The worst place to work is where people don’t feel safe. They can’t trust others and they aren’t trusted. They can’t be confident the organization or others will support them.

People predictably resort to all kinds of defensive and protective behaviors wasting a tremendous amount of time and energy. People constantly worry about covering themselves. Instead of a conversation with a trusted co-worker in a different department, everything must be documented with an email “cc”ing everyone.

Co-workers can’t be teammates – they are viewed as witnesses either for or against you. Employees know leaders and co-workers seek to assign blame instead of finding solutions, support each other, and share in success. The emotional and financial costs are high. People become unhealthy in a sick culture. The chronic stress takes a toll.

Talent, performance, productivity, efficiency, retention, and customer service are lost. Customers know it too. How long will your clients trust your company when they can see employees cannot trust each other there?

Without trust, there’s no team. Without workers feeling safe and confident, there’s no strong performance. A low trust environment ensures a low productivity organization. Low trust work cultures never innovate as talented people know that voicing new ideas only carries risk.

We need employees to feel safe to speak up and share bad news and good ideas. We don’t want to force them to feel they must stay silent and hide mistakes or problems. We want them to feel secure they can always suggest better ways of doing things.

Leaders create and sustain a culture that brings out the best or worst in us. A genuine team culture makes us feel safe and trusted, so we focus on our mission, customers, and helping each other.

There is a solution to this dysfunction. It’s called real leadership.


From the Teacher: Leadership Lessons with Dr. Saviak is a weekly column with the esteemed Joseph C. Saviak, Ph.D., J.D., M.A., M.S., Management Consulting & Leadership Training

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