3 min read

Build the workplace culture you want by offering leadership coaching

Build the workplace culture you want by offering leadership coaching

A psychologically safe culture is an emotionally safe, caring, inclusive and welcoming environment. Employees feel safe speaking up and sharing their thoughts respectfully without fear of retribution.

As Leaders, we set the tone and play a critical role in creating and maintaining this workplace culture. With every interaction, we positively or negatively impact employees’ experiences and perceptions of the workplace and build or break trust. 

Psychologically safe leadership is good for your employees and your business

Creating a psychologically safe workplace isn’t a “nice-to-have” quality in today’s new world of work – it is essential.

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services’ 2023 Health and Safety Leadership Survey revealed that 63% of employers and 53% of employees ranked mental health and stress as the top emerging issue.

The McKinsey report, Psychological Safety and the Critical Role of Leadership Development highlights that “When employees feel comfortable asking for help, sharing suggestions informally, or challenging the status quo without fear of negative social consequences, organizations are more likely to innovate quickly, unlock the benefits of diversity, and adapt well to change.”

And legislation is adding pressure. In Ontario, employees who experience work-related mental stress may be eligible for support from WSIB. 

In 2024, Nova Scotian employers may have to adapt to new legislation that will deem significant employee stress experienced over time to be a compensable claim to the Workers’ Compensation Board. 

Leader mental health literacy is critical in creating this type of culture

Most leaders want to support employees’ mental health by creating safe work environments. However, many are inexperienced or don’t understand how to fulfill this role.

One study suggests that mental health awareness and understanding is low among leaders and should be an area of focus at both the individual and organizational level.

For leaders to increase their mental health literacy, they must understand the differences between mental health and mental illness. Mental health concerns fall on a continuum from mental harm (for example, feeling overwhelmed by life) to mental injury (for example, trauma). Mental illness results in a functional impairment that impedes workers’ ability to perform to their potential at home and work.

Mental health refers to a person’s perceived emotional well-being and capacity to cope with stress. Employees with good mental health spend more time flourishing (feeling charged) versus languishing (feeling blah). Employees’ mental health depends on two-way accountability between employers and employees.

Provide coaching support to help leaders build the respectful, inclusive culture you want

About ten years ago, The How Report revealed that 97% of leaders adhered to a command-and-control leadership model. By 2016, there was a slight improvement, and this number dropped to 92%. Recently, Stephen Covey Jr., the son of leadership expert Stephen Covey, reported that 90% of leaders still follow the command-and-control style.

A command-and-control leader who is loud, heavy-handed, and does not allow conversations can negatively impact the employee experience. In contrast, psychologically safe and trusted leaders are more likely to affect the employee experience positively. 

Our world has changed, and the future of work requires a new leadership approach. For organizations to grow and employers to flourish, we need trusted and empathetic leaders. 

Trusted leaders focus on building solid relationships. They don’t cling to outdated approaches. They are more human and mindful of employees’ feelings and experiences. Leadership coaching can help leaders make this shift. 

Coaching is good for everyone

Leadership coaching benefits coachees, their direct reports, peers, and customers. For optimum impact, coaching periods typically range from six to 12 months, and then on an as-needed basis afterward. This allows for behavioural change, feedback, and mastery of trusted leader habits. 

Coaching addresses individual needs and closes performance gaps specific to the coachee. On top of lowering personal stress levels, coaching helps participants discover new perspectives, challenge old habits that do not empower their teams, and build stronger relationships.

Coaching not only ensures leaders in your organization have the skills needed to support the mental health of their teams, but it can also help them manage the demands of work and home and reduce the risk of burnout. 

Getting started

When hiring a leadership coach, ensure they are a good fit for the individual leader, they have the proper qualifications and credentials from an accredited coaching training organization, and they are a member in good standing of the International Coaching Federation or another credible organization with a professional code of conduct.

The steps below can provide leaders with a roadmap to becoming a trusted leader who contributes to a psychologically safe culture:

  1. Explore whether coaching is the best option—Some leaders may require different support, such as mental health counselling, before they can engage meaningfully in coaching. You can also use tools like 360-degree feedback and the evidence-based Hogan personality assessment to help leaders learn about their personality styles.

  2. Establish a leadership style baseline—Establishing a baseline can help leaders discover their strengths and core competency gaps like communication and listening style, emotional regulation under pressure, micromanaging tendencies and openness to feedback and new ideas both before and after they have engaged in coaching.

    [See Trusted Leader Resource Bundle]

  3. Road map to becoming a trusted leader—One key to effective leadership coaching is setting clear SMART goals at the start of the coaching process. Another is determining what knowledge, skills and habits are required to become and maintain the status of a trusted (i.e., a psychologically safe) leader with a team of employees. These include building on strengths, discovering the power of humility and empathy and understanding how to create a leadership presence while being open. 

Leadership coaches can provide the framework; however, like any leadership development initiative, leaders must engage, do the necessary work and be open to changing their habits and practices habits for coaching to have an impact. 

With individual programs leaders in your organization can develop the knowledge and skills they need to help you build a psychologically safe workplace culture.

Get to know the author – Dr. Bill Howatt



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