“Leaders – Please Put Your Oxygen Mask on Before Assisting Others”
We’ve all heard that phrase many times before as we traveled about the country or world. And how often have we easily tuned it out, thinking that it’s not something we really need to pay attention to. I know that I tune it out most of the time, not wanting to even think about the possibility of needing an oxygen mask, let alone assisting anyone else with one. As leaders, we are so busy running around fighting fires, being pulled in all directions and multi-tasking that we don’t realize we actually do need an oxygen mask at times.
There was a time in my life when I was a “crazed workaholic”. I’d get to work by 7am, I’d work non-stop until 7pm, come home and take a short break for a bite to eat and occasional exercise, and then work again until 11:30pm before I called it a night. I was smart enough to know that this was not sustainable in the long run but not smart enough at the time to figure out how to change it while still working. So I jumped off the corporate ladder not realizing that I could choose to put my oxygen mask on.
So what would an oxygen mask look like for you as a leader?
It could look like beginning a centering practice to help you be fully present, having time set aside on your calendar to plan, prepare and just plain think, making time to go grab a cup of coffee with a colleague or employee to get to know their thoughts, feelings and who they are, and actually taking your vacation time. And that is just a start at what your oxygen mask could be. I know this sounds impossible when you have back to back meetings and you are currently stretched too thin. However, your non-stop work style is not sustainable – sooner or later you will get one of life’s wake-up calls (e.g., an illness, disease, etc.) and/or your work and life will suffer.
Many leaders are concerned about their employees burning out and running out of steam so they find a way of assisting them with their oxygen masks. Yet, at the same time, they demonstrate the opposite with a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. Most employees, especially the high achievers, will emulate their manager even if their manager is encouraging them to go home and be with their family or take their vacation days.
So here is your leadership challenge if you choose to accept it: Tune in to and recognize the need for your oxygen mask. Determine a couple of behaviors that will help you “breathe” in this 24/7 world we live in. And then put your own oxygen mask on! Choose these behaviors over meetings that you can really miss or emails that suck up your time throughout the day. That will go a long way in assisting others as well.
I’d love to hear how you did and the difference it made for you or any challenges you may be having finding your oxygen mask.