Megan Reitz

How can leaders enable employees to talk about organizational problems so they can be addressed? How can they invite employees to challenge and offer ideas to stay agile and innovative? And in an age of employee activism, how can leaders ensure that people of diverse backgrounds and value systems can work well together?

According to Megan Reitz (pronounced RATES), Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and professor of leadership and dialogue at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult Business School, leaders must create psychologically safe environments where people feel it is safe to speak up without fear of retribution.

An executive coach, researcher and author of the book “Speak Up: Say What Needs to be Said and Hear What Needs to be Heard” (Financial Times Publishing, July 2019), Reitz helps leaders become more aware of their “conversational habits” — what they speak up about and what they don’t, whose voices they listen to and whose they discount. Through a deeper understanding of power dynamics, leaders are able to spot how and when they (often inadvertently) silence others. They become more able to create a culture where employees can safely and openly share ideas. As a result, leaders get the feedback they need about what’s really happening in their organizations and teams end up communicating, collaborating and innovating more effectively.

“It takes courage to speak your mind to a person in power,” says Reitz who was named in 2023 and 2021 among the top 50 management thinkers in the world by Thinkers50. “But equally, if you are the person in power, it takes enormous humility and skill to be able to invite, then listen.” Her enlightening TEDxHultAshridge talk, “How Your Power Silences Truth,” artfully explains how leaders can strike a balance between guiding and being guided by the people they oversee. Her practical frameworks for promoting psychological safety help organizations address issues around trust, ethics, diversity, equity and inclusion, and communication – especially in remote or hybrid workplaces where many cues can get lost.

Ranked among HR Magazine’s Most Influential Thinkers and author of “Mind Time: How Ten Mindful Minutes Can Enhance Your Work, Health and Happiness” (Harper Thorsons, 2018), Reitz’s research also explores the neuroscience of leadership and the links between mindfulness and leadership capacities for the 21st century.

“Leaders who are more mindful have the capacity to pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment,” says Reitz. “They are more aware of themselves, others and the world around them. This allows them to respond appropriately rather than react without thinking.” Reitz’s stress-reducing mindfulness practices offer executives a powerful opportunity to become more resilient, empathetic and focused leaders. They also provide tools for disrupting conversational habits that do not serve them or their teams.

Reitz emphasizes that speaking up is a two-way street. Leaders who are mindful of the signals they send can counteract the traps of silencing by opening up dialogue before the employee has to ‘be courageous’ in order to speak up. Her work is particularly urgent right now as remote and hybrid work settings require leaders to be more proactive about listening to employees and inviting in their thoughts. Her win-win approach allows organizations to learn what employees are thinking and where problems may be hidden, while offering employees the comfort of working for a leader who is more relatable, approachable and open-minded. Her focus is on enabling organizational dialogue in order to sustain more ethical, compassionate and productive workplaces where employees can flourish.