Selflessness is where collaboration starts. We need to support each other, to work together, and to help civilization pull through this crisis.

When Margaret Mead was asked at a conference what she considered to be the first sign of civilization –– her reply took everyone by surprise; she didn’t mention religious artifacts, clay pots, or grinding stones.

The first evidence of civilization was a healed broken bone, according to the brilliant anthropologist.

Mead explained that if an animal breaks its leg, it will certainly die. No creature can run from danger, hunt for food, or seek out fresh water with a broken leg. There’s not enough time for the broken bone to heal; a predator will eat them first.

A broken femur which has healed is the evidence that someone else intervened. Another human being stopped what they were doing, and took care of the wounded until their bone healed.

“Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts,” Margaret Mead concluded.

In times of crisis, everyone’s character is put to the test. You can run away from danger, or you can stop and take care of the wounded. Here’s how to support your team and help them heal.

1. Are you interacting with your team from a place of anxiety, or calm?

Your emotional state will set the tone of your entire team. Start by checking your own emotions. How do you feel? What’s making you anxious or nervous? What do you fear the most? What’s the worst thing that can happen?

Leaders are human, too. It’s okay for you to fear for your job or the future of your business. However, in a time of crisis is when you must step up more than ever.

Fear is a natural reaction; it’s a signal that we are under attack. There are two ways we can respond to it. One option is to be cautious, take care of yourself, anticipate potential dangers, and define actions to neutralize them. Panicking is the second option; you can lose your head, feel paralyzed, and lose your patience.

How are you going to respond to this crisis? Your team needs reassurance; show up from a place of calm. Be the beacon people need in times of confusion and darkness.

2. Pause and notice how others are feeling

This crisis is unprecedented; human activities are being disrupted on a global scale and at a speed that we haven’t seen before. Many businesses are struggling; not only to operate efficiently, but to stay alive.

It’s natural to expect our teams to get back to regular productivity. Businesses need to settle and start getting into rhythm. However, employees’ lives are being disrupted, not just their jobs. Most people are in a panic, feeling paralyzed, fighting reality, and not being able to adapt to the new normal.

Your role as a leader is to help people confront their emotions; to understand how they’re coping and what’s making them feel afraid or anxious.

It’s okay for people to feel isolated, frustrated, or lost. My team has been coaching several groups in the past few weeks. I was shocked to hear how many people have not yet landed in the new reality, not even made a space to work at home.

Talk to your people. Ask them how they are feeling. Have regular check-ins. Start your next call by allowing people to share their emotional state.

3. Be compassionate, trusting, and supportive

Trust is being put to the test more than ever before. Many organizations are not psychologically safe; their employees don’t feel okay sharing their thoughts or being candid. If people don’t trust each other when sitting together, why will they trust others when working remotely?

Start by holding a non-judgmental space. When people are sharing how they are dealing with their crisis, don’t judge them; just listen. Many people are so panicked that they haven’t been able to work for the last week. The worst part? They’ve been faking it because they’re afraid of their bosses.

For many people, it’s hard to understand how others are suffering. Model behavior; make it okay to be vulnerable. Ask for feedback. Lead with questions, not with answers. Don’t pretend to have all the solutions in a time when everyone is lost.

Look at most presidents; they are constantly changing what they tell citizens. Some because they are adapting, most because they are afraid.

Allow people to settle during this disruption — be trusting and patient. But above all, be brave.

4. Help your team find the new normal

As teams settle at their own pace, establishing traction is crucial to recover productivity. However, recovering rhythm will require adjusting norms and practices.

Don’t expect people to continue business as usual. Working remotely can make people more productive, but not during a pandemic. It’s a different reality to being forced to work from home.

Not only did people not choose to work remotely; they didn’t have time to prepare.

Most employees don’t have the right space, tools, or Wi-Fi to perform at their best. Those who have families have to deal with additional challenges. They have to homeschool their kids and face constant interruptions while adjusting to balancing work hours with personal chores and family time.

Help your team redesign their new remote culture. Most importantly, be flexible. Focus on outcomes; let people choose how they work. Let them design their own schedules – as long as they show up to meetings and calls. Help your team to build a routine that will allow them to give their best despite the incremental challenges.

I created the Remote Culture Canvas, a simplified version of the Culture Design Canvas, to help your team align on how they will work remotely. Check out how to use the Canvas to design new norms and ways of collaborating, choose the right tools, and create social connections.

5. Ask, “How can I help you?”

The best leaders are helpful; they don’t assume they know what people know. Engage with your team’s needs and help everyone build trust and regain rhythm.

Start with a simple question: How can I help you?

Emphasize the ‘you.’ Help must be defined on their terms, not yours. Don’t assume you know what people need — let your team tell you when and how you can help them.

There are several ways a leader can be helpful, as I wrote here. Here are some ways you can help your team now:

  • Provide open and regular communication. Working remotely not only requires checking-in often to see how people are doing. There are bigger chances for misunderstanding and mistakes.
  • Eliminate Time Wasters. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to eliminate unnecessary meetings, reports, and tasks that steal valuable time away from your team.
  • Break the rules with a purpose: To thrive in times of crises, will require people do things differently. Sometimes, it will require that they break some rules to get things done. Encourage them to break the rules, not for the sake of it, but with a clear purpose.
  • Provide the resources people need: Start with the basics, do people need a faster Wi-Fi or new software to work remotely. How is the current situation affecting their financial situation? How can you help?
  • Model Giving: If you want people to support each other, start by providing solutions, not just words. Helpful leaders are a source of positive influence.

Selflessness is where collaboration starts. Regardless of your role or title, your colleagues need you. Be brave. Step up and help your team heal — and pull through — during this global crisis.

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