Articles

Caring For Your People In A Crisis – What It Means

April 02, 2020 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

Leaders who make people not things paramount during a crisis will be seen to care. Those who do the opposite will rightfully be perceived as uncaring if not heartless.

Of course caring for one’s people means doing the best you can, within available resources, to look after their physical and material needs. Leaders who truly care also give their people time and attention, honesty and “tough love” during adverse times.

Their intention in all instances is to nurture or build strong people because strong people not only withstand, but may even overcome, their circumstances. Weak people, conversely, can wane even in the most benign set of conditions.

1. Leaders who care give increased time and attention.

There is an inextricable link between what anyone cares about and what they give their time and attention to. Consequently leaders who care exponentially increase the amount of time they give to their people throughout a crisis. They take into every engagement with their people the understanding that individuals respond very differently to exactly the same set of circumstances – not only in terms of their level of anxiety but also in their mindset, ability to focus on the positive and level of optimism. They therefore listen very carefully to ascertain where each of their people has “landed” on three continuums:

  • I am a victim/not in control – I am in control/an actor, not a bystander.
  • I can only see negative effects/downsides – I see both positives and benefits.
  • I feel trapped/stuck with no room to move – I feel that the options are endless.

Having listened they do not judge but rather acknowledge where each of their people are at. Thereafter they stay close in order to assist each individual to progress along the three continuums; to stay positive, to seek options and to regain a sense of accountability for the situation they are in. They enable their people to be robust and resilient despite the difficulties they face.

2. Leaders who care are honest with their people.

In any crisis, management communication is obviously key. Whether it is successful or not, however, is a function of the degree to which the source of the information is trusted. And what accounts for trust in the communicator is a belief by those being communicated to that the information sharing is being done with their best interests at heart. What this means is that leaders need to make a policy decision to be honest with their people on every occasion, even if it appears not to be in their interests to do so. They need to stay honest even if, in doing so, they may contradict their own needs.

In the first instance honesty means telling the truth – the good and the bad news. More than that, it means disclosing information that leaders could elect not to reveal. It means trusting their people to do the right thing with the information they have entrusted them with. Building strong people only happens when leaders stop protecting people by keeping the facts away from them. Enabling people means that leaders tell their people what they know, what they don’t know and what they can’t share with them. It means trusting their people so that they can demonstrate their trustworthiness.

3. Leaders who care give “tough love”.

How leaders respond to the genuine personal concerns of their people during a crisis is a real test of their sincerity. To what degree are they, as leaders, aware of the actual impact of the crisis on their people and to what degree do they care? Leaders who care about their people’s personal circumstances relate to their people’s concerns; they have an understanding and appreciation of them. They are compassionate, not callous, in their response to those concerns. They are kind and magnanimous.

At the same time they evince “tough love”. They combine being kind with being enabling. They avoid being patronising or weakening. They don’t make decisions for their people but help them to decide. Rather than causing dependency, they help their people to stand on their own two feet. In every instance they ask “what is both the caring and enabling thing to do here?” In practising “tough love” they build people who not only feel supported but who also have a sense of responsibility in the situation they are in.

Leaders who care give their people time and attention, honesty and “tough love”. In doing so they make people strong – people who are able to be robust, resilient, trustworthy and responsible despite the circumstances they are in. This is true at all times but particularly in times of crisis.

Wendy Lambourne
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