Your Oxygen Mask First

In the event of a rapid cabin depressurization oxygen masks will drop from your overhead control panel.

I like to tell stories sometimes. I like to think of them as those bits of wisdom I carry with me. I want to share this one story which most can readily identify with and may not have ever thought of in terms of leadership.

Most of us have flown on commercial jets at one point or another, some more than others. Having worked on military aircraft I am always pumped to fly, scared a bit, and a little anxious! I grab the airplane emergency sheet in the seat-back as soon as I sit down. I want to know what type airplane I am on; I prefer Boeing jets above all others!

I listen intently for the Captain to tell the Flight Attendants to, “Prepare for push back.” It signals the Flight Attendant’s safety speech which I absolutely love to intently listen to like every flight is my first! I can almost repeat it verbatim, I hope you cannot hear my grinding gears in my mind!

“In the event of a rapid cabin depressurization oxygen masks will drop from your overhead control panel. Sharply pull the mask and bag to you to activate the flow of oxygen. Place the mask over your nose and mouth. Pull the straps on either sides to secure the mask on your face and breathe normally.” Now comes the leadership part, “Please put your mask on before assisting others.”

Please put your mask on before assisting others. I always envision a strapping twenty-something man worried about his wife or young child. He is willing to sacrifice his own good to protect them. Most will think his action heroic and appropriate. I see things a bit differently.

As leaders we are charged with the health of our organization and the well-being of those who work for us (Do not worry a blog for this topic will follow). Back to being a leader who needs to consider organizational health and human well-being. The most important part of this equation is the leader. Please do not scrunch your brow and think me crazy.

The reason you have to put your mask on first in the case of rapid depressurization is so you are able to assist others. If you are passed out from oxygen deprivation you are the one who needs assistance. Put your mask on first so you are able to help others.

Being a leader is similar. A leader must take care of them self. To make decisions in the best interest of the organization and people a leader must be at peak performance. A leader can only be as effective as they are healthy them self. When I say healthy I am not merely meaning physical health, I mean every aspect of health. A leader’s body, mind, and soul must be healthy to successfully lead. A leader must maintain healthy moral beliefs and ethical standards. Leaders must also keep professional and personal relationship viable.

When the oxygen mask drops a leader must recognize something has gone wrong in life. It is not being selfish to stop and take care of issues which need attention in the immediate here and now. Great leaders can see unhealthy issues coming and have developed countless skills and strategies to resolve them before there is a problem. Perhaps I will revisit this topic later to discuss some of the not-so-mystical strategies and skills to head off doom and gloom!

My point here is this; leaders are required to be at their best 24/7. When leaders let issues make them unhealthy we get to read about their fall in the headlines. Go to any news media outlet after you read this and you will see plenty of fallen and potentially falling leaders. These fallen leaders could have stopped, assessed their health, and overcome the negativity raining down on them.

Strategy 1 to develop skills to maintain health is to stop, assess your situation, and ask yourself, “Hmmmm, how would I like to read about this in the headlines?”

Author: Gary

I am a Native Oregonian and grew up on the south side of the central coast in the small town of Bandon. After serving in the US Navy for 11 years I returned home to pursue my passion in leadership. I graduated from the University of Oregon with two degrees in Sociology and Planning, Public Policy, & Management. After a few years of working I returned to academic pursuits. I earned my Masters of Business Administration with a heavy emphasis on Servant Leadership from Northwest Christian University. Life took a twist and I left the Eugene, Oregon area and moved to the Portland, Oregon circus! I currently work for a very large company and have enjoyed great benefits which have allowed me to continue my life long pursuit of knowledge. I have completed Six Sigma Master Black Belt coursework with Villanova University as well as a certificate from University of Notre Dame in Executive Management. Recently, I earned my second Master's Degree from Michigan State University in Management, Strategy, & Leadership. I have lived a pretty good life and I keep things honest. No mincing of words from me and sometimes that means I drop a little bomb in my language. Please, forgive me if my language becomes a little brutish. I pride myself on being able to learn from anyone and any circumstance.

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