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June 17, 2021

A framework to help leaders transform organizations into psychologically safe incubators of innovation with Dr. Timothy Clark | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

A framework to help leaders transform organizations into psychologically safe incubators of innovation with Dr. Timothy Clark | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader
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In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli talked with Dr. Timothy Clark, the founder and CEO of LeaderFactor and author of Four Stages of Psychological Safety. Dr. Clark has broken down the different stages to ensure psychological safety in teams.  Dr. Timothy Clark shares how teams can build on the understanding of each stages in order to boost psychological safety in the workplace.

Some highlights:

-Dr. Timothy Clark on why leaders cannot be neutral

-The skills that leaders need to cultivate

-Dr. Timothy Clark on his definition of psychological safety

-The barriers to creating psychological safety in the workplace

-Improving the learning process by disconnecting fear from failure

-Dr. Timothy Clark on how leaders can ensure employee accountability

-How to achieve the highest level of psychological safety by challenging and changing the status quo


Also mentioned in this episode:

Partnering Leadership podcast conversation with Dr. Michelle McQuaid, best-seller author (Listen to Dr. Michelle McQuaid’s episode here)

The Four Stages of Psychological Safety Behavioral Guide

Four Stages of Psychological Safety Book


Connect with Dr. Timothy Clark:

LeaderFactor Official Website

Dr. Timothy Clark on LinkedIn

Dr. Timothy Clark on Twitter


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:



More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am really excited this week to be welcoming Dr. Timothy Clark. He's the founder and CEO of Leader Factor, which is a global consulting coaching and training organization. Dr. Clark has written five books with his most recent book being the Four Stages of Psychological Safety.

Now, I truly believe psychological safety is one of the most critical factors to success of teams and organizations, which is why after this conversation, I also encourage you to listen to my conversation with Dr. Michelle McQuaid, where we talked some more about psychological safety. One of the things I love about Dr Clark's book is the fact that he has broken down psychological safety in a way that each and every leader can assess her or his level of ensuring psychological safety in the team. And also how teams can effectively implement steps to create greater psychological safety. So I encourage you to think about these two ways that you can do better. We all can do better. 

One of the challenges I've seen with many leaders is that they nod and they say, “Yes, We have it made. We have psychologically safe environments.” I would challenge you that that is not the case in most of the organizations that I see and I interact with. And even as Dr. Clark says only about 8% of the organizations they have assessed, the team members truly feel they're operating at level four of the psychological safety that he talks about.

I love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. Leave voice messages for me there. 

Don't forget to follow and or subscribe to the podcast depending on your platform of choice. That way you will be first to be notified of upcoming episodes.

And finally, those of you that enjoy these episodes on Apple podcasts, please leave a rating and review. That way, more people will find these conversations benefit from them and become more impactful leaders. 

Now, here is my conversation with Dr. Timothy Clark 


Mahan Tavakoli: 

Dr. Timothy Clark. Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you on with me.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Thanks, Mahan. Well, I appreciate the opportunity. Look forward to the conversation.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I absolutely love psychological safety, but I think Tim, you have taken it to the next level with your book, Four Stages of Psychological Safety, because you've made it a lot more practical for leaders to know how to look at their organizations and how to make them a more psychological safe environment.

But before we get to some of your thoughts with respect to psychological safety and effective organizational culture, would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you became?

 Dr Timothy Clark: 

That's a great question. Well, I grew up in Southern Colorado among the Navajo native American tribe. My dad was a teacher among the Navajo, and so we were there a few years and then we moved down to LA. So think about that contrast, you go from living among the Navajo to Los Angeles.  We moved to the Bay area. I've lived in the UK where I did my graduate school. I've lived in Korea. I lived in Seoul, Korea. So I've had really diverse experiences in my life. And I studied culture in my doctoral program at Oxford. I think all of those experiences have served to help me appreciate diversity. But then to ask the question which I've asked myself many times, diversity is often a fact that already exists because it's a matter of composition and makeup but inclusion and collaboration and innovation, those things are choices. So if you have diversity, that's great, but diversity doesn't benefit anyone. It doesn't bless anyone until we can draw out its power, until we can unleash it.

And so I think my experiences have influenced me to ask that question, how do we tap the power of diversity? How do we build truly deeply inclusive environments? So, yes, I appreciate you asking that, Mahan, because I don't think I can separate my personal experience from the research and my passion for this topic.

And I think the 2020s. I think this is the decade of culture. The pandemic was a big accelerator for us and it really opened our eyes. But I think this entire decade, we're going to be focusing on culture. That's my guess.

 Mahan Tavakoli: 

What a beautiful reflection on your upbringing and what has impacted you, Tim. I've read a few of your books, listened to a lot of your conversations on different podcasts, attended many of the webinars that you conduct and your understanding of culture comes across.

And the statement you just made that diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice shows through your behaviors and your actions and that you choose to make inclusion a part of what you also promote in your own content.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

I hope so. We're always trying to eat our own cooking, right? And we're trying not to be hypocrites because that doesn't help. And so I think that, if you feel strongly, if you have a conviction that that's the way that an organizational culture should be. And I think that creates some humility and you're constantly asking yourself, how am I doing? How is my behavior affecting others? Am I promoting psychological safety? What am I doing that's getting in the way? How am I being a barrier? And so you're constantly doing a self-inventory. You're reflecting, you're analyzing yourself. And you're trying to get better because one of the things that I like to say Mahan, maybe you've heard me say it, but leaders either lead the way or get in the way. 

We're not neutral.We can't be neutral actors ever. You cannot wake up and say, well, I'm going to be a neutral actor today. Your influence is going in one direction or another. It has to. And so the question really is what values, what norms are you modeling and reinforcing? That's the only question. We know that you're modeling and reinforcing some norms, which ones are they? And that's what matters.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And Tim, to that point, a lot of leaders that listened to this podcast, or I interact with in my own consulting work, they nod and they agree that that really matters. But in many instances, their team might not agree that they are leading in the way that it requires with respect to whether generating psychological safety and nurturing a psychological safe environment, or the inclusivity that you talk about.

So how do you guide leaders? To become more receptive to the outside signals rather than believing that yes, they've read it. They know it, they do it.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

I think there are two skills that leaders have to cultivate. And try to come to mastery in order to get to that place. And they're very simple. The first one is listening and the second one is questioning.

So the leader that learns how to do deep listening,  it's a prerequisite. So we start with listening and then we transition to inquiry. Asking questions. The leaders that I see that are most collaborative and most able to cultivate and foster culture of psychological safety, they lead with questions more than they lead with answers.

They've been able to overcome their own egos. They've cast aside their ego defense mechanisms. So they're not constantly getting in their own way. Think about how refreshing that is. So they're focusing on listening and they're focusing on asking. So it's inquiry-based leadership, by definition they're going to be more open. 

Now, we all have biases. We're all dripping with bias. We all have blind spots. Well, what better way to be on a journey of continuously improving your self-awareness if you're listening and you're asking. So it's simple. Let me make this distinction though, Mahan. I say number one, listening, number two, asking, but let's not confuse the fact that those are simple, but they're not easy. They're not easy. And so if you're full of bluster and bravado, if you're full of yourself, if you like to hear yourself talk, if you think leadership is a glittering path to your own rewards, you're not getting it. You're just not getting it. And you need to go sit down and you need to do a little bit more reflection, maybe a whole lot.

In fact, I'll even give you an exercise. I give this exercise to executives that need to come to a new level of self-awareness. They will often say, "Oh Tim. Yeah, I'm very self-aware." I'll say, "Well, you know what? That's a nice idea. I'm glad you think you are. Let me give you an exercise."

 So here's the exercise. I want you to go find 10 people that know you well, and that interact with you on some kind of a sustained basis. Could be at work. It doesn't have to be though. Could be in other social settings or circles, other environments. I want you to find 10 and I want you to go to them. And I want you to have a conversation with all 10 and ask them this question.

Here's the question. How do people perceive me? Don't ask them, how do you perceive me? Because that's still not safe enough, even though they may be your trusted advisors, you’ve got to give them a little bit more psychological safety. You’ve got to buffer that a little bit, ask them how do people perceive me?

And I promise you that if you ask them that question, they're going to give you some insightful responses. If you do that 10 times, you're going to come back and you will have had a regulatory experience and you'll probably be shaken up by it, which is fantastic. So come back to me when you get all 10 done and then let's have a conversation and I promise you that conversation is going to be a little bit different then than it would be now.

So that's just a little exercise Mahan.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is a brilliant exercise, Tim, and thank you for sharing it. I would encourage all of our listeners, regardless of whether they think they have a very small blind spots or big blind spots to do that. And that conversation by itself can be very revealing for them. 

Now you also, I know, studied culture at Oxford. And you talk about the fact that change and crisis liquefies culture, which in essence means that with the crisis we've been going through, there has been a lot of liquefying of the culture, providing an opportunity for leaders to reestablish the culture of their organizations and their teams.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Yes. Let me give you an example. So here's a really simple example that probably all of your listeners can relate to. 

So I was on a zoom call just the other day with a woman. And her children and her dog were in the background. They were going back and forth making noise. She didn't apologize about that.

She didn't say, "Oh, I'm really sorry", because she doesn't need to apologize about that. So isn't it interesting how the norms have shifted? The pandemic has created whether you like it or not greater levels of vulnerability for all of us in many different ways. That's just an example of how a crisis can liquefy the status quo.

So what happens is that culture gets hard and in the study of culture, we call it fossilization or we call it calcification, meaning that it gets really hard. We get very entrenched in the way that we do things. We get very grooved in the way we think. And the way we behave and then if we say, well, we need to change the culture. We need to transform the culture. That is a very scary formidable challenge. And I think we all know that. Changing culture is the hardest single thing to change.  You can change pretty much anything else. You can take structure, process, systems, tools, technology, policies, and procedures. They're relatively easy to change, but changing culture is another matter. 

What we're saying is that a crisis has this unique ability to knock an organization, knock a society into a state of disequilibrium, and make it fluid. And that is what has happened in the last year. And so there is an opportunity within the calamity of COVID-19, which is most people, they have this perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to transform culture.

And do it much faster than they otherwise could. Normally it's this incremental journey and it's very difficult, but right now we can take giant steps and we can accelerate because we're already in this state of flux. So that's what I mean by that Mahan.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And we are also establishing new patterns, new habits, new norms, and this is a great time for it. Now, your latest book, Four Stages of Psychological Safety talks about the importance of psychological safety as a critical part of that culture. What is psychological safety from your perspective, Tim?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

I define it in five words. It's an environment of rewarded vulnerability. 

Now you kind of have to think about that for a minute. An environment of rewarded vulnerability. Why do we need or want rewarded vulnerability? Well, for a lot of good reasons. Let me think about what we do in social units on teams and organizations.

You can't do any of the things that we need to do and you can't perform without rewarded vulnerability. You can't be yourself. You can't learn, you can't contribute. You cannot challenge the status quo, make things better. You can't do any of those things unless your vulnerability is rewarded. If it's punished, then you can't do those things. You're going to withdraw. You're going to retreat and you're going to manage personal risk. 

So psychological safety is the heart of culture. And if you don't have it, what we're finding Mahan is that you cannot compensate for its absence or for it being very, very low. There's really no work around because it's the enabling condition that allows you to do all of those things that you have to do in an organization to be successful and perform. So it's this indispensable requirement.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So that rewarded vulnerability, is there a certain level of vulnerability that is appropriate? Certain level that is not? What is showing our vulnerability like in the work environment?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Fantastic question. Because psychological safety is not binary. It's not something you have or you don't have. And so it's a matter of degree, but what I lay out in the book is that there is a progression where psychological safety moves through four stages and those stages follow the pattern of natural human needs.

So for example, stage one is inclusion safety. What does that mean? That means you feel included, you feel accepted, you feel a sense of belonging, and that is the foundation.  So if you're a leader in an organization of any kind, your first order of business culturally, is to put that first stage of psychological safety in place, create an environment of inclusion safety, a sanctuary of inclusion, where it is not expensive for people to be themselves at stage one.

And then we go to stage two, which is learner safety, which means you can learn without being marginalized or embarrassed, you can do the things that learning requires. Asking questions and giving and receiving feedback, experimenting, making mistakes. You're not going to get clobbered for it. You're not going to be embarrassed or ridiculed or harshly criticized in the process.

Then we go to stage three, which is contributor safety, which means you take what you've learned. And you use it, you apply it to make a difference. Most everyone, I know they want to be a difference maker. They want to be able to use everything they've learned and contribute in some meaningful way. That's what stage three is all about. Contributing in a meaningful way, making a difference. 

Then we go to stage four, which is the last stage of the culminating stage and we call it challenger safety. And that means that you feel safe to challenge the status quo without retaliation or retribution. Now stage four, challenger safety. This is the domain of innovation. This is where we innovate, because if you think about an innovation by its very nature is disruptive of the status quo. It means that we are going to change status quo. You can't change the status quo until you first challenge the status quo. And so you need a very high level of psychological safety that is going to protect you in that behavior.

If you're not going to be protected in that behavior, chances are you're not going to do it. You're not going to challenge the status quo. You're not going to muscle through the fear. I mean, most people are not going to do that. They need to be protected in that behavior of challenging the status quo.

So that's just a very brief summary, Mahan, of the four stages and the progression. 

So you'll notice two things about it. Number one is you're moving through the four stages. You're following the pattern of natural human needs. Second, you are climbing a ladder of increasing vulnerability. By the time you get to stage four, challenger safety, and you're thinking about challenging the status quo. That's a very different thing than being included, being yourself. Your level of personal exposure and risk are at an extremely high level. So you have climbed this ladder of vulnerability in the process. That's how the four stages work.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And I would love to go into each one of the stages a little bit more. But knowing that you have a tool on your website, that teams can look at the behavioral factors that contribute to it. The being in different levels of psychological safety as you define them and your own work and your team's work.

Do you have a sense of the breakdown of where teams fall percentages of, where most teams fall the research you've done?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Yeah, it's not complete yet because we're still building the database right now, Mahan. But what we can say is that, well, and this is kind of a sober statistic, but probably not surprising to your listeners. And that is that approximately 8% of all the teams that we're surveying right now worldwide based on our  team survey, 8% are achieving challenger safety.

So that's stage four level psychological safety. It's only 8%. I don't know if that seems higher, low to most people. I'm not exactly sure what you think about that. But overall, it's a low number, right? Just 8%. But then if you think about creating challenger safety, and sustaining that you realize that's a pretty big, big challenge to get to that place. Any team that gets to that place is culturally world-class. You have achieved something very special. You need to acknowledge what you've achieved. That's not an easy thing to do.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that's why, Tim, I challenge the leaders I work with and all of our listeners, not to assume that they are in that one out of 10 teams that have the challenger safety level, but assume that you are not there. And how can you now work on each one of these levels to increase the psychological safety in your team?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

I think your assumption Mahan is correct. No matter the team. You've got a next step to take. You have improvements to make. You've got gaps, you've got opportunities. You've got places where you can improve. And so the way that we help teams do that is we will have them take the four stages team survey so they can baseline where they are.

And then we provide to them what we call the behavioral guide. And the behavioral guide is a companion to the book and it identifies very specific concrete behaviors that are associated with each of the four stages. And that, by the way, is a free resource that we can send you a link to Mahan that you can provide to all of your listeners.

There's 140 concrete behaviors in the behavioral guide. So that's 35 for each of the four stages. And that really helps because ultimately to create psychological safety. If you're my leader, Mahan, if you're my team leader, I can't guess what's in your head. I can't guess what your operating assumptions are, your values. What I have to rely on is your behavior. 

And so I'm going to do my own risk reward calculations based on your demonstrated behavior. And so the most effective way to increase psychological safety is to be able to identify the areas that we need to work on, where we need to get better and then apply specific behaviors that will close those gaps. And that's why we use the behavioral guide. We take what we call a behavioral approach because you can sit around with your team forever and you can talk about where you need to go and where you are, and that's fine. But that turns into philosophy after a while or, you know, we're just talking about it. We've got to jump into behaviors that we can practice and that we can model and we can reinforce. That's how we get there. That's how we shift the norms on a team.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And we will link in the show notes to the behavioral guide, Tim, which is an outstanding resource. In addition to reading the book, looking at specific things that can be done. With respect to each one of the levels of psychological safety. Now, stage one is inclusion safety. You mentioned that it's a human need and a right.

And you also say worth proceeds worthiness.

And I would love to know what are a couple of things you would recommend to leaders to do to increase inclusion safety in their teams and organizations?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Sure. Well, as you said, Mahan, Stage one, inclusion safety is a right. We look at it as a human right. It's not something you earn. It's something that you are entitled to. It's something that you are owed by virtue of the fact that you are human, you're part of the human family. And so what that means is that in stage one, to create inclusion safety, we apply what we call a worth test to each other. Not a worthiness test. We are not going to weigh you in the balance based on certain factors or criteria to determine your worthiness to be included. That doesn't work. We're simply going to say that you're entitled to inclusion based on your inherent worth as a human being. We will judge you based on performance criteria. If you're an employee in an organization, there will be a time for that. But the original position is that you are worth inclusion. We have no grounds to exclude you. So we have to apply a worth test, not a worthiness test. If we start applying a worthiness test, then we get into trouble and we cannot create the inclusive environment or culture that we need to create. 

So stage one is, think about how challenging it is for many organizations and teams just to get to stage one. There's a lot of things that we need to unlearn, and this is where we have to take a hard look at bias and prejudice and exclusionary behaviors. And we've got to clear the decks of those things. And if we are engaging in any exclusionary behaviors, based on a certain demographics or psychographic or performance criteria, we've got to abandon those. We've got to abandon those things. It could be race or religion or age or gender or education or socioeconomic status or geography or family language, you name it.

Those are all illegitimate criteria for exclusionary behavior. You can't justify it. Those are the things that we customarily use to engage in exclusionary behavior, but they're all illegitimate. That's why in the book, I call them junk theories of superiority.

And unfortunately, we still invoke a lot of those factors and we engage. We use a lot of those things to justify our exclusionary behavior and this is where we're getting it wrong.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And Tim with most of the organizations I have worked globally and here in the States, most of the organizations and teams that I look at, they are barely at inclusion safety and doing a good job with that factor. You do have a lot of behavioral elements in there. Even something as simple as expressing gratitude and appreciation. Genuine gratitude and appreciation is part of that inclusion safety, which is lacking in many teams.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Well, it's very true. We have to go back and think about why is inclusion safety stage one? Because as I said before, Mahan, it represents the first stage of natural human needs. We are social creatures. We crave connection. We crave bonding. We deserve to be validated and acknowledged by each other. That is something that we are entitled to. We owe that to each other. If we don't do that, then things start to break down. 

We create divisions and we know how that goes. We've all been on the receiving end of exclusionary behavior. We all have. We've all been marginalized. We've all been embarrassed. We've all been left out. We've all been snubbed at some point, ignored, whatever it was. We know what it feels like when there's a violation of psychological safety, when there's a breach, but, can we really justify that? On what grounds can we justify that we can't? And so even if you are in diametric opposition to somebody else, on your point of view, your belief, whatever it is, the person is still entitled to basic respect and dignity and civility.

We have to remember that if that principle becomes the way that we interact and defines our terms of engagement, we're going to do well. We're going to be able to accomplish things that we didn't think possible. So much of it goes back to getting the foundation in place. Right? Mahan. We’ve got to get that foundation in place.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

The foundation is critical, Tim. 

Now, a couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a leader and he said, "Let me be honest with you. I pay my team to put on their big boy and big girl pants in the morning. So I don't want to baby them. They need to be adult enough to take it the way I give them feedback and the way things work."

So what would you say with leaders that say, you know what, that's all nice and good, but we are adults being compensated for producing results. So this is all touchy, feely inclusion stuff. That is nice for HR, but not something that high functioning teams need to worry about.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Okay. I think what we have to do here at Mahan is we have to begin with a definition of terms. What does it mean to put your big boy or big girl pants on? What does it mean to baby? What does it mean to be an adult? Those are nice images and metaphors, but we have to define the terms. 

It is true that in order to perform, in order to innovate, in order to perform at the highest level possible, we need a tolerance for candor. We need to be able to challenge each other. We need to be able to have hard hitting dialogue. We need to be able to give and receive honest feedback. The only way you can really do that is by maintaining respect. 

The way that I would define it would be, if you say that I need to put my big boy pants on, that means I need to be strong and courageous. I need to contribute my best thinking. I need to be able to debate issues on their merits. That's exactly what we want to do. And therefore, psychological safety is a necessary precondition to allow that to happen. If you go personal on me at any time in our interaction, if you're disrespectful, if you criticize me in some kind of a personal way, if you're demeaning, if you're belittling, if you're ridiculing, that's out of bounds. We got to call a timeout. If you're saying that I need permission to abuse you, to bully you, to publicly shame you, even in mild and subtle ways. You're deceiving yourself. If that's what you think being adult means you are sorely mistaken. Being adult means that you have the moral capacity to maintain respect for your colleagues.

And so one of the things that I talk about Mahan, when we get to stage four challenger safety, is that the best leaders that I've ever seen are the ones that can take intellectual friction to extremely high levels on their teams, but keep the social friction down. How do they do that? And by the way, why do they need that?

Because the high performing team requires high levels of intellectual friction in order to solve problems, create solutions, make breakthroughs, innovate. If you want high intellectual friction, you've got to keep the social friction down. And what does that mean? That means that I'm going to bring humility. I'm going to bring superb emotional intelligence. I'm going to refrain from personal attacks. If I allow the social friction to escalate, then the social friction will, at some point shut down the intellectual friction and the entire process will break down and we'll come to impasse.

You want me to put my big boy pants on? You want us to be adults? Let's get crystal clear about what that means. And if you think it gives you a license to violate the principles of civility and respect, you my friend are not getting it. So let's just define terms.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What beautiful differentiation there, Tim. And you mentioned this in the book and I urge people to reflect on what you just said, which is you want intellectual friction in the team to go up. And obviously for the leader to be willing to take that intellectual friction as much as give intellectual friction. But move social friction down separation within social friction and intellectual friction is critical to understanding what a high functioning team does. So I love the way you separate those two.

Now also with respect to learner safety, which is the second stage, you give a great case study in your book about a calculus teacher. And he says that I expect my students to fail as a way to helping them learn. Can you share that example and how that relates to leaders and organizations on how we can create learner safety environment?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Exactly. So in the case study, I did study a calculus teacher and I did room observations. I interviewed his students. I interviewed him and the principal that he governs his classroom by. And really the central cultural principle is that failure is not the exception. It's the expectation. You will fail your way to success with calculus.

As I said, it's not the exception, it's the expectation. We fully expect you to fail and we're going to create a culture in which we disconnect fear from failure. Those two are divorced. That's the kind of classroom setting or environment that he creates Mahan and it's incredible.

I mean, I watched it in action and, and it was real. Think about this. Normally we all bring some inhibitions, some fear, some anxiety to the learning process because the learning process is fraught with interpersonal risk. We're taking risks but what does fear do? Fear neutralizes or it at least slows down the learning process.

And so what this teacher does is disconnects fear from failure so that the students can dive in and they don't feel that normal inhibition and that great anxiety. They're just going to dive in. Well, is it really any different with adults? Is it really any different with learning professionals? I don't think it's that different. And actually the research tells us that it's not that different. We're just more careful, we're more experienced. We know how to manage environment a little bit better.  We do fear detection when we're in an environment and if we think it's not safe, we know how to manage personal risk. But it's the same for us. 

So learner safety is very important. It's a requirement that we need so we can apply the principle of learning agility. 

Now, let me define this for your listeners. Learning agility is very important. Principle learning agility means that you can learn at or above the speed of change. And in most organizations, I know that's a requirement. If you're not learning at or above the speed of change, you are moving into an obsolescent cycle. You are losing slowly your sources of competitive advantage. So learner safety becomes critical.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Which is why I love that you say we no longer earn a living. We learn a living. And as the pace of change is picking up, becoming fast and faster, we do need to have that learning environment in our organizations. 

Now the next step is contributor safety. And within contributor safety, you also talk about accountability, which is important. With respect to organizations and having a psychological safe environment. Do you mind talking a little bit about accountability and the levels of accountability that come into play when thinking about contributor safety?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Sure. When we get to stage three contributor safety, we're really in a performance-based environment. Now that was not true with stage one inclusion safety. We just needed to be ourselves. We were entitled to be included and accepted. But when we get to contributor safety, stage three, we have moved into a different realm.

The social exchange there is that we will be given some level of autonomy. We will be given encouragement. We will be given guidance, but in exchange for what, in exchange for results. When we get to stage three contributor safety, we have to deliver the goods. We have to be able to perform. We have to be able to show results and that is as it should be because we're all accountable.

You can't have an organization. You can't perform without accountability. We're all accountable. So what that means is, and I specify three different levels of accountability in the book. Level one is task level accountability. Task is the basic unit of work. It's a basic divisible unit of work. We take everything that we do, and we divide it up into tasks. We have to come to mastery at the task level first, and then we can move to stage two, which is project or process level accountability.

A project is a group of tasks with a beginning and an end. A process is a repeating sequence of tasks. That's the second level of accountability, and we should be aspiring to come to mastery at that second level. And as leaders, we should be helping our people get to that level as well.

So what I like to say is that level one, task level or level two project and process level accountability. Those are not destinations. Those are places that we want to pass through. Where do we want to go? We want to go to the third level, which is outcome level accountability. Outcome level accountability means that we are responsible for the results. We're responsible for the performance. We're responsible for the outcome. That's really where high performing individuals go. They live their lives in a world of outcome based accountability, that's the destination. And I think that should be the aspiration for every individual and every team. So chances are that you know, if we look at ourselves and we look at our teams, we've got places to improve, but that's the way that I look at accountability.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And leaders reading your book, which is part of what I found myself doing both for myself and the organizations I work with is for them to ask themselves if they are holding their people accountable on the task level process or project or outcome level. So it's a great tool for leaders to, in this instance, again, do a self-assessment of how well they are leading their teams.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Yeah. So for example, if you're a team leader, say you have 10 members of your team as direct reports, you could ask that question about every single individual and you could literally plot them, all 10. So where are they? Well my first team member is let's say task level operating at task level accountability, but then within that, you could say high, medium, or low, right within task level accountability.

And you could do the same with project process and also outcome. It's a great diagnostic tool to help you understand where each of your team members are. And then the next question is really the next order of businesses to speak with each member of your team and say, this is what I see. This is the pattern of your performance. What can I do to help you move to the next level? And then you can have a fantastic coaching conversation because you're meeting them where they are. And you're saying, "Okay, this is where you are, where do we go from here?" So it's a fantastic way to have that coaching conversation.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

This is absolutely one of the reasons, as I mentioned from the beginning of the conversation, Tim, I love your book because it's a practical application and you can use it to ask yourself questions and your team members questions on how to actually create a psychological safe environment. I've read other books and a lot of other content about psychological safety, but more from the overall perspective of the concept, rather than something that can be tangible.

Now, stage four is challenger safety. And I have to tell you, I operated on a senior team for a few years that had that level of safety in it. It was magnificent. It was as if we were all on a high, both with respect to relationships and performance. So how do you make sure that in a team the individuals feel safe enough to be able to challenge that status quo, innovate and make things better?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

If you're the leader Mahan, then I think your first responsibility is you have to model that. You have to model the behavior that cultivates stage four, challenger safety. So that's number one, model it, but number two is you have to reinforce it through accountability. You have to hold the rest of the team accountable for that standard of behavior.

But if you let it go, then you are tolerating violations of psychological safety, And so what you're doing is you are giving people permission to do that, and you're never even going to get there as soon as you let it go. You're giving the entire team permission and we know how that goes.

So number one, model. Number two, reinforce with accountability. I don't think it's possible to get there if you're not doing those two things, I don't know a way. I think you have to do those two things. Those are the two indispensable requirements of creating and sustaining stage four, challenger safety.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And as you also say in the book, you can even assign the sense. You can encourage those disruptive ideas. You can encourage people to bring bad news to you. The example I gave, I was on a senior team, the CEO chairman of the board, Peter Handle of Dale Carnegie International. The first time I disagreed with him in the senior team meeting afterwards, he pulled me aside and I was like, "Uh oh." There I am in a senior team meeting and I disagreed with the President, CEO, Chairman of the board. And he said, "Thank you. I want to see more of that out of you." And we had a conversation. So almost every single time, that's what he did. Initially with a senior team where he encouraged through truly wanting to hear disagreements and pushback in creating a psychologically safe environment.

So to your point, the leader modeling, it is more important than anything else that the leader can do.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

That's a beautiful example, Mahan, what a beautiful example. And probably most people have, at least for a short time, been on a team where they had challenger safety stage four and it's invigorating. It's exhilarating. It creates a peak engagement experience that you never forget. And you just want to be in that environment all the time. It's so great.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yes. And you have the roadmap on how leaders can lead their organizations to get there. You also say lead as if you have no power.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

I do. I say that a lot Mahan, because I think it puts leadership in perspective. Organizations, they give people the artifacts of title and position and authority. And we need those things in order to run and manage large complex organizations. We understand that, but if you have the mentality and the mindset that you have no power, it puts leadership in perspective, and you're not going to hide behind those things. You're going to become agnostic to title, position, and authority. And it's really going to give you a much more accurate perspective about what leadership is all about. That's why I say that. I think it helps.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It truly does. And I really appreciate all of the thoughts that you've shared. Before finding out how the audience can connect with you. In addition to the links we put in the show notes, are there any other resources, leadership resources that you typically find yourself recommending Tim for people wanting to become more impactful leaders themselves?

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Well, I think that the most important suggestion that I could give is that we've really learned the power of this during the pandemic. And that is the pattern of your learning and the pattern of your training. If you're on a team, the pattern has to be frequent and brief rather than infrequent and long.

So I want you to think about the traditional approach to leadership development and in the past, it was okay, we're going to do some training or we're going to do some kind of development activity. And once in a while, we'd get together in a structured learning environment. And that's great. There's nothing wrong with that. That's not getting the job done. 

In this pandemic, we have learned that the pattern needs to be frequent and brief. We need to go to very brief learning segments, learning moments, single point lessons, the micro learning principle, and we incorporate it into natural workflow. 

So for example, we did it this morning with our team. We had our team huddle, which we have every morning, and then we added a training segment that lasted five to 10 minutes. That's it. It's that frequent and brief continuous pattern that I would leave with your listeners Mahan. That's what we've learned during the pandemic. We've got to move to that. We can still do our training. We can still do our events. We can still do our formal learning and our structured learning environments. That's great. Keep doing it. But we've got to add to that training and development in natural workflow every day, could be five minutes. It's incredibly powerful.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is a lot more powerful and it sticks a lot more effectively. 

Now I know you and your team provide lots and lots of different opportunities. In addition to the book for people to engage and learn from you. So where do you send the audience to find out more about you, Tim, about the book and the many resources training and otherwise that you and your team provide at Leader Factor.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Sure. We would love to have people visit us at leaderfactor.com. People can follow me. LinkedIn, Timothy R. Clark. Twitter handle is the same Timothy R. Clark. So we welcome any listeners that would like to visit us and learn more. We're happy to have you.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Well Tim, I have learned a ton from you. I've been a big advocate of psychological safety since finding out about Google's Aristotle project, Amy Edmondson's book, but you have taken it to another level. Where it makes it a lot more practical for leaders and breaks it down so they can reflect on their own behaviors and on the kind of behaviors in a work environment that can make the work environment  a more psychological, safe environment, and much more impactful as a result.

I truly appreciate the brilliant content you have shared through your writing, through your webinars, through your website, Tim, and really appreciate you joining me and our listeners in this conversation, Dr. Timothy Clark.

Dr Timothy Clark: 

Well, thanks, Mahan. I appreciate the invitation. It's been great to be with you. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Thank you, Tim.