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People Are Complex (Especially In A Crisis)

March 25, 2020

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People are complex especially when under duress.   I am always reticent to give simple answers to difficult questions.  Not because there are never simple answers that suffice, but because it often shows a lack of respect for the person in need of help.  Before you dive in and offer guidance to someone, it’s important you take some time to understand the particulars of their situation and why or why not they feel a certain way.  Telling someone to be strong and not fearful is silly advice in these times of Coronavirus.  It may diminish how they are feeling and even worse may make them feel weak and not up to the challenge.  Sure, some individuals benefit from a “kick in the pants” and a “toughen up,” speech but not everyone.  COVID-19 is not deterred by bravery.

People have different capacities to handle fear, risk, uncertainty, etc.  And, this should be okay.  No one has the market corned on pro-active, positive, and courageous behavior.  We all “feel” things to varying degrees.  Sometimes we may be a source of strength to others. Other times we might need a helping hand or shoulder to cry on ourselves.  If you think you’ve got it all figured out, then good for you, but that would put you in a small minority of human beings.  Just remember that life has a way of testing our own conceits.

Often, all someone needs for you to do is listen without judgment. To be empathetic with their plight (whatever that may be).  Just by making their feelings known, it may make them feel better, possibly even validated.  No one wants to feel “less than” or incapable in a moment of personal crisis.  They want encouragement, friendship and yes, even love.  The world can seem a scary place and if courage was easy to come by more people would consistently exercise it.

It may be an overused concept, but what we can control is our own actions especially if you are in a position of leadership.  You can do your best to demonstrate the actions/behaviors most needed in time of trouble even when you feel out of your personal depth.  However, this needs to be authentic.  It’s okay to be human (yourself).  Letting them know you are also worried is an effective way to help them adjust to the new reality.  Accepting reality and our initial emotional response to it is part of the human journey and a sign of maturity.  You just can’t get mired there. Positive action not emotion will make or break you in a time of crisis.

No leader has all the answers, but you should keep asking the questions that lead to progress.  Make those around you part of the solutions and they may surprise you with how well they can adapt and flourish. People also need to hear from you that you accept and believe in them despite their human frailties.   What they mostly need to feel is that together, we as a company, team, group, and family can navigate collectively whatever comes our way.

Small groups of individuals have accomplished remarkable things against enormous odds throughout the course of history.  I am certain that they were frightened at times.  They had all sorts of natural emotional reactions to what was going on.   I doubt the leaders of these groups were completely self-assured.  Yet, somehow, they figured out a way to work through it.  And, so will we.  My best guess is that it was through allowing each other the space to be human while at the same time channeling their collective energy and talents into positive action that made the difference. It’s not fear, it’s what you do with it that matters.

The best leaders don’t make others feel weak or incapable. They embrace their own humanity while accepting the different emotional capacities of those they lead.  They don’t offer simple trite answers to complex situations.  They take stock of the environment around them and proceed step by step towards a better place despite their own weaknesses.  They make it safe to be you, then expect you to bring the best version of “you” to the environment.  They care about their people.  With the right leadership we can handle anything including COVID-19.

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