Love Wins the Safety & Trust Game

If you haven’t read Summer Anderson‘s article, The Power of Team, it’s worth it. To build great teams you have to create trust and social safety within your company culture. It’s as simple as doing Daniel Coyle‘s 3 part Culture Code recipe: 1) Personally caring about and connecting to each other, 2) Being accountable to and holding high standards with each other, and 3) Being part of something bigger together. When these are all done by everyone, and especially by the leader (ah-ah, no double standards allowed), you get that safe place where people will give their full effort. I think it really is that simple. But, it ain’t that easy.

gotta hug ’em and hold ’em

Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, yeah, he’s got it figured out. And apparently, so do his protégés. But Pop’s got a secret 4th ingredient. He’s got a love ethos. As he puts it to his assistant coaches, “We gotta hug ’em and hold ’em.” Presumably when he’s saying this, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” What he’s saying here is, I believe you are worthy because I believe you can do something you haven’t done yet. Think about how different that is from, I believe you are worthy because of what you have done. It’s not about the past.

The problem

It’s hard to keep the caring and togetherness part of Coyle’s tri-part recipe in play when we’re repeatedly smacked in the face by the stresses and frustrations of work. It’s just tough. If we leave behind or never had it as an essential ingredient, the love ethos, there’s nothing to countermand the fear of failure’s backhand, in our pursuit of high standards and a bigger shared purpose. Under duress and with no love, our neurobiology works against us in being caring people. We become crappy team players as our cortisol goes up, our oxytocin and serotonin- our teamwork chemicals, go down, and that with our brain’s deference to neuropathways dedicated to fight or flight take hold. We become the reason they made the book, The No Asshole Rule.

Love and connection change the equation.

Pop’s been doing this the whole time. Kelly McGonigal confirms this on the science side of things. She found out that when you’re connected in a caring way and you perceive stress as a healthy challenge, you actually get a positive bump in oxytocin. And, instead of becoming a self-preserving jerk who’s going to have a heart attack or stroke out, you become super-caring-overcoming-teammates. In the right context, say, a trusting and safe work culture, our stress responses motivate us to seek support and pull together. Checkout her, How to Make Stress Your Friend, TED Talk. I’ve queued it up to the oxytocin section, but watch the whole thing. It’s pretty #fawesome.

We simply gotta value an ethos of love and connection, and we have to actively live it. And especially when it’s hard to do so. If we don’t we’re in trouble. Practicing appreciation, gratitude, and connection regularly builds our resiliency here. We’re in a neurochemical self-fulfilling prophecy of the good type. Just like a practiced technical ability in whatever game you’re playing, our emotional abilities can also improve, but only if we work and practice at it. In the heat of the game, we do what we practice. Do you want to be that player who let his team down? Or, do you want to be that player who made everyone on her team better?

Popovich’s modeling, exhorting, and practicing of family love spreads through his team kinetically. They are family. When they’re focused and under stress, it’s on more than just high performance for the win. It’s for each other and because of that, stress makes them better. Success is a team sport and Pop nailed the 3. He cares, he exhorts high standards, and he calls his people into the fold, all with a love ethos. Oh, yeah, “SWISH” a 4 point play! Gotta hug ’em and hold ’em!


Paul Haury
Paul Haury
Belonging Coach & Evangelist for Heart-Based Leadership in Workplace Culture & Happiness. I’m a coach, a mentor, an optimist that nerds-out on all things in the social-behavioral and neurosciences for what motivates us in how we can be better, and, get us to with whom and where we belong. The paths that get us there follow roads of vulnerable togetherness, kind and honest challenges in personal accountability, and a deep curious appreciation for being wholly human in full potential. It’s here, where we land on the good side of our fears and aspirations, and make our dreams happen. We’ll never do anything as well, as when we’re doing what we’re doing with and for those we love. I help people create their own unique spaces to go farther and higher in their individual brilliance than they ever could alone.

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  1. I love it. I am in a team where we are trying to do just that. This is profound: I believe you are worthy because I believe you can do something you haven’t done yet. Think about how different that is from, I believe you are worthy because of what you have done. It’s not about the past.”Thank you Paul.

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