Leaders – Put your own oxygen mask on first

In the wake of the Covid-19, leaders are facing more challenges than ever before. The world is preparing to return to ways of working that are totally unknown. Employees are concerned about the welfare of their friends and family, there are worries about the impact on the markets, job security and the financial implications of the pandemic. The pressures are unprecedented and unpredictable. Naturally, leaders want to support their people, but don’t have the answers themselves, and, of course, they too are managing the same concerns as their teams.


In times like these, it can be all too easy for leaders to focus on supporting their employees to the detriment of their own wellbeing. Over the last 6 months, I have been speaking with CEOs who have experienced crisis of wellbeing or burnout. What has emerged is that it is all too easy to focus on others and forget that, as leaders, you are not ‘superhuman’. You too have limitations, of time, energy, resources and skills. If you fail to acknowledge these, your welfare is at risk. Reduced wellbeing will not only negatively impact your performance, decision-making, focus and communication skills, it will have a ripple effect on every person you work with or connect with, spreading low morale and reduced productivity, while increasing stress and overwhelm. 


Conversely, if you can take ownership of your wellbeing now, you have the potential to be the catalyst of increased wellbeing, enhanced motivation, performance and fulfilment. Uncertainty and change bring challenge and they also bring great opportunities to build a more loyal, collaborative and resilient workplace. By acting as a role model, looking after your own wellbeing, being open and honest with your teams and empowering them by demonstrating trust, the current climate offers you the chance to not only survive the months ahead, but to grow stronger as a result. Here are three steps to enable you to do that.


1 – Put your own oxygen mask on first

Every time we get on a plane, we hear the reminder to put our own oxygen mask on before helping others and yet, in life, we too rarely remember. We prioritise friends, family, colleagues and stakeholders, forgetting that we cannot continue to give to others if we don’t replenish our resources. Take just 15 minutes TODAY to reflect on your own wellbeing and consider these points;

  • It is ok for you to be finding this hard. Have some self-compassion and give yourself a break, you are human too.

  • What are you doing to look after yourself? What is your ‘escape’ from work? Are you getting outside, doing exercise, engaging in hobbies? How could you build this into your routine?

  • Are you ‘switching off’ in the evenings? Using technology in the last 2 hours before bed impairs sleep so your productivity the following day will be impacted. Try to set ‘tech curfews’ by closing the laptop and winding down before bed. 


2 – Be clear in communication

 When we are facing uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we find some sense of security and stability in our lives. For this reason, maintaining on-going communication and giving your team the assurance that you are being open and honest with them is crucial. This will make them feel more supported offering a sense of psychological safety, amidst the unknown. Here are a few ways to build this habit;

  • Keep checking in with the team. Even if you have no new information to share, it is important to share that fact. If you say nothing it is too easy for employees to think you are concealing the truth. This is how rumours start so be keep them up to date at all times.

  • If you are being asked questions that you don’t know the answer to, then be honest about that. Don’t ignore the question but explain what you do know, what steps have been taken and reassure them that you will let them know when you do.

  • Be honest about your uncertainties. Demonstrating vulnerability at these times is a powerful connector and will enable others to speak up if they are struggling or need support. This is essential to prevent a small issue becoming a major crisis.


3 – The power Strengths-based feedback

Historically, feedback has identified areas that people need to improve. This has been shown to be an ineffective way to motivate or enhance performance and furthermore, it adds unnecessary stress. In contrast, Strengths-based feedback has been shown to improve productivity by up to 18 times as well as improving resilience, perseverance, physical health and morale. So how do we practice this in the workplace?

  • When checking in with the team, acknowledge their Strengths, rather than their skills or achievements. The image below shows the core character Strengths so you can use this to do so. Also encourage them to notice Strengths in themselves.

  • When asking sometime to complete a task, explain which Strength they specifically have which has made you choose them for the task. You can also use this when thanking someone.

  • Acknowledge your Strengths on a daily basis and also take time to consider if there are Strengths you are overusing right now. It is possible to over or underuse Strengths so be mindful to ensure these Strength are helping, not hindering you. 


For all these tips and every action we take, the most important thing is that we continue to learn from every experience. Doing this for yourself, and encouraging your teams to do the same, enables us to overcome the stress of the unknown and the fear of failure so that they can innovate, solve-problems, collaborate and maintain our wellbeing and performance. Now, more than ever, we must all take ownership of our wellbeing and that starts with you.


Please feel free to be in touch at charlotte@charlottewiseman.com for more details, tools or resources for you and the team, and all the best for the weeks ahead.

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