Why Business Leaders Need to Put on Their Oxygen Mask First!


How many of you have flown in the last couple of years on a plane? No doubt you’re familiar with the safety announcement. It always says, "If there's a drop in cabin pressure, the oxygen masks are going to come down.” But then it says something really interesting, which is this: “put your own on first before you help others." Or, in other words, help yourself before you help others.

Now actually, as a business leader, this mindset of helping yourself before you help others can seem counterintuitive. Often, in our daily life, we're so busy trying to make customer service right, work on employee engagement, and be a great parent, or a spouse, we're so busy putting on oxygen masks for other people, that we don't always take time out to put our own on.

But when you think about it more, not putting your own oxygen mask on can be critical to the strength of the business. How can it flourish, if its leader is struggling to breath?

Self Leadership is Key

The word ‘inspire’ actually means to breathe life into. But sometimes people, situations and circumstances can suck the life out of you. In many ways, self-leadership is about challenging this scenario. It’s about inspiring yourself so you can inspire others. What do you need to do to reenergise, revitalise and inspire yourself, so you’re in a better position to put oxygen masks on other people as well?

Now, here’s a question for you, did you get yourselves dressed this morning? Why ask this? Well, psychologists reckon that potentially 80 to 85% of what you do, 80 to 85% is on autopilot. Here’s another question. Do you actually remember getting dressed this morning? Actively deciding which shoe to put on first? Almost certainly not.

In other words, we do loads of stuff in life without consciously thinking about what we're doing, or why we're still doing it the way we are. Have you had the experience of driving on what seems the longest journey, lost in your thoughts and music? Then suddenly, you have that rather scary experience and think what happened the last five miles? Because when you drive you're on autopilot, you do it without thinking.

Now here’s the good news, loads of stuff that you do on autopilot without thinking is really good, and is really effective. And we just need to be aware of that maybe a little bit more, so we can carry on doing it. But some of the things that you do on a day-to-day basis without thinking are not as effective as they could be.

Make Better Daily Choices

One of the things about leadership, it's about those daily choices you make. Because your choices are going to have consequences. But how do we make the most of our choices? On automatic pilot without thinking, and through habit. And some of those are good and they're working for us, like getting dressed in the morning. But some of them are leading us into scary experiences, like not remembering what happened during the last 5 miles on the motorway.

So let's press pause, take some time out, think about some of the choices we're making. It’s about recognising what is going on in the here and the now, so we can make informed decisions. It's about putting on your own oxygen mask, because then you can breathe a bit of life into other people as well.

Enjoy the Now

Yes, you should focus on your future; be clear on some of the stuff you want to do. But don't be so focused on the future, you're actually not enjoying the now. Yes, you should learn from the past, but you don't need to live there.

If you want to get the best out of yourself, if you want to get the best out of others, and if you want to get the best out of life, ultimately nothing beats some wisdom, some hard work, some self-belief and probably the support of other people as well. 

Read the 8 Core Principles of Successful Leaders

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