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From Wounded Leaders to Psychologically Safe Leaders

Organisations & academic institutions train people on the building domain expertise and competencies. What is probably a bigger black hole after the Milky Way, is the building of mental fitness of senior leaders who are responsible for performance of self and those of others in team.

Let’s take a moment to reflect:

1.      Do you feel undervalued at the workplace?

2.      Do you feel rejected in team setting (department or group) even after trying hard to be accepted?

3.      Do you feel disrespected or uncomfortable when challenged at the workplace?

4.      Do you feel uncomfortable during conflicts?

5.      Do you hear a critical voice inside you reminding you that you are not good enough?

If your answer is YES to 2 or more of the above, you are a wounded leader.  

You can change only what you notice, and being aware of your emotional wounds at work is as important as your wellbeing & sense of emotional safety of self and those around us. The impact of this is:  

1.      Inflict further self-wounds through automatic negative thoughts

2.      Inflict emotional bruises to others through unconscious biases

3.      Create a psychologically unsafe workplace

4.      Neutralizing one’s true potential in leadership

5.      Lack of feeling of inclusion and belongingness in teams

The silent cost of the Wounded Leader

When a leader is physically present but emotionally overwhelmed, the cost of his presence is higher than absence. He creates an environment that is unsafe for himself and others around. The presence of fear on a team is the first sign of weak leadership. Employees don’t disengage from organisations directly; they disengage from wounded leaders first. Toxic behaviours in a team lead to the top talent leaving and a culture of mediocrity being cultivated. The cost of retaining & training in such teams is higher than the actual remuneration paid. 

How Wounded Leaders can nurture themselves to be psychologically safe

RUMI said, “The wound is where the light enters you”

Leaders need to use the wound as a window to enhance their leadership skills. Frequent introspection on how a leader can respond and behave differently in their own context is essential. Using daily emotions as compass to navigate build emotional literacy for the leader. Daily practice of mental fitness hacks like breath work prevents the brain (amygdala) from being hijacked. Journaling helps in identifying patterns and trigger along with motivators for human beings.

Role of the Organisation

Organisations are responsible to train on the attributes of psychologically safe leaders, so that the leader develops a structure to move forward whilst working upon their inner self. The role of culture is crucial as an ecosystem that supports the leader to be vulnerable, share his or her story, and adopt a more coaching style of leadership, where it is natural to be oneself.

In my 23 years of experience, I have observed that highly successful leaders the humility to accept and courage to make the difference for self-improvement.  I invite leaders to commence this journey of self-improvement and that of being emotionally fit and psychologically safe leaders for their teams.

Dr. Kanan Khatau is a practicing psychologist and a doctor of medicine from Mumbai. She takes pride in counselling and coaching for more than 25000 hours in her career thus far. She is a Marshal Goldsmith Stakeholder centric coach and an ICF coach. She uses Mind Hacks deeply engraved in neuroscience & neurobiology. A thought leader in mental health and wellbeing at work, she has been sharing her views extensively through TEDx, Radio, Television, and delivering keynote speeches on the subject of psychological safety.      



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