Two of my colleagues were recently involved in a piece of work that met with a lot of resistance from some members of the client team. Having skilfully navigated around that, the work went ahead and was a significant catalyst to the development of the team and the culture they were creating. Afterwards they were prompted to make a short list of the things that challenger clients can expect when they work with us. As a way of giving clients sight of this before they felt it in action.
What struck me when reading this list is that some of us have a very deep attachment to feeling safe and we go further by conflating feeling safe with something automatically feeling good. In our context this often means that if people feel comfortable (safe) they assume that this is a good (I can cope with it) result.
Feeling unsafe in our Challenger work can often foster behaviour that is strong and dramatic. What we rarely experience is people owning they are feeling unsafe and offering that as a simple contribution to what is happening. Far more common is a range of anxiety related contributions that pendulate between blame and elaborate reasonable reasons. Feeling unsafe is infectious. The urge to safety is so strongly ingrained in us that we develop what Dan Siegel describes as a ‘fence of defence’.
How many fences of defence can you identify this week in your organisation? The well constructed arguments that foster a feeling of safety and promote a sense that the approach or the process is ‘good’. When you have exhausted that list, why not look at your own fences of defence.
Safe may just mean familiar, it may not actually mean safe. This is worth thinking about if you find yourself strongly in defence of an aspect of your work, your life, your leadership. The mind and body run very quickly into creating a compelling internal recipe that includes mixing familiarity with a dollop of safety to produce a view that something is good and therefore must not be changed!
Causing a disturbance is our business and it is the business of Challenger leaders. One way we can accelerate this work is to begin to uncouple a very tight and sometimes unhelpful relationship between safe meaning good. By putting a bit of space between these two interpretations there is more time to uncover what is really going on, and to slow the rate of the infectious panic or defensiveness. This allows for curiosity and discovery to emerge. When that happens we all have a chance to participate in Challenging the Establishment that continues to conflate these two aspects into an unhelpful fence of defence.
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