Q: As a result of “stay at home” rules, my team is working remotely. Some people are used to it while it’s new to others. But everyone is being a bit inconsistent in how they’re working together, managing their time and generally adjusting to the new normal. I’m not looking for ways to have them “perform better.” My goal is to be an effective and compassionate leader during this traumatic time. What should I be doing? —Trey, 38, director of financial analysis

A: You nailed it by knowing that compassion is the key.

We all need that now. We need it from our family and friends, from our co-workers and bosses, and from the broader community. And most of all, we need it from ourselves.

As an aware leader, you are laying the foundation for your team to experience compassion and then be able to share it.

It happens that  I recently attended a webinar from the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. At this session, Dr. Kaz Nelson offered a practical structure for coping with our current situation based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

As a refresher, Maslow outlined five levels of human needs. At the foundation is the body — the basic requirements of physical existence. Next are safety, connection and mind. At the top is self-actualization — the place where creativity resides.

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Now imagine these applied to our lives within the pandemic. Some days we may be just struggling to get by, coping with loss of appetite or inability to sleep. Other days we may shine, seeing life’s potential, developing new skills and able to be really present for others.

We don’t remain at one level. Rather, this framework offers a new level of insight as well as ideas on actions that support people regardless of the level they’re at.

To apply this as a leader, have a look at the framework Dr. Nathalie Martinek provides. You can find it here. In one example, if a person is at Level 2, safety, self-soothing behaviors and boundary setting will be best. If they are at Level 3, connection, community, empathy and humor may be available to them.

Simply sharing this with your team and discussing how everyone will be moving among these levels may be enough to help people feel supported. You may even find yourselves using the levels as a common language, as in, “Heads up, folks, it’s a Level 1 day!”

Moreover, it will give you the ability to assess where people are on a given day and offer the appropriate type of support. Look for subtle ways to connect the dots; the last thing you want as their boss is to violate their privacy.

The key is connecting as humans all facing the same challenge. Let it be uniting. When people are under stress, their instinctive response may be to withdraw or lash out. By understanding this and speaking to their real needs, you will build trust that transcends the situation.

Liz Reyer is a columnist at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis..
Liz Reyer is a columnist at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis..