A secure base is a person, place, goal or object that provides a sense of protection, safety and caring, and offers a source of inspiration and energy for daring, exploration, risk taking and seeking challenge. In short, a secure base leader cares enough to dare! It is a big subject to handle, and here is just a small piece of it.
There are two primary dimensions of being a secure base; safety and risk. The caring aspect is about providing safety and comfort which in turn enables the individual to explore and take risks (i.e. daring). It is essential that there is not the one without the other; if you only provide the caring part, you would be a great comfort, but without inspiration the potential is limited. But if you just demand and dare without providing a safe environment, it is unlikely that the individual would gain enough confidence or that he or she feels too anxious and vulnerable leading to defensiveness as a reaction to feeling unsafe. Indeed, in a study (Zenger/Folkman) exploring the employees' views about effective leadership styles shows pretty dramatic numbers. If you are just tough (i.e. dare), the percentage of highly engaged employees is not more than 9%. When just being nice (i.e. care), the percentage is only around 7%. But combine these two, dare to care, and you will rock the stage; with tough & nice (i.e. care & dare) the result was as high as 68%. The difference is pretty amazing!
And it totally makes sense. In order to learn, in order to really succeed, we plain and simply need to be able to ask "stupid" questions, take risks, and repeat these actions a million times. And this is not possible, or is at least a hell of a lot harder, without an environment where you can safely do this, where you know that making mistakes is ok, as long as you learn from them, admitting your limited knowledge is accepted, as long as you keep improving it. The secure base leaders build trust and influence others by providing a sense of protection, safety and caring, and by providing a source of inspiration that together produce energy for daring, exploration, risk taking and seeking challenge.
The art of giving feedback
Obviously, caring and daring contains a lot of actions. But one very simple, yet so hard, is the art of giving feedback. I guess we all acknowledge the importance of feedback. But we all also probably agree that it is not the easiest thing to do, especially if the feedback is not all positive. And this comes down to caring. Do we care enough to dare? If we truly care, we need to have the courage to help each other to grow by giving the feedback. Especially in the beginning of our careers, like for us trainees, it is crucial we have trusted people to guide us forward in the right direction, to give us honest feedback.
I want to highlight the importance of feedback with two real cases within my work life. In both cases, an employee had a temporary position within the company. In both cases, the employees thought they were doing fine, if not, even great, at least according to what was expected. In both cases, they were dead wrong, and eventually ended up with not having the contract renewed. It was revealed that in the end the work was not what was expected, it was just merely ok. Without taking any assumptions about whether these decisions were right or wrong, I need to pose the question regarding the process. Maybe a sore subject to touch on, but was the care, or even the dare there? If there was feedback given along the way, if the manager would have cared, would these individuals perhaps performed better, grown in their jobs? Maybe, maybe not. But I dare to argue that by giving feedback and by caring enough, the possible hidden potential would have had the chance to unleash. And if it did, it would have served not only the individuals but also all of us as a company.
Yes, giving feedback is hard, and giving precise feedback is even harder. And like Per put it in his last blog-post "You get stuck in a politeness trap, which is very typical for democratic Northern Europeans". But being only polite, keeping it silent helps no one, not our company, and certainly not the individuals, in their journey to grow and perform better. What about our values? "Lead" and "Do What’s Right". In these cases, everything was done according to the book, but were the processes in accordance to our values? Did we "Lead" enough, did we "Do what's right"? Probably not.
I dare you to care!
It is, of course, so much easier to write about it than really do it. Especially, if you are in a position of formal leadership, I would argue with you to have the obligation to dare to care and care to dare. But it is not just for the direct managers to be secure bases; we all can act as one. And trust me when I say this, you may find your secure bases somewhere you never thought, so look around! I have a couple important ones myself, and neither of them would have been my first guesses. And remember, we all also have the responsibility to ask for the care & dare, and for feedback. As hard as it may seem to be, the more it will pay off.