I thought I was going to get fired. 

It was my first semester as college faculty, and my boss was evaluating my teaching in action.  I was already nervous and seeing my boss in the back of the classroom with pen and paper in hand didn’t help my anxiety.  Then a student raised her hand and asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to.

I felt heat creep up my body and into my neck and cheeks when I said out loud, “I don’t know. I’ll look into that before the next class”.

This student didn’t give up. She asked me again. I admitted I didn’t know … again.

A third time her arm shot up into the air to ask me one more time. I admitted I didn’t know … one more time.

When I had my feedback session with my boss, he said something I never expected. “You did exactly what you should do, Jeannette.”

Wait. What?

My boss taught me a valuable lesson that day and it had to do with psychological safety.

When your employees feel they are underperforming, throw them a lifeline. Let them know things will be okay; they will be okay.

In my situation, my boss helped me understand that I won’t ever know everything. He explained that my job was to stay one step ahead of my students and when I didn’t know an answer to go find it!  This is a lesson I have carried with me since that day (for the last 18 years).  He gave me permission to employ situational humility as a way to build psychological safety in my classroom.

When leaders let their egos get in the way, it can cause narrow solutions, broken trust, and fear. If you think you have all the answers, think again. If you believe you are right because you are the boss, take a step down of your high horse.

Leaders who practice situational humility do these three things:

  1. They are open to ideas contradictory to their own.
  2. They keep their abilities and accomplishments in perspective.
  3. They acknowledge their own errors and shortcomings.

Ask yourself, “How good am I at situational humility?”

If you can’t answer “I’m great” or “I’m really good at it!”, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to grow as a leader. Not only would it be good for you, it would also be good for your team too.

I can help.  Just reach out!