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The Chief Empathy Officer

How CEOs perceive their responsibility for establishing psychological safety in the management team

Dissertation for the Master Spécialisé Consulting & Coaching for Change at HEC Paris & Saïd Business School/Oxford University, awarded with 86/100 points, the equivalent of an ECTS grade A.

More than ever, leaders are expected to be supportive and empathic towards their teams. People are not machines and machines do not create as much value anymore as knowledge does. People need to be empowered and realise their personal potential and grow. Companies innovate through knowledge and technology. And psychological safety drives performance. Empathy is to be added to the repertoire of CEOs and leaders, therefore:

We need Chief Empathy Officers!

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Abstract

The purpose of this research is to better understand how CEOs perceive their responsibility for establishing psychological safety in the management team.

The study investigates CEOs’ belief and self-perception of their responsibility for establishing psychological safety in their local and specific constructed realities. The social phenomenon of psychological safety is a product of meaning-making activities of the CEOs who have been interviewed. It uses a qualitative research approach with structured face-to-face interviews so that congruence between words and emotions can be observed. This, to test better how personal beliefs, experiences and values, influence the attitude and perception of the CEO toward the mentioned responsibility, relate to one another.

The results of this study indicate that CEOs have a positive attitude toward psychological safety and their responsibility for establishing this. The CEOs’ perception is predominantly influenced by personality, personal values and experiences. The results also indicate that psychological safety has become a hygiene factor for CEOs, in this case meaning that its absence has a higher negative impact than the positive impact of its presence. The current societal context may provide a fertile ground for psychological safety, but psychological safety only partially mediates the needs of society. The outcomes indicate also that the establishment of psychological safety depends on boundary conditions that could hinder the actual behaviour of the CEO in this respect, regardless of a positive perception.

Keywords: Psychological Safety, CEO, Belief System, Personal Experiences, Behaviour, Boundary Conditions