"Oh, the comfort…the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure word, but pouring them all right out, just as they are…chaff and grain together…certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away."-George Elliott
As leaders and those who support, mentor, and coach leaders, I wondered how well we are living up to the poetic words of George Elliott? I know Elliott was talking about friendship in his poem, but I do think there is great application for those of us involved in leadership as well. Here are my thoughts on how we could apply Elliott’s poetry to our leadership lives:
Feeling of Safety.
Basic neuroscience tells us that if people feel threatened they will shut down and protect themselves. This means if they feel attacked, put down, let down, shut out, disrespected, or judged, the chances that they will be able to perform or even listen to what we are saying are slim to none. If you want your followers to trust you with the issues of their heart (and those that matter to your business), then a culture that creates a feeling of safety is essential. If you create a culture where people can only bring you what you want to hear, this is NOT a place of safety. This means people only feel safe telling you what you want to hear, which can be a huge problem both in friendship and in leadership. If you want the trust of your followers, creating a feeling of safety is critical.
In my training and coaching work, this is a leadership theory I hear espoused almost as much as Servant Leadership. Leaders will say, “I just want to be myself. I don’t want to have to pretend and be somebody I am not. I want to live out my morals and my ethics as I lead.” I think this is what Elliott is saying about friendship. A friend is someone who shows up “just as they are." No pretense. No judgment. Just the ability to be with the other person to listen and support. This means that followers can tell you what they think, and you as a leader will listen without punishing or penalizing them.
Chaff and Grain.
The grain is the good stuff inside a stalk of wheat. The chaff is the outer covering and is not useful for nutrition. This metaphor is that of good and bad, useful and not useful. The leader, coach, or mentor is able to take in the good and the bad together. The follower has developed enough trust in the leader that they can share both the good and the bad, knowing that the leader will take them, sift them, and let the stuff that doesn’t help just blow away, while savoring the good stuff.
How are you doing in your leadership, mentoring, or coaching in creating a safe, authentic environment where the good and the bad can be shared? What are you leaving on the table by not creating this type of culture?
Homework: Have a discussion with a trusted advisor about ways you may be inhibiting trust in your organization. Check your pride. How might you be creating barriers to performance of your followers because they do not feel safe?