risks that backfired. Tesla, Google, 3M, and Virgin are examples of companies that embrace failure as part of encouraging innovation. 

Your turn

Can you think of a situation in which your manager or team leader admitted to making a mistake? How did that make you feel as a member of the team? How did your colleagues feel?