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The Safe2Great Study – Integrating Psychological Safety and Growth Mindset into an Integrated Leadership Model

Safe to Great book written by Skip Bowman

The Safe2Great Growth Mindset concept is based on an empirically-driven and multi-theoretical approach to leadership excellence, rather than relying on one theoretical approach or philosophy which is common for most leadership assessment tools.

In 2015, Skip Bowman embarked on an ambitious journey to develop a comprehensive model that seamlessly integrates psychological safety and growth mindset into the fabric of leadership and organizational culture.

This pioneering study was driven by the goal of identifying and nurturing the working styles of exceptional leaders – those who excel in collaborative, innovative, and constructive environments and play a pivotal role in building and nurturing high-performing teams and organizations.

The study also sought to provide an update in leadership thinking that made it possible to contribute profoundly to the challenges of the future of work, e.g., climate change and Artificial Intelligence.

Leveraging over fifteen years of experience in assessing behavioral and cultural patterns, Bowman combined a wealth of existing knowledge with fresh, innovative ideas to address and overcome contemporary challenges.

The culmination of this extensive research led to the identification of six core growth leadership principles. These principles, deeply rooted in intrinsic motivators like purpose, self-determination, excellence, and learning, are divided into two categories: task-focused principles (Transform, Aim High, Explore) and people-focused principles (Go High, Lift Others Up, Team Up). This dichotomy emphasizes a holistic approach to growth, encompassing both operational excellence and interpersonal development.

In an effort to understand the intricate link between mindset and key organizational outcomes such as effectiveness, commitment, and psychological safety, Safe2Great developed a suite of four groundbreaking measurement tools: the Growth Mindset Leadership 360, Great Teams Assessment, Change Champion Tool, and Culture for Growth Survey.

These tools were meticulously designed to evaluate and contrast leaders’ tendencies towards protective mindsets versus their propensity for growth-oriented thinking. Through global benchmarking, these tools provide invaluable insights into how well an organization aligns with the six growth principles and sheds light on the presence of three protective mindsets.

The insights gained from these assessments are transformative. They empower leaders, teams, and entire organizations to pinpoint areas ripe for growth and improvement. More importantly, they highlight how protective mindsets can act as barriers to achieving psychological safety, cultivating a growth mindset, and enhancing overall organizational effectiveness.

Safe2Great’s extensive research, which includes data from thousands of leaders and numerous global companies, consistently demonstrates that leaders who fully embrace the six growth principles and move away from protective mindsets are able to build more effective teams, foster stronger commitment, and create a deep sense of psychological safety. This compelling evidence speaks volumes about the transformative impact of the Safe2Great model on leadership and organizational performance.

The study’s diverse participant pool was a key factor in its success. Encompassing a wide range of leaders from across the globe, the study included 1,500 self-tests and over 5,000 360 responses. The rigorous application of psychometric principles ensured the reliability and validity of the measurement tools, confirming both their construct and outcome validity.

The research findings revealed a significant correlation between adherence to Growth Mindset operating modes and higher ratings in key areas such as effectiveness, commitment, productivity, collaboration, and psychological safety. This robust evidence further cements the significant impact that adopting growth-oriented mindsets can have on leadership and organizational performance.

Recognizing the diverse landscape of global leadership, it is important to note that while national cultures influence leadership perceptions and practices, the principles of Growth Leadership are both universally aspired to and applicable across various cultural settings. The research shows that the core principles of Growth Leadership resonate with universal human needs and aspirations, such as the desire to collaborate, the drive for continuous learning, and the empowerment of individuals. Although cultural nuances and contextual factors play a role, the universality of these principles transcends cultural boundaries, with cultural intelligence being key to applying Growth Leadership practices effectively in different cultural contexts.

In conclusion, Safe2Great’s study offers not just deep insights into the relationship between psychological safety, growth mindset, and leadership effectiveness, but also practical tools for organizations to assess and enhance their alignment with growth principles. By adopting growth-oriented mindsets and moving away from protective mindsets, leaders are equipped to build effective teams, foster commitment, and establish psychological safety, ultimately elevating the standard of leadership and organizational performance.

Unveiling the Paradox of Protective Mindsets: Key Insights from the Safe2Great Study

The Safe2Great study, through its comprehensive examination of three protective mindsets, has shed light on a critical paradox in team dynamics and interpersonal relationships: the tendency for individuals to adopt mindsets aimed at self-protection that, counterintuitively, can erode the psychological safety of the group. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in organizational settings where leaders, in their attempt to safeguard their own positions or avoid conflict, inadvertently create environments that stifle openness and trust.

The Three Protective Mindsets

The Safe2Great study identifies three primary protective mindsets:

  1. Controlling-Competitive: Leaders with this mindset focus on asserting control and maintaining a competitive edge, often at the expense of collaborative efforts and team cohesion.
  2. Complying-Complacent: This mindset is characterized by a tendency to conform and maintain the status quo, avoiding actions that might disrupt harmony or invite disapproval.
  3. Cynical-Skeptical: Leaders exhibiting this mindset are often overly critical or doubtful, hindering the open exchange of ideas and the willingness to embrace new opportunities.

Impact on Psychological Safety

When leaders operate within these protective mindsets, they inadvertently create a work environment where team members may not feel safe to speak up, share ideas, or take risks. This dynamic can lead to several negative consequences:

  • Reduced Innovation: In a controlling-competitive atmosphere, the focus on control can suppress creative thinking and risk-taking, essential for innovation.
  • Stagnation: The complying-complacent mindset can lead to a lack of progress, as individuals become more focused on maintaining the status quo rather than pursuing growth and improvement.
  • Diminished Trust: A cynical-skeptical approach can erode trust within the team, as members may feel that their ideas are constantly scrutinized or undervalued.

The Paradox of Safety

The paradox lies in the fact that while these mindsets might offer a false sense of security to the individuals who adopt them, they tend to make others in the team feel less secure and less valued. This misalignment not only affects the psychological safety of the team but can also impede overall organizational performance.

Transforming Protective Mindsets

The Safe2Great study emphasizes the importance of transforming these protective mindsets into growth-oriented ones. Leaders are encouraged to adopt more open, empowering approaches that foster individual and collective development:

  • Encouraging open and honest communication can mitigate the effects of the controlling-competitive mindset.
  • Promoting innovation and risk-taking can help overcome the barriers of a complying-complacent mindset.
  • Building a culture of trust and openness can counteract the cynical-skeptical mindset.


The Safe2Great study provides essential insights into the impact of protective mindsets on team dynamics and psychological safety. By recognizing and addressing these mindsets, leaders can create more inclusive, innovative, and psychologically safe environments. This transformation is crucial not only for individual growth but also for the collective success of teams and organizations.

The Growth Mindset Leadership 360

A critical component of the Safe2Great methodology is the Growth Mindset Leadership 360 tool. This comprehensive assessment tool plays a vital role in enabling leaders to evaluate their effectiveness in embodying the six growth principles and fostering a growth mindset within their teams and organizations.

The Growth Mindset Leadership 360 aligns with each growth principle, offering detailed feedback and helping leaders identify their strengths and areas for improvement. By using this tool, leaders can develop strategies to enhance their leadership effectiveness and foster a culture of growth and psychological safety in their organizations.

Through its comprehensive approach and innovative tools like the Growth Mindset Leadership 360, Safe2Great provides a transformative framework for leadership development, emphasizing the importance of both task-focused and people-focused growth principles in cultivating effective leadership and high-performing teams. Leaders who embrace these principles and utilize tools like the

Growth Mindset Leadership 360 can significantly enhance their effectiveness, commitment, and ability to create a psychologically safe and growth-oriented organizational culture.

Closing the gap between intentions and impact

How the Growth Mindset Leadership 360 Transforms Leadership Intentions into Impactful Actions

The Safe2Great study has revealed a significant gap between what leaders intend to achieve and the actual impact of their actions. In fact, over 60% of leaders assess their impact in accurately compared to how others experience them.

This gap, if left unaddressed, can lead to misalignments between leadership strategies and team dynamics, ultimately affecting organizational performance. The Growth Mindset Leadership 360 tool, a key component of the Safe2Great methodology, is specifically designed to address this challenge, providing leaders with the insights needed to transform their good intentions into impactful actions.

Understanding the Disparity between Intention and Impact

Leaders frequently set out with the best intentions, aiming to inspire, motivate, and lead their teams towards success. However, intentions alone do not guarantee success. The real measure of a leader’s effectiveness lies in the impact they have on their team and organization. This impact is often a blend of various factors, including how their leadership style is perceived, how well they foster a growth mindset, and the overall psychological safety within the team.

Growth Mindset Circle - depicting the key elements of mindset and areas for development
Growth Mindset Circle – depicting the key elements of mindset and areas for development

The Role of Self-Awareness and Reflection

A crucial step in bridging the intention-impact gap is fostering self-awareness among leaders. The Growth Mindset Leadership 360 tool facilitates this by providing leaders with a comprehensive view of their leadership style.

  • Intention: Leaders often believe they are fostering a supportive and innovative environment.
  • Impact: Through self-reflection and insights provided by the tool, leaders gain a clearer understanding of how their behaviors and decisions are actually perceived and the real effect they have on their team’s morale and productivity.

Gaining a 360-Degree Perspective

Feedback is a powerful tool in assessing leadership effectiveness. The Growth Mindset Leadership 360 tool collects feedback from a variety of sources – peers, subordinates, and superiors – offering a well-rounded perspective.

  • Intention: A leader might aim to be approachable and collaborative.
  • Impact: Feedback from various levels within the organization can reveal if this intention is realized in the eyes of others, highlighting areas where the leader’s approach may need adjustment.

Closing the Gap through Actionable Insights

The insights gained from the Growth Mindset Leadership 360 tool are not just diagnostic but also prescriptive. They provide leaders with actionable steps to align their intentions more closely with their impact.

  • Intention: Leaders aspire to drive team performance and innovation.
  • Impact: The tool identifies specific areas where leaders can adjust their strategies to foster a more empowering and growth-oriented team environment, thus enhancing team performance and innovation.

Fostering Continuous Improvement

A key aspect of the growth mindset is the belief in continuous improvement and learning. The Growth Mindset Leadership 360 tool embodies this principle by encouraging leaders to continually assess and refine their approach.

  • Intention: Continuous personal and professional growth as a leader.
  • Impact: Regular use of the tool allows leaders to track their progress over time, ensuring that their development efforts are translating into tangible improvements in their leadership effectiveness.


In essence, the Growth Mindset Leadership 360 tool from Safe2Great plays a pivotal role in transforming leadership intentions into effective, impactful actions. By promoting self-awareness, offering diverse perspectives, providing actionable insights, and encouraging a culture of continuous improvement, this tool is indispensable for leaders striving to bridge the gap between intention and impact. Through its application, leaders are not only able to enhance their own effectiveness but also contribute positively to the growth and success of their teams and organizations.

Skip Bowman, keynote speaker on psychological safety and growth mindset

Skip Bowman

Author of Safe2Great, keynote speaker on psychological safety and growth mindset

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