Even though most of us haven’t been flying much in the past eight months, we’re all familiar with the safety guidelines shared by flight attendants before an airplane takes off. In the event of an emergency where supplemental oxygen is needed, a mask will drop from the overhead cabin. You should put on your own mask before helping children, the disabled, or anyone needing assistance. And know that the oxygen is flowing, even if the plastic bag doesn’t inflate.
This safety precaution of putting your mask on first is life supporting when the aircraft is in the midst of a crisis. And it provides timely advice as we move into a winter season marked by a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, along with significant political transition. It’s especially good advice for leaders to follow in helping their teams survive and thrive.
Signs you need your mask
Recognizing you need a mask requires feedback and awareness of how you’re coming across to others. Many people are feeling the impact of these times economically, socially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It’s manifested by lack of finances, flexibility, and freedom to do the things we used to do; and mood swings such as irritability, confusion, indecision, anger, tiredness, boredom, and even depression. As a leader you are used to presenting yourself as having your emotions together. But now you are weary, you struggle to put on a confident face to meet with your team (even virtually). Your brain isn’t functioning as quickly as it did before. You may feel a social stigma if you admit your feelings, while silently wondering how others are coping.
Putting your mask on
Once you recognize these signs that you need your mask, it’s important to put it on. This seems elementary, but sometimes we resist taking action when we need help or may not know how to identify what help is needed. You’ve never been in this position before so it may feel like a sign of weakness. And most of all it exposes vulnerabilities.
Many people are getting help by seeing a therapist, taking prescribed medication, exercising, spending time in nature, resting, watching comedies, praying, reading scriptures, engaging virtually with family and friends, practicing their favorite past time, or finding new relaxing hobbies.
And at this time of year they’re also being thankful for things they used to take for granted. Things like good health, family members still here, food, a smile, a place to call home, heat and warmth, sanity and casual clothes (because few of us dress up anymore!). It’s a time for all of us to share what we have with those in need, because we also recognize that we don’t need as much as we used to.
Putting your team’s mask on
Only when you put your mask on, and keep it on, can you as a leader help your team. Once you admit your vulnerability, you can become more empathic and authentic. You demonstrate empathy when you sense others’ feelings and perspectives and take an active interest in their concerns. You demonstrate authenticity when you set aside your ego to share genuinely and put people at ease.
Whether your team members are working hard in essential in-person roles or toiling from a make-shift home office. They each have a sense of loss, a challenge they’ve never had before, and even new opportunities. They’re finding their positions and priorities are shifting at work and home. As a leader, what you offer and what they need may be different from what it was twelve months ago. As you share with them how you’re putting your mask on, it may encourage them to do the same.
And most importantly, you want to build hope in a better future. Brené Brown talks about C. R. Snyder’s research on hope:
“hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive
process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really
a thought process made up of what [he] calls a trilogy of goals,
pathways, and agency.”
Hope enables your team to think optimistically about the future, even in the midst of present realities. Hope enables your team to focus on the things they can control instead of the things they cannot.
To engage your team in building hope, revisit your goals in the light of the many environmental influences, to ensure they are realistic. Set stretch goals where appropriate. Develop a plan to meet those goals giving due consideration to potential shifts in the conditions required to accomplish them. Be flexible and adaptable, open to new ideas and approaches.
So, recognize the signs of danger, care for yourself first, so that you can care for your team, and build hope.