There is power in accepting others. Accepting others is simply seeing and understanding who they are and not trying to change them to meet your own needs. As leaders, think of how often we want someone to be different – to be better, to be nicer, to be smarter, to be tougher. Sometimes we tell ourselves it’s for their own good, but often it’s just because we need them to be different.

Recently, I asked the teams that I lead for feedback. Live-in-the-moment-tell-me-what-I’m-doing-well-and-what-I-can-do-better-feedback. They gave me some good stuff and they gave me some tough stuff. And in the moment I did not feel defensive or the need to justify or the need to deny, but I felt accepted.  I felt cared about and supported. It was weird.

Rather than feeling judged, I felt safe. Psychologists would say we created a sense of <em>psychological safety </em>on our teams. It was okay for me to be real and transparent. It also made me more open to their feedback, able to hear them, and willing to take action. I am even more willing to take risks because I know they will accept me as I experiment with leading in a different way. It gave me the sense that I can be myself and that they appreciate my authenticity, warts and all. Maybe because it gives them permission to do the same.

<u><a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Google’s Project Aristotle</a></u> began with the question, “What makes the perfect team?” Using their mounds of data and studies conducted within their own teams, Google found that one of the most important factors for high performing teams is this sense of psychological safety.

How can we create a sense of safety on our teams? From experience, I can tell you it is devilishly difficult. Here are some strategies:
<li>Team leaders have to practice acceptance. If it’s your team, that means you.</li>
<li>If you get to choose team members, choose people for the team who are capable of acceptance – of non-judgmentally allowing others to be who they are. This one may take some trial and error.</li>
<li>Model what it looks like to accept others. Tell them and show them.</li>
<li>Talk about what creating psychological safety looks like in the team. Identify what behaviors undermine it, and what behaviors reinforce it.</li>
<li>Remember, acceptance does not mean you don’t give feedback or expect high performance. It just means that you make an effort to see others for who they are and who they want to be.</li>
<li>Acceptance takes time – it’s a skill many of us have not developed. Practice it again and again.</li>
<li>Over time, if the team can’t create a sense of psychological safety, you may be on the wrong team. Or you may be undermining safety without knowing it – a crucial behavior to understand for your leadership.</li>


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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