Feeling safe to be yourself

The best leaders make their people feel as though they are looked after and cared about.

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When Ian Wright tweeted that he would boycott Match of the Day in solidarity with Gary Lineker, I knew that would be the nail in the coffin.

There is no way the BBC would be able to come out on top after this display of unity from the presenters. We all knew they would begin to backtrack, withdraw their initial statements, and reinstate Lineker; a surprising show of leadership following the self-inflicted reputation damage they had incurred. The real question is, why did this failure happen in the first place?

Tim Davie’s entrance as Director General ushered in a renewed emphasis on this so-called impartiality at the heart of the BBC’s operations. This need to provide a balanced debate meant that it was only 5 years ago that the BBC advised staff that when discussing climate change, they didn’t need to bring a denier as well. This is also presumably why we see far-right commentators on Question Time week in, week out.

Davie’s pursuit of impartiality has really morphed into sustained support for the Tory government, and a silencing of other views.

You don’t need to look any further than Fiona Bruce’s bias in interrupting left-wing QT guests far more often than the right-wing guests. While Davie could step out as a leader and foster a culture of neutrality for all the right reasons, he instead crumbles from the pressure of the government interfering to protect their message.

Where Davie has really failed as a leader is in creating a culture of psychological safety.

This fosters the belief that one can speak up, take risks, and be oneself without fear of negative consequences. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to share their ideas, express their concerns, and ask for help when needed. This creates a culture of openness and trust, where everyone’s voice is heard and valued. The best leaders make their people feel as though they are looked after and cared about.

In return, employees want to defend and protect the business.

‘Creating a culture of psychological safety is really not as difficult as it sounds.’

By letting this row go on, the BBC effectively told employees that it did not support their right to speak out against what they believe to be an injustice.

Lineker’s tweet was not related to his work as a commentator on Match of the Day, nor was it a comment that he made while on air for the BBC. The response sent employees the message that they are not safe to share their views; a big leadership blunder.

Compare this to Nike’s response when Colin Kaepernick took the knee at an NFL game.

Nike later made Kaepernick the face of a new advertising campaign. Despite backlash from some customers, Nike defended its decision to support Kaepernick, stating that it believed in the power of free speech and peaceful protest. They proved to the world they value a culture of psychological safety and saw a $6 billion increase in value after they stuck to their decision. Nike proved that people appreciated integrity – a lesson the BBC would be wise to learn.

Creating a culture of psychological safety is really not as difficult as it sounds.

It is important to start by fostering open communication. This means creating a space where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions, even if they differ from others. It also means encouraging feedback and questions and making it clear that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning and growth rather than grounds for punishment or blame. Another key aspect of building a culture of psychological safety is demonstrating empathy and active listening skills. This involves truly hearing and understanding others’ perspectives, showing them you can walk in their shoes, and responding in a non-judgmental and supportive way.

There is no better feeling than knowing your boss has your back. And there is nothing worse than knowing they don’t.

5 tips on becoming an A-player:

  • Celebrate your successes, no matter how small.
  • Self-care is non-negotiable.
  • Always stay curious.
  • The only mistakes are the ones you don’t learn from
  • Build relationships, not just networks.


Thought for the week

“Culture is not just one aspect of the game, it is the game.” – Lou Gerstner

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