Put Your Mask On First: A Lesson In Leadership

In Leadership Ideas, Rich Langtry by Rich LangtryLeave a Comment

Tuesday, 7am
Seat 11C
John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City
Bound for SFO – San Francisco, California.

As I settle in for my six-hour flight to the West Coast, the safety video on the back of the seat in front of me starts to play. I’m an experienced traveler, and I’ve seen this video hundreds of times, but for some reason I chose to pay attention this morning.

About halfway through, a phrase we’ve all heard a hundred times caught my attention. For the first time, the potential implications resonated with me and sent my thoughts in an unexpected direction.

“If the cabin begins to lose pressure, safety masks will drop from above…Put Your Mask on First before trying to help others”.

The science and mechanics behind why you are the airline directs you put your mask on first is understood, but I’m intrigued by the larger concept.

If you are not actively ensuring your basic needs are met, how can you effectively support others?

It’s a powerful concept I had never pondered or fully processed before, and a powerful metaphor for individual leadership development and how it could lead to higher performance and achievement.

In a management position, you probably spend most of your day attempting to help others improve and reach their goals, but what are you doing for…..YOU? Are you focused on your own development and growth? Are you taking appropriate action to ensure you are achieving continuous improvement? What are your short-term and long-term goals?

<3>Disconnect and Recharge

In the fitness world, it is referred to as “over training” or when you don’t place enough emphasis on or value in recovery time. The same concept applies to the professional world and your career. Allowing yourself time away from work to recharge and recover makes you a stronger, more effective team member and leader.

The biggest problem for most of us is the way technology has “enabled” us to stay in an eternal loop of connectivity. This alongside global demand and “never closed” business models that require continuous monitoring or engagement have blurred, and in some cases removed, the personal and professional boundaries of the past.

In the current business environment, stepping away from work related items for a period to “recharge” should not be viewed as a lack of commitment, a sign of weakness or blight on your work ethic. It is a valuable tool that should be utilized to make you and your team more effective your roles.

Putting Your Mask on First Actions:

  • Place Time on Your Calendar – Block off time to be unavailable and to simply think.
  • “Power Down” – Make dinner with family, uninterrupted by technology, a nightly priority
  • Step Away- Spend time away from your desk everyday and go for a walk or run
  • Utilize ALL of Your Allotted and Earned Time Off

YOUR Mission, YOUR Roadmap

“Top talent is the most important source of competitive advantage for every corporation, especially in high tech industries that compete on creativity and innovation.”
–Panos Mourdoukoutas, Forbes Magazine (2012)

I once had a boss say to me, “You own your career goals. Don’t allow me to define that for you.” Putting your mask on first means taking control of your career path and defining your individual roadmap.

As a leader, I am motivated by individuals who come to me and say, “This is what I want to do, this is when I want to do it…how do I get there?” Those who take ownership of their career and articulate their goals progress more quickly than those who don’t.

Instead of allowing another’s perceptions and views to dictate your road, take the time to define your goals and personal development plan. Strong leaders in your organization will appreciate the initiative and provide support by aligning your objectives with actions to help get you there.

Putting Your Mask on First Actions:

  • Define Your Mission – What is your ultimate career objective?
  • Draw Your Roadmap – Write down the major benchmarks and goals that will help you reach you ultimate objective.
  • Review with Leadership –Schedule time with leadership to review your roadmap.
  • Assessment and Review –Arrange for periodic assessments with leadership.

Disrupt Your Process

Great organizations understand the tremendous value of “cross pollinating” high performing team members into other departments to stimulate innovation and creativity. This not only keeps high performers challenged and engaged, but it strengthens your organization as a whole.

In 2009, I was a highly effective operations leader with an industry leading organization. Although I was accomplished and successful in transforming multiple teams, I was professionally stagnant. I found myself falling into the same routine and reverting back to the strengths, strategies and methods that worked for me in the past. The time had come for a new challenge.

“To make progress you have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” – Martin Rooney

In 2010, I moved to a leadership role in an account services organization. Although challenging, the shift afforded me an opportunity to disrupt my routine and grow professionally. It allowed me to develop my business acumen even further and exposed me to new experiences and client relationships that shaped the leader I am today. Disrupting my process was the inflection point of my career.

Seeking out opportunities that provide access to new and challenging experiences is the key to growth. Moving outside of your comfort zone and breaking your personal routines and behaviors is key to growth as a leader.

Putting Your Mask on First Actions:

  • Seek Out Change
  • Target Complimentary Positions That Will Develop Your Skills Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
  • Encourage Others to Disrupt Their Routine

It’s OK to be selfish Counter to much of what has been ingrained into us as leaders, parents or spouses, setting aside time to prioritize your needs is critical to sustained success. Make your needs a priority and define how you can be the most effective and complete leader possible.
Putting your mask on first is reminder…It’s OK to be selfish.

Rich Langtry

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