Why Leaders Need To Put Themselves First (and what happens when they don’t)

Have you been on a plane recently?  You know when they are going through all the safety notices and they come to the one about oxygen masks?  What is the instruction there?  Well – it is to fix your OWN mask first before attempting to help someone else.  That is because if you put the mask on your child first for example, and then you fainted because you went too long without oxygen, your child would be unlikely to be able to put your mask on you.

In other words, if you aren’t looking after you, you can’t look after anyone else.

The problem I see many small business owners making is that they put everyone else first.

So – certainly when it comes to payment, everyone gets paid before the business owner.  But it’s not just that.  As the owner of the business ultimately everything is your responsibility – and so you have to deal with everything, think about everything, sort everything.  But what most business owners leave out of that equation is THEM.  They are also their own responsibility.

It is easy as a business owner, to fill your time with all the stuff that has to be done.  And being an entrepreneur, you are probably good at spinning a mass of plates at the same time.  And when something crops up that you hadn’t accounted for in your weekly plan, you are quite prepared to put more time in or more money in, or more effort in to sort it out.

But is that always the right thing to do?

In the busy-ness of dealing with suppliers, pleasing clients, handholding staff or contractors, scraping your knee to the tax man, and all the hundred and one other ‘masters’ you have in your business, what happened to the real master/mistress of the business?  Did you get lost there for a minute?

You see, you HAVE to put your own oxygen mask on first.  And even when it is completely the “wrong time” to have time off for example, you need to recognise the signs of burn out and put yourself first.  After all if you explode or implode or become ill, what will happen then?  Who gets to look after everyone else?

I was working with a client recently who was a victim of their own success.  They had started a business, and successfully grown it over several years, but now could not scale it.  It was 1 step forward 2 steps back, then 2 steps forward 1 step back and for the last 12 months there had been no real growth in the business.

Now there were all sorts of factors contributing to that, but the main one was that the business owner was putting everyone else first.  They were saying yes to their clients (even unreasonable) demands, saying ‘yes’ to their staff by providing more and more tools and support, saying yes to their suppliers increase in prices.  They were putting everyone else first.  And in doing so were on the brink of collapse.

They were on the hamster wheel, but the hamster wheel was about to break.

So, we put a plan in place.  The plan involved diarising time to think, diarising time off with the family, delegating more and focusing on the most important thing – them and their own health.

After a few weeks I got a call to say how much better things were going.  It didn’t surprise me.  Once your focus is on what you want, and how you are going to get it including looking after yourself – then you have the right focus to help others.  You can’t look after anyone if you are broken.

So – as a leader in your business (even if you are a team of one), make sure you put time aside every day for you.  Yes, every day.  Even if it is just 10 minutes for time out to think, or a once a week visit to the hairdresser or the squash court.  Take at least one full day off at the weekends, preferably two – rather than using it as ‘catch-up’ time.

Remember – no one went to meet their maker thinking ‘I wish I had worked harder’, quite the opposite.

If you need some help with the concept of putting yourself first – then feel free to drop me an email on [email protected]

3D Leadership – dynamically enhancing the results of your business’™

At Transforming Performance, we believe that there are 6 crucial areas of Leadership: focus and direction, mindset, engagement, skills, impact and systems.

Transforming Performance can help with our Accelerate Your Business™ and Accelerate Solo™ programmes.

Julie Hutchison is co-Director with Jan Sargent of Transforming Performance, a consultancy which provides businesses with expert support in Leadership Coaching, Team Development and Performance Coaching, Executive Coaching, Mentoring, Training and Behavioural Profiling and help in getting the best from you and your people. If you’d like to have a chat and a coffee to discuss how we can help you, we’d love to talk. Call us on:

01722 484155 or 07947 823842

[email protected]


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