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Put on your own oxygen mask first

Updated: Jul 21

When you fly on an airplane, you’re instructed during the safety briefing to “put on your own oxygen mask first” before helping others. But how good are we at looking after ourselves first so that we can support our teams?


“It’s relentless, my day is back to back calls with no breaks”
“I’m all Zoomed out – and I’m so fed up with looking at myself all day!”
“I haven’t got a home office so it’s a constant negotiation for space, quiet and broadband”
“Now we’re both working from home, I actually feel like I have less time to talk to my partner than before”
“I feel like I’m not being a good parent or being effective in my work”


These are all comments we have heard from leaders in recent weeks. They show the impact of working in crisis mode and the compromises we make when work is no longer something we leave home to do.  If you recognise these themes and want to start to enjoy life rather than endure it, it’s time for a reset. 


It starts with leading yourself. How do you create the right conditions for yourself so that you can lead your team effectively?


Here are some suggestions that may help:


Pause and take stock. This is a good moment to reflect on the lessons learnt in the past few months and make adjustments to your ways of working.  Get a pen and paper and make two lists: ‘What’s working well’ and ‘What’s not working’.  Think beyond your work life to include your health, mental well-being, financial security, and relationships.  

Now identify one small change that’s within your control and would make a big difference - and make it happen.


Change your environment. If you are constantly working in one place with no variation in your routine, it quickly feels like Groundhog Day. Add to this the pressure to be constantly ‘on’ and available to others, it is no wonder many leaders feel exhausted. In Lead Yourself First, authors Kethledge & Erwin describe the importance of creating mental space to achieve clarity, exercise creativity and restore emotional balance. Set times in the day or week for thinking and planning and change your status on work apps to let colleagues know when you are not interruptible.  Research also shows that a change of physical location can jumpstart creative thinking, so think about using different spaces for different types of work. Leave the PC and use the kitchen table or empty wall space for big picture planning or take a walk in your local park or neighbourhood to stimulate new ideas. 


Invest in your relationships. It is the quality of our connections with others that sustains us in difficult times. Think about what you are doing to nourish your own network of friends, family and work colleagues.  Are you getting the support you need? And are you giving support to those that need it? Write a list of people that you want to be in contact with over the next week. Think through ways to include or help those who may be feeling lonely and isolated or are facing unplanned job changes.



The challenges of leading teams remotely won’t go away but often it is the small changes that can help you get in the best shape to support others 


If you need strategies to reset and get a better balance, give us a call to talk about how coaching might help.

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