How To Be A Good Human And Leader In A Crisis — Field Guide

Looking after people and creating an empowered remote working culture is how to build a resilient business.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba

A crisis can either make us or break us. Let it make us.

In times like these, we see the best and worst in people.

As pressure and anxiety heighten, some leaders can be reactive with teams, colleagues and even customers — all with negative impact. Usually irreversible.

No good comes from aggressive arm-waving debates or ego fuelled personality-driven shouting matches.

No good comes from divisive, counterproductive conversations that deflect from the real issues and bring people down rather than elevate them.

No good comes from these actions at the best of times let alone challenging times.

These actions represent a scarcity mindset — there’s no abundance here.

The pressure on leaders is real — and mounting. Concern for people. Disrupted workflows. Changing priorities. Record levels of unemployment. Financial downturn. Impending recession. Chasing targets set in a pre-COVID19 world. The unknown.

It’s tough being a leader — it’s even harder in a new world disorder.

Our opportunity is to navigate through this with empathy.

To respond instead of reacting.

The question is how?

It’s about being a decent human.

A crisis uncovers the decency we have as humans. It unravels and exposes our beliefs, ethics and values.

“It’s about being trusting, brave and vulnerable — it’s about being you.”

Our responses to situations are telling. We can clearly see who we are or who we’ve become by the way we interact with people and manage tough situations. This is why more than ever, we need to pause and reflect.

This self-reflection creates a chance to grow. To grow as an individual and a leader.

This crisis is a once in a lifetime opportunity to find ourselves and focus on being better humans. Reset.

A humanistic approach in supporting teams and colleagues helps create a resilient business. A business that is better placed to weather the ups and downs of a suddenly disrupted world. A business that remains creative, productive and connected — powered by its people.

What does this involve?

It’s about showing heart to people when it matters most. Showing heart to people when they [we] need it most.

It’s about being trusting, brave and vulnerable — it’s about being you.

Relinquish the weight, pressure and formalities a leader’s title may carry, connect with your team as the person you are.

Showing our humanity as leaders with all our imperfections, fears, complexes and accepting the backstories that make us.

A lot has been written about this topic, describing these concepts as human-centred leadership, heartfelt leadership, etc — call it whatever.

Ultimately, it’s human decency.

Being human enough to understand that as leaders we can not perpetuate the lie that it’s ‘business as usual’ in a COVID riddled world. It’s not.

Everything is different.

Everything we did, everything we knew is now different. Everything will continue to be different.

The first step is to accept it.

We’re in an unpredictable predicament, in the thick of the unknown.

So what to do? What does human decency look like in the context of work during extraordinary times?

As American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, people expect leaders to comfort and galvanise them.


How do we get the best out of each other?

  • Be good to each other. Be kind.
  • Be transparent and share what you know.
  • Communicate openly, honestly and constantly.
  • Be clear in responsibilities and accountabilities.
  • Show empathy by taking time to listen with the intent of understanding — listening forms connection.
  • Consider the flip side and don’t rush to judge an outcome or a situation.
  • Share and discuss thoughts, fears, concerns, hopes and aspirations.
  • Help your team to not overwork — yes, that’s a real thing.
  • Understand people are people — not superhuman. People with ups and downs, good days and bad days. Let’s cut each other some slack.
  • Is a team member off-balance during a call, not on their ‘A’ game or not making sense today? Back off. Only human, remember?

Remote Working

How to empower remote working teams and remain connected?

  • Give trust in words and actions. Empower team members to manage their time and workflows — it’s not about working 9–5, it’s about getting the job done.
  • Schedule weekly 1:1s to discuss the state of mind, workflows, wins and learnings.
  • Schedule unstructured time to connect, no agenda just open conversation.
  • Organise virtual catch-ups and encourage water cooler style conversations.
  • No need to schedule calls every morning to make sure everyone is awake and at their desks. Give trust.
  • The camera on all day? No way.
  • Leading a telecon? Avoid dominating, give everyone a say.
  • No need to message your team throughout the day with random requests to see if they’re online.
  • Don’t schedule day-end calls to check if everyone has ‘worked a full day’.
  • Finally, do you really need to rush and get your team back to the office?

As countries scramble to regain some normality by opening businesses and allowing employees to return to their physical place of employment, it’s important to consider the following.

  • What’s the intention behind this?
  • Is it good for the people?

It’s important to consider we’re dealing with a virus that recognises no government rules, no regulations, no borders.

A deadly virus that by all reports is constantly mutating.

If companies have the capabilities to keep teams working from home, then they should — it’s a social responsibility to do this.

It’s also a responsibility leaders have to teams, their families and friends and another opportunity to demonstrate the focus on people first.

Sometimes in the corporate world, people speak about ‘us and them’ or ‘us vs them’.

This is no time for that. It’s just us. We’re one. All of us together.

The opportunity here is to navigate through this.

Some industries have been hit hard (very hard) and transformed forever as a result of this crisis. Travel, tourism, retail and counting.

Showing amazing humanity and in a message that will make you cry, Airbnb’s Co-Founder and CEO, Brian Chesky announced that 1,900 ‘teammates’ will lose their jobs out of 7,500 people.

Reading his message, you can just feel his empathy for the pain this decision will cause for so many of his colleagues and their families.

Other industries have been hit less hard.

What doesn’t change is the human impact.

The most important part of our job right now is to be present. Present for our team. To listen. To understand. To support. To empathise. To act.

Businesses are nothing without people.

Focus on the people. Keep everyone safe and healthy. Keep everyone informed and engaged. Keep everyone together. This is what business resilience is about.

I’m scared too. I don’t know how this situation will unfold.

But I do know that how we treat each other now will determine our future.

Showing love, respect and humanity when it matters most.

As humans, we’re resilient and times like these can help forge deep connections that last a lifetime and leave a legacy.

A crisis can either make us or break us. Let it make us.

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