Andrew Thornton’s former team pictured out side Thornton’s Budgens Bel size Park in north London

The third – and I think most important – component of a ‘heart-centred business’ is safety. As a leader, if you want people to be themselves and practise authentic leadership, then you have to create a safe environment.

Andrew-thornton headshot
Andrew Thornton is the former owner of Thornton’s Budgens, founder of Heart in Business and author of upcoming release ‘Putting the heart back into business’

This will lead to a healthy and collaborative culture, allowing your business to thrive. For example, at Thornton’s Budgens, we had a culture of experimentation, and everyone was encouraged to participate in this.

Ideas did not need to be signed off by me or the co-leaders – we did not have a store manager. We trusted that teams knew their purpose and were experts in their areas – after all, they were closest to our customers.

If, having encouraged this behaviour, I, or one of the others in the leadership team, reprimanded someone for trying something new, they wouldn’t do it again.

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Taking another example, a key part of being a ‘heartful’ business is the ability to show vulnerability. Having encouraged people to share what they were truly feeling – even if this was difficult – if I didn’t listen properly to them when they did, or dismissed their experience as unimportant, it is unlikely they’d feel safe enough to repeat the experience.

In 2015, Google conducted an internal study looking at the differentiators that explained why some of their teams were so much more effective than others.

The number-one reason was psychological safety. This was defined as “being able to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”.

It can also be defined as a shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking – with team members feeling accepted and respected. I’m not at all surprised by this, as it it has been one of the most important lessons we’ve learned from our ‘heart work’ at Thornton’s Budgens.

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There’s no magic formula, but much of what I write about in my book helps to create psychological safety. It takes time, it’s led by example, it’s precious and it can be destroyed more quickly than it can be built. It’s all about leadership from the top, and behaviour – people judge you by what you do, not by what you say.

I interviewed former Tesco CEO Dave Lewis for my book and he said: “You can’t talk yourself out of something you behaved your way into,” which is very wise.

Ask yourself how safe your colleagues might feel at work. How safe do you feel? If you fundamentally disagreed with your boss on something big, would you feel safe to say so – or would you just keep quiet? Does your team feel safe to challenge you? In difficult times, are you empathetic to the stresses and strains of your colleagues, or are you too focused on your own problems to support them?

Andrew Thornton is the former owner of Thornton’s Budgens, founder of Heart in Business and author of ‘Putting the Heart Back into Business’, scheduled for release on 21 April 2022

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