Anyone who has flown has heard the standard airline speech prior to take-off, which includes the part about “if there is a loss of air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down . . . and if you are traveling with someone who needs assistance, put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help them.” We yawn, or continue flipping through our magazine, rarely giving the instructions more than a passing thought . . . even though they are right.
I jokingly share a similar sentiment with my senior staff, when I am concerned they are taking on too much or spreading themselves too thin, by pointing out “You know, you are no good to me dead.” In effect, put on your oxygen mask so you stay strong enough to carry out your most important tasks. Full disclosure . . . on more than one occasion my staff has also (accurately) highlighted the fact that my making such a statement is a good example of the pot calling the kettle black.
Failing to put on your own oxygen mask first is, by my observation, a pretty common challenge for leaders. We have a long list of competing demands, and there are so many people counting on us to meet their needs and move projects forward. Just a little bit longer and then we will take time to catch our breath . . . At least that is our intention until, right before we were planning to re-charge a bit, the next big opportunity/crisis/critical project comes along. So we push our oxygen mask to the side on trudge on, convincing our selves we have no choice.
There’s always a choice. And it’s not selfishness, or weakness, or a lack of commitment that prompts someone to put his or her own oxygen mask on first (even though there will be people who want you to believe all these things). It is discipline, and taking the long view, and understanding that you can’t bring your best when you are on your last breath. And your organization deserves your very best.
So find those things that are important enough to you that you will take the time to get away from your leadership responsibilities and recharge. For me, family is one of those things. While I might be less likely to take time off for myself, I will make time for my family. And I have a couple great friends with whom I get together for an hour or two every few weeks so we can all decompress a bit. Are there still times when I find myself “gasping for breath” because I have ignored my oxygen mask for too long? Yep. This is sort of one of those “do what I say, and don’t look too closely at what I do” blogs . . . but I’m working on it.
Three meetings to go, and then I’m off in search of that oxygen mask!