2 years ago

Taking Your Team Behind the Curtain: The Effects of Leader Feedback-Sharing and Feedback-Seeking on Team Psychological Safety

Constantinos G. V. Coutifaris, Adam M. Grant
Although scholars have highlighted the benefits of psychological safety, relatively few studies have examined how leaders establish it. Whereas existing research points to the importance of seeking feedback, we draw on theories of self-disclosure, trust, and implicit voice to propose that leaders can also promote psychological safety by sharing feedback—openly discussing criticisms and suggestions they have already received about their own performance. In Study 1, naturally-occurring feedback-seeking and feedback-sharing by CEOs independently predicted board member ratings of top management team psychological safety. In Study 2, a longitudinal field experiment, randomly assigning leaders to share feedback had a positive effect on team psychological safety one year later, whereas assigning leaders to seek feedback did not. In Study 3, to explore the processes through which feedback-sharing had an enduring effect but feedback-seeking did not, we conducted qualitative interviews with participating leaders and employees two years later. We found that leaders initiated vulnerability through seeking feedback, but it dissolved due to defensiveness and inaction. In contrast, sharing feedback normalized and crystallized vulnerability as leaders made a public commitment to keep sharing and employees reciprocated, which opened the door for more actionable feedback, greater accountability, and ongoing practices that allowed psychological safety to endure. Our research suggests that to achieve enduring improvements in psychological safety, it may be particularly effective for leaders to share criticism they have received—and that doing so does not jeopardize their reputations as effective and competent.

Publisher URL: https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/abs/10.1287/orsc.2021.1498

DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2021.1498

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