Resilient leadership: Fit your oxygen mask first to effectively lead others

Resilient leadership: Fit your oxygen mask first to effectively lead others
October 17, 2020 Linda Murray

Things are pretty topsy turvy these days and there’s no clear path ahead. If you’re a leader who is feeling the pressure, know that you’re not alone.

Under the circumstances, I want to ask you this.

Are you spreading yourself too far while striving to look after your team? Do you seem strong and resilient on the outside but feel tired and fragile on the inside?

More than ever before, we’re relying on leaders to pull people through this strange time and bring them out safely into the new normal. We need our leaders to be ahead of the game. To do that you need to be proactive, not reactive. How can you do that if you’re running out of puff?

Where’s your oxygen mask?

Have you ever heard the expression fit your own oxygen mask first”?  It means that if you don’t put on your own oxygen mask first, you won’t be able to look after anyone else. For many leaders, especially women, this is an uncomfortable thing to do. It feels selfish and goes against our instinct to nurture and put others ahead of ourselves. You concentrate on your people and helping them survive and thrive, while ignoring your own needs.

To some extent, this is learned behaviour that we must address. Human beings are born with a strong survival instinct so where did yours go? What made you believe that someone else’s survival is more important than yours?  In fact, it’s more likely that someone else’s survival depends on yours.

Looking after yourself is a responsibility. You owe it to yourself, but you also owe it to your team to be the best you can be. If you fall apart, what happens to your people? Your organisation won’t flourish without you.

What does ‘putting on your own oxygen mask’ involve?

In practical terms, it means taking care of yourself.

Before you can comfortably do that, you might need to change your thinking around the concept. If you haven’t already done so, read my post on breaking the barriers to emotional resilience.(link to 3 Ps post) It will show you a way to quiet the inner voice which is telling you that its wrong to put yourself first.

Putting on your own oxygen mask means looking after your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Go ahead and take that mental health day you need and get back your energy and focus.

Putting on your oxygen mask is a strategic move, too. It means asking for help when you need it and it means not taking on other people’s work or responsibilities. Stop taking on work and drowning in it, simply because you think you should. When you go under for the third time, it’s not work that will save you.

Next week I will dive deeper into how you can take care of yourself, but my purpose today is to show you that putting your oxygen mask on first isn’t selfish; it’s a sensible and strategic leadership move which will save both you and your team. It allows you to build and maintain your resilience and model the behaviour for your people.

If you understand the concept but struggle to put it into place, let me help you identify the barriers blocking you and how to overcome them. Contact Linda today and let’s get you back on the path to resilient leadership.

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