Find a ‘safe brave space’ that will help you flourish post-pandemic

Originally published in the Globe & Mail June 7th, 2021

As the pace of COVID-19 vaccination accelerates and the number of cases decline, many of us are seeing new glimmers of hope. The past 15 months have been a tough slog, personally and professionally – many have been laid off, furloughed, displaced or have opted out of the work force entirely to care for family or to recuperate from burnout.

Even for those whose jobs have not been directly affected, the burden of the pandemic has weighed heavily, In a piece in the New York Times in April, organizational psychologist Adam Grant referred to a collective feeling of “meh” or “languishing … a sense of stagnation and emptiness.”

While the pandemic is not over, as more companies and countries continue to reopen in various phases, it’s a great time to dust ourselves off and think about how we are going to get back in the saddle. As we’ve heard many times throughout the pandemic, the world of work we are returning to will not be what it was; so how can we return to something better – at both a company level, and an individual level? How can we move from languishing to flourishing, feeling more connected to who we are, gaining real clarity on what we want, and being deliberate about how our work will enable it?

The first step in the journey from languishing to flourishing may very well be getting to know ourselves better.

Greg Smith, a partner at management consultant Lighthouse Nine, explores self-discovery through the lens of searching for “safe brave spaces,” as his new book is titled. When we feel safe, we understand, trust and value ourselves; when we feel brave, we discover and activate our courage and voice. The combination of the two empowers us to maximize our own potential and help others to unlock theirs.

To discover our own safe brave spaces, Mr. Smith proposes the following phases:

  1. Knowing: Asking ourselves What are my strengths? What are my values and passions? What is my unique way of working? What are my unique contributions?
  2. Growing: Testing and learning from what we’ve discovered in phase 1 with a few people who will be honest and encouraging, to help move toward “brave” action planning.
  3. Letting go: Acknowledging and unshackling ourselves from the patterns and responses that get in our way (often our inner critic or ego). For example, to free ourselves from the negative narrative in our minds, Mr. Smith suggests tactics such as singing that narrative to the tune of Happy Birthday, to bring consciousness to how silly or unfounded the negative narrative is; another is saying out loud “Thank you, not now” to dismiss the inner critic and own the space.
  4. Showing up: Being true to who we are in order to confidently pursue what we want.

Mr. Smith suggests that starting from their own safe brave spaces, leaders of teams and organizations can begin to cultivate them for others, creating a psychologically safe environment where employees can thrive. He cautions that organizations that lean too safe (without enough “brave”) risk breeding “toxic positivity” where everything on the surface is great, but colleagues are not motivated to challenge the status quo. On the flip side, organizations that are too brave (without enough “safe”) risk becoming overbearing, overlooking the need for empathetic leadership, leaving colleagues feeling unheard and undernurtured. Great leaders recognize the need for both safe and brave and strive to bring them to life through their actions and in the environments they enable.

I encourage us all to think of this time as an opportunity for a reboot, individually and collectively. Self-reflection and being true to who we are can enable us to emerge from the hardships of the pandemic stronger, wiser, and ready to flourish.

Naomi Titleman Colla is founder of Collaborativity Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work. She is also a co-founder of Future FoHRward, a Josh Bersin Academy partner.

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