Releasing Human Creativity with Psychological Safety

“How must we behave to protect those in our community from abuse of power?” The Holistic Management Framework features the power of Human Creativity as a key factor in designing and implementing our actions. The core of Holistic Management, that space between our Whole Under Management and our desired Quality of Life, is where Holistic Management practitioners live. It is in this space that we ask, “How must I behave to create the reality and future that I desire?” The level of our success in that quest will be directly proportional to how freely Human Creativity flows from all involved.

Unleashing the potential Human Creativity from our entire resource base will be necessary to find the unfair competitive advantage for our whole under management. Accessing the imagination and creativity of the decision-makers, our crew and office, our vendors and customers can help us achieve better results. Human creativity has no sex, no class, no race and no position of power.

However, many in power think otherwise. The elephant in the room, or on the rangeland in our case, trumpets abuse of power, headlined by sexual harassment and even sexual abuse. The omnipresent weight drags on human creativity in our legislatures, our boardrooms, our offices, our church, and our communities, stunting human creativity and our full potential as a society. In many cases, the dominant culture protects those in power through an excuse, tolerance, and denial.

Increased awareness of this shady reality begs the question, “How can we behave to remove this boot heel from crushing our throat of expression? How do we change the culture?” There are different levels of abuse, which require different levels of response.


Hierarchy of Abuse

Levels of abuse range from criminal to repeated workplace harassment, to a single immature comment or action. Sexual assault and rape are criminal and must be prosecuted. The victims deserve our support and protection. Without unified support from the community, the victim faces oppression, being ostracized or becoming stigmatized. If we know of such an incident in our community, we can help. If not directly supporting the victim we can at least support conversations drumming support for the victim. In this case, we need to provide a place of safety and support where the victim can press charges.

The #MeToo movement built a platform for the voiceless and ignored, allowing behavior that has lurked in the shadows to be discussed in the light of day. Anyone compromising the respect or contribution of those subject to their power, e.g. an employee, a student, or simply an admirer, must face consequences. Even when not at the criminal level, abusing power diverts human creativity toward less productive energy, e.g. fear, avoiding contact, embarrassment, suppressing engagement and dismissing observations. Imagination and human creativity are buried, when the boss dates the secretary, or when anyone must endure or dodge unwanted advances. 

I have often remained quiet as an insecure husband makes his wife the butt of a joke, or the committee chairman asks “darling” to fetch the coffee. I recall handing a pen and pad to a man, who was the editor of a newspaper, so he could take notes in a Cattlemen’s meeting. I did this intentionally, and just as intentionally he looked at me and defiantly passed the pen and pad to a woman sitting next to him. What was my response? Nothing, and therein lies the problem.

If we don’t demand consequences for those demonstrating poor judgment, bad behavior, or ignorance, nothing will ever change.  How is it that someone in power could disrespect those under their charge?


The Power Paradox

One explanation might be the “power paradox,” which explains, “As we enjoy elevated power or a rise in the social class ladder, we are more likely to lie, cheat, have sexual affairs, violate the rules of the road, and communicate in disrespectful ways.”

With increased power, we become more self-impressed and forget our power comes from giving it away. That’s right, we gain power by empowering others and drawing on the Human Creativity of many.

Alas, we overreach and get caught with our pants down, literally and figuratively. What happens next?

The perpetrator has been wallowing in their own hubris and reveling in their self-importance. They will do anything to keep their position, at any cost. They will trample on the company mission, throw colleagues under the bus and compromise their own integrity, simply to retain their title. So where is their boss?


The Cover Up

The violator has been effective in running the business/organization and their superiors just want the nasty reality to go away. It starts out as tolerating the uncomfortable. This quickly evolves into the wrongdoer seeking refuge behind the skirts of their superiors. If the superiors allow this behavior, the slippery slope to a full-fledged cover-up of bad character begins.


The Cost of Cover Up

The stench of bad character rubs off and seeps through everything it touches. At this point, human creativity toward the mission of the business has been diverted to blaming others, denial, managing liability, and excuse. The superiors have lost sight of the company mission and are consumed with implementing damage control to retain a personality. The perpetrator has forgotten about empowering the aggregate human creativity that brought them to this apex and only thinks about defending their right to the position.

The greatest cost trickles down to a violation of trust to those at the soil surface, or the ground floor of the business. Cover-ups stink and people know, and will know, that something is rotten. They hunker down and do their job but respect has waned. The superiors, lost in their own cleverness, are no longer in on the joke, just as the oblivious emperor with no clothes. It has become only about them.

So how do we get out of this downward spiral? It takes someone, somewhere in the organization to show a little courage. This is no place for the faint of heart or coward.


Addressing Abuse (or Accusations of Abuse) in the Workplace

I know a woman who manages a business catering to attorneys, mostly rich and powerful. On a couple of occasions, she called them out for sexual harassment of the cook, maid, and housecleaner. Their embarrassment, discomfort and need to hide hampered their ability to do their job. They were caught in the middle.

My friend has identified a pattern. When confronted, those abusing power, first deny any wrongdoing and claim the accuser is lying. Second, they say they were just funning around and no harm done. Finally, when you ask them to acknowledge their bad behavior, they say they can't believe you could think this of them and their feelings are hurt. 

If they don’t fess up and apologize to the victim and the guests for their inappropriate behavior, she will not allow them to return to the premises. She demands consequences.

Finally, there are less intentional acts of fumbling, immature groping and plain stupidity as men test the waters of a potential conquest’s resistance. It is in this early training ground where we can intervene, thwarting this type of behavior through exposure. 

A friend of mine, Jen, did just that when bringing consequences to an offender. After attending happy-hour with several Wall Street associates, she shared a cab with one of the men. In the back of the cab, he tried to force a kiss and ran his hand up her skirt. She pushed him away and told him he was being totally inappropriate. The next day, in front of him and their office colleagues, she told her peers about the incident. The culprit apologized to everyone and appeared ashamed of his behavior. Her colleagues made it clear they did not approve of his actions and that they would not allow him to be alone with a woman during workplace social events. This action set the stage to move beyond treating symptoms and address the underlying culture.

Jen’s colleagues allowed no space for locker room talk. The result established protected space, encouraging equal contribution from the team. From this point, the peers could have pressed things further if necessary. A group supporting their victimized teammate can inform the perpetrator’s boss, the board of directors, the voting constituent, or the wrongdoer’s fans. If we can behave as a supportive community on a consistent basis, we can provide a safe and peaceful environment for human creativity to flourish.


Closer to Home

Calling out bad behavior is not just for the rich and powerful, Hollywood and Congress. Grounded and meaningful change begins at home. I struggle with tendencies rooted in our patriarchal culture. For example, our wives and mothers used to stay at home, care for the children, cook and clean. Now that women have a career and work, men have failed to pitch in and pick up the slack. After all, they’re our children, it’s our meal, our dishes, our dirt on the floor, and our dirty laundry. We come home, grab a beer and slouch on the couch with our TV remote.

We just haven’t been paying attention. Things change. We can be self-righteous, live in denial… and wake up alone. If we don’t want that we need to check in.

Sheryl Sandberg,  Facebook’s COO, in her 2013 book Lean In, insightfully and bluntly addressed how men can check in, pitch in, and allow women to have a life too.  Sandburg’s number one recommendation for what men can do to start on this journey?  Do the laundry. 


Psychological Safety

Google recently conducted a survey of their sprawling work-place to find out more about effective work teams. They were shocked to find, "Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions."

Five key dynamics defined the best work teams from the rest:

  1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high-quality work on time?
  3. Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  4. Meaningful work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

In conclusion, Google noted that Psychological Safety was the greatest indicator of an effective team and that trait alone provided the foundation for the other four.

So, how do we provide psychological safety? We cannot tolerate the pervert, the coward, the narcissist, or the good ole’ boy’s bad behavior. We need consequences relative to the violation of human dignity. We need a safe place for human creativity to thrive. But Holistic Management prompts us to focus on the goal and not the problem. What do we want to create through our changed behavior?


Human Creativity

Think of Human Creativity like the ecosystem process of Energy Flow. We have an unlimited flow of sunshine. One might say sunlight energy comes by the grace of God. We can’t make more and the best we can do is prepare a diverse plant community to receive the power.

Like sunshine, human creativity flows. Release the flow. Provide a place of psychological safety and human creativity will flow. Work towards adding diversity to your staff, your vendors, your customers, your neighbors and your decision makers—building on human creativity. Provide space for human creativity to bloom and shine.

Think of a flower as a thought from God. Think of a person as a blooming flower, with knowledge, life experience, and skills unique to the context of the situation. In this space, think of William Blake and his ability to capture the essence of the universe in a couple of sentences:

To see a world in a grain of sand

and heaven in a wildflower.

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

and eternity in an hour.

If the doors of perception were cleaned everything would appear to man as it is. Infinite.


The potential for infinite human creativity requires psychological safety, support, and encouragement. The choices we make on a daily-basis, regarding our behavior, develop and inform culture within our families, our ranches and our community. 

Yale professor Nicholas Christakis says, “We’ve shown that altruistic behavior ripples through networks and so does meanness.” Networks will magnify male chauvinism, fascism, unhappiness, racism, classism, and violenc. If seeded with equality, love, altruism, happiness, balanced information and psychological safety, a culture will grow around these traits.

If you have been a Holistic Management practitioner, you know that our situation today was influenced by our past behavior. Step back and ask, “Who’s leaving? Who’s getting promoted? Who is getting hired? Who’s getting elected? Who is arriving in our community and who is leaving? Are we seeing more diversity and complexity or less?” These realities reflect our culture and we can change our culture by how we behave.

With psychological safety, we can draw on our potential human creativity. By demanding consequences for those abusing power, in whatever manner, we build trust and protect psychological safety. By supporting character and building a culture that draws on the free flow of Human Creativity, we empower decisions at the soil surface.