Leadership at 32,000 Feet: Why Putting on Your Own Oxygen Mask First is the Smart Move

I’ve been an aviation enthusiast for the best part of the last two decades and often find myself drawing parallels between best practices in aviation and in leadership. I find this to be a fascinating dimension of the leadership perspective, and one principle that resonates strongly with me is helping oneself first before helping others, otherwise known as “the oxygen mask principle”.

Selfish much? I don’t know, let’s see!

[…] put your oxygen mask on before helping others.

This seemingly straightforward advice holds deep wisdom that can be applied to leadership. Just as an accomplished pilot must navigate turbulence with consideration of passenger safety, effective leadership requires successfully navigating complex challenges while prioritizing team well-being. Our ability as leaders to connect these two worlds demonstrates our skill at finding hidden lessons – ultimately producing innovative and informed strategies.

In an aviation context, the message of this instruction is clear: to effectively assist others, one must ensure one’s own well-being and survival first. This principle emphasizes the significance of self-care as a foundational component to our support of and assistance to others around us. Let’s investigate how this principle translates into leadership strategy.

Self-Care in Leadership
Leadership often means taking care of others or an organization. But successful leadership starts with taking care of oneself first – just as pilots must secure their oxygen masks before helping passengers; leaders must prioritize their well-being to lead effectively and avoid burnout or stress that hinder decision-making and productivity. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that CEOs who prioritize self-care tend to be more successful and resilient in the long run.

Mental Health Awareness
The aviation oxygen mask principle can be directly applied to mental health in leadership. It emphasizes the necessity of prioritizing one’s own mental well-being before being able to support teams effectively. Recent articles have stressed the need for leaders to foster an environment in which team members feel comfortable seeking help; by attending to their own mental well-being needs first and then supporting teams effectively, they can foster a healthier work environment and better support them all.

Setting an Example
Leaders have an essential role to play as role models for their teams; if they don’t already, they should! Similar to passengers relying on flight attendants during an emergency situation, team members look up to leaders for guidance and support. By prioritizing self-care practices over productivity at work, leaders can send an empowering message while contributing towards creating more balanced workplace environments.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving
Effective leadership requires making tough decisions and solving complex issues. The oxygen mask principle reminds leaders that they must remain in good physical and mental health in order to make sound judgments and guide others effectively. By taking time for themselves and practicing self-care regularly, leaders are better able to tackle challenges while making decisions that will benefit their teams and organizations.

Work-Life Balance
Leadership can be draining, and leaders may feel pressured to put work first over personal life. But they need to strike a balance. Leaders who neglect their personal well-being risk burnout and diminished effectiveness; setting an example by adhering to healthy work-life practices will inspire their teams.

The aviation axiom of securing one’s oxygen mask before aiding others provides a profound and universally applicable lesson about leadership that holds particular relevance in terms of self-care. This principle serves as a reminder that strong leaders begin by taking care of themselves first – which in turn can have a beneficial ripple effect on an entire organization.

Photo by Dan Lohmar on Unsplash