Aside from counting the number of rows to the emergency exit (and remember, the closest one may be behind you), I have been thinking a lot about the messaging about the oxygen mask. When I was a kid, I really didn’t understand why a capable adult was told to put on his mask before helping someone else less able, like me, the kid. As an adult, it became a lot more clear.

If I help my capable self first, then I will be much better equipped and more able to help others.

Think about that in the context of your work environment or your work as a parent or caregiver.

Have you had a boss who is difficult, unsupportive and uninspiring? Yes, I’m sure you have. What’s true about that person or situation? One of two things is likely the case:

  1. They lack the capability to be effective in their job as a manager and leader OR
  2. They have the ability to be effective, but something is getting in their way

Assuming your manager has the skills (which admittedly is a big assumption), what often gets in the way of his ability to use his skills is that he isn’t taking care of his needs. He is either getting too caught up in the stress of the situation to see and think clearly or he’s spending so much time trying to “help” that he’s losing touch with the context and big picture of the situation. In either case, it’s impossible for him to support you.

How do you put on your oxygen mask first and take care of yourself so that you can support the needs of your team? Here are 5 things you can do:

1. Assess the big picture

Little things often get in the way of the big, important things. You may not even see what’s important because you haven’t taken the time to look around. Remember, the exit may be behind you. And if you don’t look for it, you may not see it.

As you go about your day, ask yourself if you are seeing everything there is to see and if what you are doing is minutiae or if it is helping you get where you are going. If you realize you’re missing something big or if you are working on things that are getting in your way, ask yourself what you can do to pivot or focus on the important things:

Should I change direction?

Can what I’m doing now wait?

What would be better right now?

How can I leverage others so I can focus on the important stuff?

What happens if this doesn’t get done? Does it matter?

What’s the worst thing that can happen if I drop this in favor of something else?

2. Accept failure and feedback, learn and move on

We all fail and we all get negative, “constructive” feedback. We have plenty of bad days. Don’t get paralyzed by it. What good is that doing you? Take a deep breath, think about it with a rational mindset and move forward. Great things come after big failures. It’s what we do in those times of failure that are most memorable to others and have the most meaning for ourselves.

3. Get moving – motivate and invest in yourself

Think about yourself, for a change, and find the inspiration that got you to this place. Consider what success looks like for you and what steps you need to take in order to get there. Take the time to do it; it’s worth the investment. Chances are, your success means success for your organization or family, so figure out what it’s going to take to get there and just do it. Baby steps, then bigger ones eventually become giant accomplishments.

4. Hold yourself accountable

You know what you need to do, now share that with others. Report on your progress, indicate what you are doing and what you are not doing. Be confident in your choices and know that they are advancing your efforts toward greater success. Then, your team can follow you and you can be the leader they need for you to be.

5. Get enough rest and exercise

Conventional wisdom, for sure. If you take care of yourself, you are certainly much better equipped to help others.

If I help my capable self first, then I will be much better equipped and more able to help others

Don’t forget to look around and so that you are seeing all of what’s going on around you. Make sure you’re focused on the right set of priorities and make it happen. Remember, your closest exit may be behind you.

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