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PSYCHOLOGICAL

PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY 

WHY LEADERS NEED TO PROMOTE PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY 

There is an urgent need for conscious political, educational, social, medical, and economic managers and leaders.   Professional excellence is primarily a product of personal excellence, of authorship of Self, of fearlessness, of an awe of the individuality and incomparability of Self and Others.  

The psychoanalyst Carl Jung captures the reality of the dire need for psychological safety in all relationships when he wrote:  “What is unconscious in the parent is transmitted to the child and the child’s unconscious response will remain a continuing block to a fuller life”.  It follows that what is unconscious in a teacher, manager, leader, politician, medical doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist will be transmitted to the person who is at the receiving end of their professional practice.  

To what unconscious actions am I referring?   Possibilities are depersonalization, arrogance, aggression, timidity, anxiety, depression, control, dismissiveness, lack of consultation, non-listening – all behaviors that would have been unconsciously created in childhood in response to similar adverse experiences from the significant adults in their lives.   

Why unconscious?   The wisdom of unconscious formation of protectors in the face of adverse experiences is that you do not have to consciously wake up every morning to the sad reality of not feeling loved, believedin and mattering.  The most common illusion among adults is that we all came from happy families!   The other common illusion is that school days were the happiest days of my life!   The line I have heard from many individuals whom I have had the privilege of supporting to consciously re-examine their lives is: “Tony, I didn’t realize what I was doing”.    

In all the various professions I have practiced – accountancy, priesthood, primary teaching, secondary teaching, clinical psychology, university lecturer – there was never any requirement to examine my own life before I dare be professionally involved in other people’s lives.   The requirement of bringing a felt sense of psychological safety to our work practices and, indeed, to all our relationships, is a core development that benefits everybody.    

Psychological safety is the degree of fearlessness required to give conscious and open expression to whom we truly are, the presence of which provides the opportunity for those we interact with to do likewise.   Finding psychological safety is a life-time process – what has been unconsciously buried and hidden will only emerge as trust deepens in the psychological safety being offered by another.   Be assured that nobody wants to stay in hiding and there is an everpresent drive to be living fully one’s precious and individual life. 

The preparation of managers and leaders for their respective governorship roles needs to incorporate the following truths and form the basis of the training: 

  • Managers and leaders have an unconscious inner world and considerable quiet desperation, and deep insecurities, lie hidden in that domain 
  • What lies hidden seriously interrupts authentic, affective, and effective leadership 
  • Bringing what is unconscious to consciousness is central to both personal and professional development 
  • Organizational ethos is a product of how everyone within the organization relates to Self, Others, and service users 
  • Conflict is the opportunity to raise consciousness of what lies hidden (all that dare not be expressed) 
  • Psychological safety for employees to give expression to their individuality, to feelings, grievances, creative ideas, their own beliefs, values, and opinions is the bedrock of social-emotional-economic prosperity 
  • Without affective relating, effectiveness is founded on the rocky hidden foundations of an unconsciously formed sense of inferiority or superiority or insensitivity  
  • It is individuals who unconsciously create adverse experiences with others, not systems! 
  • Opportunities for ongoing reflection on how leaders and managers are within themselves and with others need to become a frequent practice 
  • Creating psychological safety needs to be for everybody, not just managers and leaders. 

About the Author 

By Tony Humphreys, B.A., H.D.E., M.A., PhD. 

Dr Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, author, course designer and speaker. He began his career as a Clinical Psychologist in State Psychiatric and Psychological Services in England and Ireland and since 1990 has been working in private practice in Ireland. His practice involves working with individuals, couples, families, schools, local communities and the business community. He is the author of many books on practical psychology including Creating Psychological Safety.  

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