Strong Connections Give Birth to a Strong Culture

Our connection to another person, or team, is only as real as the depth of our freedom within that relationship. And, I don’t mean freedom in the sense of being and doing whatever we want with complete disregard to others (that’s called selfishness and having lack of empathy). I am referring to the freedom of expression, where we get to be open about our wounds, desires, fears, and longings. A safe place where we get to be vulnerable. And, to be vulnerable, there needs to be emotional safety.

Emotional safety is essential in any relationship. If we feel we will walk into a landmine every time we ask for what we need, or open up about something that is hurting us, the relationship will either remain at the most superficial level, or be destroyed by the landmines themselves. Kindness is not, not asking for what we need. Kindness is doing so in a manner that helps those you care about see a part of you they did not know before. Kindness is giving, and receiving love. Kindness is not letting your fears and insecurities flare up when another person is hurting.

A few months ago, I was jotting down ideas for a leadership summit that I helped to organize. I opened my notes from Brene Brown’s book ‘Dare to Lead,’ and found highlighted, the following: 

“Google’s five-year study on highly productive teams, Project Aristotle, found that psychological safety—team members feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other—was “far and away the most important of the five dynamics that set successful teams apart.””

Emotional (or psychological) safety is not only healthy, but essential for the development of the self, a couple, a team, and a culture. At home, we lose that emotional safety whenever we feel judged, or our emotions and needs are reprimand or made to feel unimportant. At work is not that different. When we avoid tough conversations, or choose to speak behind someone’s back rather than speak to them, when choose to shame and blame and fail to reward vulnerability, openness, and empathy we are creating a culture that lacks psychological safety. Without that in place, teams fail to give their best, and innovation and growth is stifled. 

Where we start, whether at home or work, is to do a self-check. Am I being kind and open to myself about my feelings and emotions? That’s called self-awareness. Self-awareness is at the root of any Emotional Intelligence model because we need self-awareness to work on other things, like impulse control, flexibility and optimism – all things that affect innovation and insight. A self-check done with self-love is the practice we need to have in place to be able to do the same for others, and in places where emotional safety has not been present. This self-awareness, and self-love check was what helped me to get out of an abusive relationship, and it is the place I go to when I feel I am not connecting with another being at the level that I want and need. 

There are situations when we have to leave what is holding us back or hurting us. But, the best case scenario are situations that provide the ‘container’ for our development. In an intimate relationship that means leaning into your own discomfort in the face of another person’s feelings, even if these feeling are of hurt and disappointment. Doing that for each other will open a world of intimacy that cannot be born otherwise. At work, we must do the same. I think in organizations self-awareness is just as critical and it becomes most exposed when we react to feedback. How you respond when your own fears and insecurities flare up, is how you will deal with most things at work. As Brene Brown says “self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead.” If who you are is defensive, reactive, and generally judgmental that is how you will lead. If who you are is selfish, closed minded, and aggressive, that is how you will lead. Not all forms of leadership lead to the best and most rewarding results. That choice is yours – who do you choose to be? And who will show up when you are in the court, playing the game?

In addition to dollar signs, a healthy and strong culture will display a high degree of psychological safety, and strong relationships.

How is your organization doing?

Start at the top – does top leadership represent a healthy diversity of ideas, age, culture, knowledge? Do they trust one another? Then go down, and check that the same is true at each sector, and each team.

To build a strong culture, focus on building strong relationships.