Leadership has to provide security

A post by:     Karsten Jänicke
Executive Board Member
Last updated: 2024-03-28

Managers have the task of leading their employees to success. This depends on many factors. One of the most important is security. I notice over and over again that young people at the start of their career in particular don't have the confidence to contribute their ideas and take risks. That's why I keep asking myself: what can I do as a manager to give my employees more security?

We are living in uncertain times

We have often written about the many changes we experience every day here on the blog. And yes, we are living in truly uncertain times. This is not only due to the many crises and problems of recent years.  

Many people don't have a sense of reliability. Today's truths and framework conditions could be obsolete tomorrow. Changing forms of work, digitalization and AI, an increasingly international world and rising demands are causing problems for many. 

Why uncertainty is so harmful

The feeling of insecurity is ultimately our body's reaction to possible dangers. Uncertainty makes us doubt and scares us. In a professional context, this is particularly the fear of wrong decisions and their negative consequences.    

Self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence are the result. We are under stress and are constantly on the alert. Symptoms such as pain or even panic attacks can also occur.  

This insecurity can then determine our entire everyday life and can be an extreme limitation, especially at work. Productivity drops, innovation is inhibited - and as it is difficult to admit mistakes in such an environment, even the quality of work suffers. 

What security means psychologically

Let's take a look at the opposite of insecurity. There is now even an established term for this: psychological safety.    

Harvard professor Amy Edmondson defines it as follows: "Psychological safety describes the belief that the work environment is safe from interpersonal risks."  

I find that incredibly exciting. Because what does it actually mean? Psychological safety is not just about feeling safe from actual risks - but also from the reactions of colleagues and superiors.  

So it's about having the confidence to admit mistakes, show vulnerability and express insecurities.    

In a safe working environment, team members can be open without having to fear negative consequences.

How managers can convey security

Being afraid is human. Amy Edmondson also says: "It is part of human nature to be afraid of making mistakes. We prefer to agree with everyone in a group rather than openly disagree."  

For psychological safety and team success, we must therefore not only try to avoid mistakes, but also create a space in which it is okay to make mistakes. It is therefore also up to us as managers to use various tools to ensure safety. But how can I do this?    

I have five specific pieces of advice for managers - and I try to actively implement them myself as often as possible.

1. Admit your mistakes!

We managers always want to appear as competent and self-assured as possible. Showing weakness seems to be against our nature. But that is precisely the problem. Because admitting our own mistakes is an important key to ensuring that our employees do the same. That's why we should communicate mistakes and weaknesses openly and honestly. This is how we provide security and create a culture where mistakes can be made.

2. Ask lots of questions - and listen carefully!

As managers, we are often described as people who like to talk a lot. But a team consists of many people who all need to have their say. That's why I like to ask a lot of questions. I ask about ambiguities, ideas and suggestions. This is how I encourage my employees to express themselves.    

Only those who listen can develop a genuine understanding and really understand where employees have concerns and problems.  

I also pay attention to nuances and question them. Because who hasn't experienced this: you are dissatisfied but don't dare to say so straight away. By asking attentive questions, such situations can often be identified and problems solved.  

3. Set clear goals!

Complex issues and goals must be understandable. Even if time is sometimes short, I try to take the time to explain exactly what needs to be done and why it is important. My board colleague Thomas Sampers has just written an article about intelligent goal setting. A clear reading recommendation from me!

4. Be respectful and calm - and don't threaten!

Appreciation and recognition do not always seem to be a matter of course in everyday working life. It is extremely important to always be appreciative and to show it. We humans need affirmation and recognition and that's exactly what my team should get for their work.  

 And even if something didn't go so well, that remains an important basic rule. Criticism can also be appreciative. The most important thing is to remain calm. In other words, it is not acceptable to get loud or even choleric. And nothing destroys security as quickly as threats and sanctions.  

5. Question yourself!

Providing security has a lot to do with your own attitude and perspective. If you always look for mistakes in others, it will be difficult to be successful, especially as a manager. My most important piece of advice to other managers is therefore: constantly question yourself. I don't mean destructive self-doubt. It's about recognizing your own responsibility. Were my explanations or objectives perhaps unclear? Have I contributed to problems? What can I do myself? This form of self-reflection changes an incredible amount.  

Companies benefit from security

Teams need security in order to deliver top performance and develop innovations. Employees need security to be able to try new things. This is the only way they can do innovative work.  

It is therefore precisely the companies that benefit from psychological safety. It is therefore about much more than a supposed feel-good issue.    

Efficiency and productivity increase in a safe environment. An open culture of making mistakes means that everyone learns from the experiences of the team members and the entire team continues to improve.  

Strong managers provide security

All of this makes it clear that safety is an intrinsic management task. For me, leadership means above all taking responsibility, especially for my team. Safety does not come about by itself, it has to be actively shaped. Psychological safety increases general satisfaction, but also work performance and motivation. The success of the entire team is based on this, as is my own.