As an avid traveler, I was initially puzzled by the flight attendants’ “in case of an emergency” instructions. For those who don’t know, they insist that you secure your own oxygen mask first, and only then begin assisting others. Surprisingly, the thought of hurtling from 35,000 feet in a metal tube to my sure doom wasn’t my biggest concern. I was much more anxious at the thought that I would potentially be required to put myself first before helping someone more vulnerable. I valiantly tried not to sit next to children, the elderly or anyone that would cause me inner turmoil by tempting me to violate those strict instructions should the need arise.

Eventually a patient and very kind flight attendant walked me through the specific parameters of cabin pressure, altitude, and in-flight decompression which helped me understand that by securing my own oxygen I would be better positioned to offer assistance to others. Acting from a place of strength rather than gasping for breath and passing out is truly the better option for both myself and the others who may be in need of my assistance, even though initially it goes against my natural impulse.

I have found this a valuable metaphor to assist leaders in understanding the critical need of securing their own interpersonal development in order to benefit those around them. Research shows that leaders who rated high on interpersonal effectiveness outperformed low-rated leaders by 15 – 20% on yearly revenue and engagement targets.

Leaders in organizations have the greatest impact on culture, productivity, and engagement. The best leaders ensure their team has access to development and performance opportunities. Ironically, leaders often overlook the critical aspect of addressing their own needs. To maximize results, you should enhance your own ability to understand and develop your strengths and then assist the others around you. You may not always be able to avoid a bumpy ride, but identifying and utilizing personal strengths will best enable you to assist your team with achieving positive results and landing safely.


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