If you want to lead inclusively, it’s important to establish psychological safety. Teams thrive in environments where every member feels valued and safe to express their opinions without fear of retribution. The journey to a psychologically safe workspace is integral to inclusive leadership and can be achieved by understanding and implementing the four stages of psychological safety, as described by Timothy Clark.

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It is an environment where individuals can be their authentic selves, express their opinions, ask questions, and admit mistakes without fear of humiliation or punishment. When teams have psychological safety, members feel accepted and respected. They are free to innovate, collaborate, and take constructive risks because they trust they won’t be penalized for doing so.

Psychological Safety and Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership goes hand in hand with psychological safety. An inclusive leader understands and values the diverse perspectives and strengths each team member brings. Such leaders actively foster an environment where everyone feels valued, listened to, and understood. When people feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to share their unique perspectives and insights, contributing to richer discussions and more innovative solutions. Moreover, an inclusive leader actively works against biases and unfair hierarchies that might threaten this safety.

The Four Stages of Psychological Safety

Understanding the stages of psychological safety can provide a roadmap to creating and maintaining an environment where everyone feels secure and respected.

How is your company doing in each of these areas?

1. Inclusion Safety

Inclusion is the foundational stage and is a prerequisite for everything else. It’s where every individual feels included in the team and believes that they belong. This begins by fostering a culture based on the premise that everyone deserves respect and deserves to be included, simply because they are human. You can actively grow inclusion safety through team introductions and team-building exercises – along with regularly checking in with team members to ensure they feel connected and included.

2. Learner Safety

In this second stage of psychological safety, individuals feel safe to engage in the learning process, ask questions, and even admit when they don’t know something. Observe your meetings. Do people feel free to ask “dumb questions”? Do they offer ideas? How do other people (especially leaders) respond? If you want to provide learner safety, create an environment where failure isn’t just accepted, it’s rewarded.

3. Contributor Safety

When you have contributor safety, individuals feel safe to contribute to the team, take on responsibilities, and offer ideas. Pay attention to your speaking time. Do you spend more time telling people what to do? Or do you listen to what they have to say? Get to know your team and assign tasks based on strengths and areas of growth. Consider holding meetings or workshops where team members can collaborate and share their ideas.

4. Challenger Safety

At this highest level, team members feel safe to challenge the status quo. They believe they can voice concerns and suggest improvements without facing negative consequences. To create challenger safety, you need to ensure that leaders are approachable and open to being challenged. Reward people who have the courage to speak up and highlight a problem. Even better, assign people to actively look for problems.

Establishing psychological safety requires an ongoing commitment.

It requires leaders to actively foster trust, respect, and open communication. By understanding and implementing the four stages, leaders can cultivate an environment where individuals not only feel secure but are also empowered to innovate, collaborate, and drive the organization toward success.