Listen and learn from the best in local government

At LeaderGov we want to equip you to lead well.   These enlightening podcasts, from top local government and industry leaders, will help you gain valuable insights into a variety of leadership, management and teamwork topics, so you can lead better. 

You can also listen to LeaderGov Podcasts via Apple, Google Podcast or Spotify


Welcome, everyone to the LeaderGov podcast. My name is Bill Stark and one of the cofounders of LeaderGov. And it's a real pleasure to have you with us today, my partner, Tim Fenbert. and I both really enjoy providing environment and educational tools and insights for local government leaders. So you can be the best that you can be and lead your people well create great teamwork.

You know, really impact your community for the better. And so thank you so much for taking time today to be with us. You know, whether you're in county government or a city government, or even tax commission, office, whatever, we're really glad you're here. We have a great topic today. It's called psychological safety and healthy teams. psychological safety. Now, I wonder, you know, that's an interesting term. We hear a little bit about that now. And we have a wonderful new friend of LeaderGov with us today. Marcela Millett. How are you doing? Hi, Bill. Thanks for having me. Today. I'm super excited to talk about this psychological safety concept that is not new, but might be new to some of us. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I look forward to getting into it. Because I think a lot of these concepts that we're going to talk about, like say they've been around a while, we just never kind of put a handle on a maybe. And I think with COVID, as well, maybe maybe that brought up the need for more attention to people's emotional health.

So this is definitely bubbled up, I want to tell our listeners a little bit about you. You currently work in Palm Beach County, Florida. And we recently had one of your co workers, folks, someone in your department, Dr. Keith Clarksdale, odd. He's also with Palm Beach County. And so we're glad to have two of you participating with us in our in our podcast program, and you've been with the county for about 15 years, I know that you've worked in a lot of different departments, community development, you've worked in risk management, the courts program, and some other areas as well. And you've got obviously some private industry private business experience, I know that you are yellow belt certified and Lean Six Sigma, you have a number of different licenses, and certifications in the area of mental health, and

the whole counseling arena, whether it's mental health or even family addictions. And so you have a lot of really great background. And

so we're glad to have kind of your area of expertise, because like I said, with COVID, and maybe other factors too, but in my mind,

you know, that kind of brought out the need for more care, right? People became fearful about health. And they were at home working instead of at the office. And so there was this loneliness and isolation and all sorts of sort of things changed. I think with COVID, I don't know if you would agree with that or not. But be that as it may. Great background, and super glad that you're here. Before we jump into our questions, I want to ask you

just something kind of fun. Tell us a great place that you maybe recently visited on vacation or someplace that you like to go to lay it on it.

All right, Bill. Well, you made me sound fabulous. So you can do all my introductions from now on everywhere I go.

So that's a really great question. I I've traveled the world, my family and I love traveling, we've gone all over the place. But most recently, we went to Portugal. And we spent three weeks there. And I have to tell you, it was tough coming back. Definitely wait while we talk about culture, we talk about having a lifestyle that's more about, you know, working. And having that work life balance. Where here in the United States, we tend to have that lifestyle where we're just living to work, right? Anytime we ask somebody. So what's your name? And what do you do? Right, we are forgetting about that person. Whereas when we went to Portugal is really like, Wow, that's awesome. What brings you to Portugal and what have you enjoyed the most than, you know, what's life like? Have you eaten this food yet? Have you tried going here, you know, and it just made us think differently. So I'd have to say also

that our daughter, she's 12 and came with us, my husband and I. And this was that age where she really started understanding and appreciating travel a little bit more. So she got to bring that experience back. And I think, you know, just being able to bring that concept back home, and they while guys, maybe we need to make sure we take this 15 minute breaks and that, you know, lunch hour to really just get our minds back on track. Because that's how they do it over there. Why can't we do it here? I get a lot of sardines. That's like the National sardines, were it. Everybody came back out again, a sardine as a souvenir.

Oh, that's funny. Yeah, that's great. I really appreciate what you're saying. And it is interesting. I think that's maybe why vacations are great, because they give us a different perspective on how other people live and conduct their lives, and we kind of get in ice tend to get into this, you know, myopic kind of this is the way it ought to be. This is my world. Everything's right. You go somewhere else. And you're like, Oh, my goodness, other people don't live like me. And so we're learning and stretching ourselves sometimes when we when we go other places. I love that. Love that what you're saying? Yeah, absolutely. You're on?

Yeah, yes, yeah, well, we want to jump into this whole topic of psychological safety. And you just had to kind of dig in to it for us a little bit.

The people, the folks listening to this podcast, Marcella are mostly leaders in local government, it could be a city or county manager could be a supervisor of a field crew, transportation, you know, folks out working on sidewalks, it could be a parks department. But we all have, we have to work with people. And and we all need to do our part to create healthy relationships and honor. Other people include other people and make them feel comfortable, safe of participating in our teams. And so we all know that. But we kind of want to dig into the pieces of this today. And as you and I were talking earlier, I would love for you just to kind of share what does it mean to be debt? psychological safety? What what is it's kind of a big word. What does that mean, from your perspective? Yeah. Okay. So I'm glad that you also mentioned that this is about leaders, right, we have leaders in the room. And although we might have leaders that actually have those titles, we also have leaders that might not necessarily have that manager or supervisor directly title, but are leaders in their own realm within their own, you know, section of the team that they're working in. And so when we're talking about psychological safety, that's really where culture begins, in any team. And leaders have to role model, the type of culture that they want to see in their team in their organization. So a lot of times people ask me, Well, what psychological safety? And how does that compare to emotional intelligence. And I know we're gonna get a little bit more into the details. But it's important to mention this right in the beginning. So we hear about emotional intelligence or emotional quotient, you might see e i or EQ all over the place. And emotional intelligence started out a little bit before. I mean, it's like back in the 1990s, let's say, before psychological safety came into the realm a little bit more. So emotional intelligence, in layman's terms, is basically the ability to interact effectively with other human beings. So we're basically aware of our own emotions, we have self awareness of our behaviors or actions. And then we're aware of other people's emotions and have empathy, right? And empathy is that feeling of understanding somebody else's perspective, where they're coming from doesn't mean you have to agree with it. You just get it, you get them. Okay. So when we fast forward a few years later,

we'd have psychological safety comes into the mix. And that's all emotional intelligence, right? We are empathetic. We are aware of ourselves, our emotions and other people's emotions. But now we add in the fact that we can be ourselves and we can honor others and without feeling embarrassed, marginalized or punished. So that's how they're both correlated. You

little bit more in psychological safety. Emotional intelligence is the foundation of both of those unnecessary for culture to be positive and progressive within an organization.

Okay, okay.

So when we talked earlier, you mentioned that there are four sort of steps or phases or a progression to psychological safety. And I really when I read this, I was like, okay, that kind of makes sense. So there's inclusion. Am I including people? Yeah. And I want you to kind of touch on all four of these, if you could. So there's inclusion, there's a learner becoming a learner, I guess as a, as a team member, a contributor? Am I actually now contributing to the team? And then can I challenge the team? Or can I challenge the boss or whoever? So inclusion learner contributor, and challenger? Can you kind of break those down and tell us what that means? Exactly. So you hit the four stages, we have inclusion safety, we've got learner safety, contributor, safety and challenger safety. So when we start with inclusion, safety, that's really the first step, you need to do cluded in the team and feel that you're included, right, you connect with the people that you're working with, and you feel that you belong. So this is true in any social setting, right, because as humans, we have that need to feel included, whether it's at home, at school at work, and the need to be accepted, overrides that need to be heard sometimes. So you might have those people who are extroverts, or introverts. Regardless, you still want to feel like you're part of something and a team. So you bring your whole authentic self. And you know that no one's going to, you know, make fun of you or belittle you for who you are. So when you have that in your team, you're able to increase the team's confidence, you're able to become more resilient and work well, with a well oiled machine. When you don't have that when you don't have inclusion safety in the team. There's this hierarchy dominance that takes place, right? So you've got levels of hierarchy that are set in stone, and everyone knows their place. And Gosh, darn it, you are not going to go from one stage to the other without me knowing and without having some kind of repercussion. That's not how a team works. And that's not how a team can progress. That's inclusion safety. Yep, I wanted to, as you were talking to made me think I've been in so many social settings, before you're standing in a circle, you're talking.

Maybe you're at lunch around a table with four or five people. And one person says to someone else at the table. Well, hey, Bob, what do you think? Right. And that's what they're doing is they're including Bob in the conversation. Exactly. And they're, they're, they're providing inclusion, and points of view from other people that kind of inviting, they're fostering that in the conversation. And so it's a real specific act didn't, exactly and, and even to break it even further down, just the fact that we're, hey, inviting Bob over to sit at the table with us. That's part of that inclusion aspect, we want everyone to feel that they're not marginalized, they're not, you know, put in corner, and that they are here with us and part of the team and we respect Bob or anybody else, and their opinion.

So stop learner, when we go on into learner.

This is the this is the stage where we feel safe during the learning process. So I don't know about you, Bill, but I, you know, wasn't born knowing everything about everyone and everything in the world. So I'm constantly learning. And I'm constantly going back to the drawing board and say, Wow, what else can I put into my little tool box, you know, for later, and it's safe to be the person that can say, I didn't know that teach me show me. I'd like to learn more. So this is where the learner safety comes in. Right? Well, we become vulnerable to show that we're not the the expert in everything. But this allows us to make mistakes and learn from them. It doesn't give us that sense that if we make a mistake, we're going to be punished or we're going to,

you know, be put down or now not included in future projects.

So this learner stapling, it increases participation within a team increases encouragement, we celebrate, you know, new learning opportunities. And again, we learned from mistakes, we don't have fear of making mistakes. If you don't have safety in the team, if you've noticed teams where they're run by fear, they're always Oh, my gosh, I'm not going to do that. Because what if I mess up? Well, you shut down creativity, you become task oriented, you know, there's people that are just like, Okay, I'm here for me in my nine to five, I'm doing ABC. And that's it.

That doesn't really help the team to grow, doesn't help the team to

just become more creative and innovative in any aspect.

Yeah, I love that.

And boy, do we need innovation in local government. You know, there's so many rules and policies and ordinances that restrict local government, most lot for a lot of good reasons. But outside of that, we do need that innovation. And, you know, what came to mind for me, Marcella was this idea of the leader modeling,

and a leader saying, you know, could you show me that? You know, what, I didn't know that. I'd like to learn that, can you help me? So if the if the leader is vulnerable, in this learning process, they're inviting other people to now be vulnerable? I didn't know that. Just because I don't know. It doesn't mean, I'm stupid. It just means I didn't know it, right. But But you're right, you're kind of opening up the opportunity for other people to be vulnerable in the learning process. Exactly. So when we're vulnerable as leaders, it allows other people to feel that it's safe for them to be vulnerable. And it's safe for them to actually go into the next stage of contributor safety, right? If you're vulnerable as a leader, and you're saying, Well, I don't know everything. But here's a thought, here's an idea. It might be wrong, it might be right, but let's try it, it allows other team members to feel that they can do the same thing. And so now they can contribute to the team, they can contribute to those ideas and those innovations. And that gives us that opportunity to thrive more to get those small wins, right, we can actually feel that we're providing meaningful value to the team. So now we're included, we're part of the team. Excellent. I'm there, I'm at the table. I'm learning. So I'm growing, I'm learning I'm taking in new things, and thoughts and ideas are now able to contribute, not just from what I've learned, or maybe there are things that I might have an idea to help somebody else, learn more or develop. And now we're winning as a team. Now we're growing as a team. And we're just being able to add value to the team. Because there's like, you know, you don't want to contribute anything that's also

not valuable. I mean, sometimes, of course, you might have that. But you want to add that value that's going to bring return on investment. Right? Because the team is investing time, energy resources on you, and you're doing that for the team. So how else can we get that return on investment and bring value to the whole aspect? Okay, so So now we number three, contributor, I feel safe enough, I feel valued enough, I feel known enough, that I feel comfortable contributing my idea, my perspective, because I know that I'm not going to be shut down, I'm not going to be ridiculed. I'm not going to be laughed at. So I feel comfortable, I feel safe. contributing a unique idea to the team. Yeah, and this fosters passion, right? So when somebody's passionate about something, you really see it, you feel it, you have that energy that's just going in and out a team, you know, a team that's passionate and, and allows for the leader to give that team a little more autonomy, right? Because the wheels are turning the passions high, they're going to be more innovative, they're going to be creative, they're going to work together, they're going to feed off of each other's positive energy, and they're going to contribute more. They're going to empower each other to be able to bring ideas to the table. So when you don't have our contributor safety, when our ideas are shot down, when you know somebody says well, you know, maybe we could do it this way instead of that way. Or I thought of this I get a little

Out of the box. And the leader says, Nope, this is our box. This is where we say, this is our lane we work here, then you just really shot down that passion that innovation, that energy. And we go back to that task master of Well, I'm here from eight to five, give me my assignment, ABC done. That's it, no more, no less. And that really fizzled out any kind of organization to be able to grow and power become innovative or even competitive with other people and other organizations.

So that's what contributor simply brings to the table.

Now, our last last stage is the Challenger safety. Okay, so I'm included, I feel safe to be myself, no one's going to make fun of me judge me or put me aside. I am learning some I feel safe to say I don't know what I don't know. And I'm growing. Now contributing. So I've got contributor safety, that feel safe to be able to add value to my team contributes and his team. But what if I don't agree with something? What if I don't agree with what the leader said, or what the idea was that the leader came up with? That's where challenge or safety comes in. So challenge your safety allows you to question the status quo, it allows you to say, hey, I don't agree with you, or I don't think that's a good idea without getting retaliation.

But that's the important part right there. Because I can challenge you all day, every day. But if I feel that I'm going to have retaliation, that's not going to work.

And then we just keep doing the same old thing. And it's always been done this way. Right comes back over and over and over again. So as a leader, you allow your team to speak up when there's an opportunity to have improvements within the team or within a project. People can disagree respectfully, they can challenge each other.

But again, that's the status. There's the or the the main aspect, there is respect, right? We're challenging the thought the idea, the project, we're coming up with solutions. Also, it's not that Negative Nelly or negative Nancy aspect of things, we're not always saying, Oh, no, that's, that's a bad idea, or I don't like that. You're challenging it. But you're also coming up with a different idea. And there's no pressure to conform because of fear. So again, that goes back to the leader, being able to say, Guys, this is your team, this is your project, come up with what you think here's my idea of that God doesn't have to be the end all be all.

And it allows for a competitive advantage. So if I'm challenging you, well, teams need to be competitive, and team members like to have that positive competition with each other. So I want to come up with an even better idea. And what does that do for an agency or an organization or the team?

Yeah, yeah.

to happen. Yeah, you know, this is so practical. And I just think of the supervisor, the mica say, the, the field, you know, sidewalk repair team that's going out and making our parks look awesome for citizens. And there's a supervisor, and there's frontline employees, or maybe it's someone in community development that's got a team. And, you know, this is very practical, because if we can unleash people or encourage people to contribute, to learn to challenge, and we do it, like you said, and we're respecting the person, we're challenging the idea, right? I think if we can if we can be open, because the opposite of this is really, you know, to shut down innovation is to shut down ideas is to shut down a perspective or passion. And you're right, when people feel shut down. They go back into robotic mode, from eight to five. I'm going to do A, B and C. But when the doors open for innovation and creativity, and they feel safe and comfortable, contributing and challenging. Wow, you're right. The innovation levels got to go just through the roof. Yeah, and we've been able to do that here in Palm Beach County with our cross departmental teams. We have six cross departmental teams that are like cross functional teams, right? We've got six strategic priorities here in Palm Beach County, anywhere from housing and homelessness to infrastructure and public safety. And these teams come together and share information and and we really say you

Keep an eye here in Palm Beach County, we say job titles are at the door, we leave them out the door you come in, whether you're a director or boots on the ground, you're on this team, because you are that subject matter expert of what's taking place here. And so when we have that, you know, psychological safety aspect in the teams, where everyone's voice is heard, where everyone feels like they do contribute, and that people are learning from each other, then so many wonderful things are taking place. So right now we're getting ready for our safety awards that are coming up next month in April. And it came from our public safety team that has comprises about 15 different departments. And the team decided that they needed to do a social media campaign. Basically, everyone knows in their own department, what they're doing in regards to public safety, whether it's streetlights, whether it's animal care, and control, or even our parks, you know, making sure that the pathways are safe for people. Well, we didn't know what all of the departments were doing

in the realm of public safety, and there's a lot going on. So we decided to do a campaign, and we set it out to the general public. You know, did you know that when you go to the beach, there are numbers on little posts that are almost like, addresses. So if you're stuck out on the beach, and you have a problem, and you say, Hey, I'm by that blue building? Well, what blue building? Oh, it was close to that post that had number 36 on it. Now, you know, the lifeguards, and you know, park rangers know, okay, we're over here, because there's like 1000 new buildings that you could be talking about.

So those are some of the little things that this team came up with to say, Oh, well, we know what we do. But that's the general public know what we do to other departments now, do staff, you know, we have gone through almost 7000 People working in the county, and a lot of them are residents of the county. So this campaign actually became a role model for other municipalities and other counties to do as well. And now the team as a whole team, not just one department is getting a safety award for it. So that was really creative.

And that's, that's what we want to see. And that's what psychological safety comes into play. For teams to do these things without any kind of shut down or repercussions and things of that nature.

Yeah, I think the contrast couldn't be sharper that you've drawn here for people. And I just want to encourage the leaders listening to this, whether you're a city county manager, like I say, a frontline supervisor, I'll just ask these questions. Are you including all of your employees? In the process in the work? Do they feel included? And valued and respected? Are they are they learning individually? And are you learning? are you modeling learning, as a person, as a contributor, yourself as a leader? And then are the are the members of your team

actively contributing to the team? Or are they robots just doing the job? Right? And then lastly, do they have the permission to challenge an action?

Or do you shut all this down as a leader and boy, you just the contrast couldn't be sharper. This idea of shutting down innovation, shutting down ideas versus letting them flourish. And so I really, you've drawn a really bright contrast, I think, between these two styles. So thank you for walking us through that. We have just a couple of minutes left here. And I just wanted to kind of wrap up and ask you if there were any sort of final thoughts. I mean, this example that you gave of a public safety thing, that's a very innovative idea. And it came from the team, knowing that they could learn and contribute and challenge I'm sure it just got better and better and better until well, now they're receiving awards. So it's great, great example. And

could you just leave us with any sort of final thoughts on this whole idea of psychological safety? Sure. So now, here's the other thing, psychological safety doesn't happen overnight. You have to be intentional about it. It takes time and effort. So like you were mentioning bill, as the leader, you are role modeling what you want to see. And a lot of times you have to do that little self assessment of Do I really have an open door policy, my door might be open but my face might be shut down and people are going to be scared of coming in. Do I really contribute

To the team positivity and transparency, then you also as a leader have to establish what your your, you know, feedback is what you want to hear from your team, you have to establish those norms and vulnerability, so that the team knows it's okay to be creative and go outside the box. Now, obviously, this doesn't mean everyone's going to start, you know, holding hands and singing Kumbaya together. And that's okay. The idea is that the team is safe to contribute to the projects, to be ideas, to learn and grow without feeling like they're going to be judged, marginalized, or get any kind of punishment. So it doesn't mean everyone has to become best friends. But it does mean respect. And the ability to hear everyone's voice within the team, that in and of itself will lead you to more engagement. It'll lead you to more creativity, better projects coming out. And just an overall great seems to be working with it.

That's pretty much the gist of it.

Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you so much, what a what a wonderful reminder for everybody listening. And again, you know, Marcel, and I, we want to, we want to really push you and challenge you to be introspective a bit are, am I living these ideals out myself? And am I am I opening the door? For these ways of interacting with each other? If I am great, keep keep going. But if I'm not, you know, where can I step my game up and, and create a little bit more psychological safety for people. So you want to get to know them and, you know, really focused on the human aspect. You know, a lot of people think that these are soft skills. But you know, what, these are human skills, we are in the people business. And at the end of the day, if our people don't feel safe, if they don't feel encouraged, then we don't have a business. So I really thank you, Bill, for having me on here today to really talk about this, and to showcase the importance of it when it comes to healthy teams, in any organization. So thank you for having Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for all the work you're doing down in Palm Beach County. And

you know, the kind of deliberate process you are going through with these cross functional teams and encouraging innovation and risk taking and I just love it. I know the citizens down there are benefiting from the work you all are doing. And it's got to make you feel good to know that you're, you're leading a noble effort. So thank you so much for your your help and work. Thank you very much. Appreciate that. Yeah, thank you for everybody listening today and being a part of this podcast. We hope it's been helpful for you as you think about how to better lead your teams and local government. And we do care about you all and want the best for you and I look forward to hearing from you at any time, go to our website And you're welcome back next time for our next podcast. Have a great day.