Book of the Month Review: “The Fearless Organization” by Amy C. Edmondson

Have you ever encountered a leader who led through the use of fear? Many of us, unfortunately, have (or will) at some point in our lives. For me, I encountered it very early on in my career. Fresh out of college, I was hired by an organization that underwent mass layoffs not even two weeks after I started. Fear riddled the staff, and to make matters worse, the leadership didn’t exactly address what was going on. Thus began my battle with not wanting to speak up or put myself out there for fear I’d lose my very first job. 

If you ask me, leading or managing through the use of fear has no place in leadership. Through the fear-based leadership I experienced, I got in the bad habit of keeping thoughts, opinions and ideas that might have been of value to my team to myself. 

This month, Leadercast is focused on fearlessness, a leadership habit that enables us the courage to lead in spite of our fears, drive our organizations to achieve our goals and challenge the status quo. Thinking about fearlessness from a team and organizational perspective, we couldn’t think of a better book of the month than Amy C. Edmondson’s The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth.

In it, Amy defines psychological safety as “a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves.” A psychologically safe workplace is one in which people don’t feel the need to leave a piece of themselves at the door. It’s a place where people can confidently speak up and aren’t afraid to share when they make mistakes. 

The book is broken up into three parts: the first describes why psychological safety is important: how it breaks silence where silence shouldn’t exist, supports learning and diversity, and increases performance and employee engagement. 

The second part provides real-world examples of organizations with and without psychological safety, and how fear-ridden organizations like VW, Wells Fargo, Nokia and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suffered great losses due, in part, to the psychologically unsafe environments through which they operated. 

Lastly, the third part shares practical advice for creating a fearless organization by reframing failure and setting clear expectations for people to speak up. It also includes a Q&A chapter, where Amy answers some of the most frequently asked questions about psychological safety that she has been asked throughout her 20 years of research on the subject.

My favorite part of the book was chapter four, where Amy discusses how the mere act of silence can bring disastrous failures and can even cost people’s lives, such as in the case of the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia. This chapter hit really close to home for me, as you can imagine. It provided me additional insights into my problem of silence. (Luckily, I discovered it as a problem thanks to some incredible leaders in my life that have guided me since that first encounter with fear-based leadership.)

Go ahead and add this book to your leadership toolbox. It provides must-have wisdom for creating psychological safety in the workplace and establishing a fearless organizational culture. But note that the information provided in this book is just one of the tools that will help you be a better leader. While psychological safety is a big factor in many of the examples of failure Amy mentions, it likely isn’t the sole cause of what went wrong. There are many moving parts to every story, but the argument on the role that the lack of psychological safety played is something we all can learn from as leaders. 

*GIVEAWAY: Don’t miss your chance to win a free copy of The Fearless Organization. Follow us on Instagram at @Leadercast for details on how you can win.

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This blog was written by Hayley Panagakis, a freelance writer, editor and content creator. Connect with her on LinkedIn and visit her website to learn more about her services.

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