“Put your own oxygen mask on first”.

I have recently been working with a new client , who wanted support in developing their role as a manager of a team.  Nothing new in this type of topic as it is often the case that people are promoted into the role of a manager because they are good at a ‘technical’ role, but some are not given support to develop their toolbox for managing a team.  However, the organisation had recognised that several of their new managers could benefit from support – particularly in changing times of more remote working, virtual meetings etc – and had asked me to work with a few of the managers.

Getting to know both the organisation and the individuals I was coaching was, as ever, a really enjoyable experience for me and interesting to hear how each individual was approaching the requirements of the management role.  What struck me, especially in times of most of the team working from home, was the fact that all my client’s energy was focussed on how the team were doing both professionally and personally.  Were they happy working from home? Was it more stressful for them? Were their targets being met?  What else could the manager do to be more supportive? The fact I asked my client the question “So, how you are doing in all of this?” seemed to surprise them and I received the reply “Oh, I am fine but the important thing is I have to concentrate on my team and be a supportive manager”.  A worried look came over their face when I repeated the question and asked them to think again before they answered.

Of course, it is absolutely right for a manager to be engaged and checking in with their team.  Not only listening to any concerns or celebrating any successes but also thinking about how things could possibly be changed in a constructive way after staff feedback ; working on a sense that people are listened to, and given a reply – even if the answer isn’t exactly what they want – are some key factors in being a manager.  But so is taking care of yourself;  making sure that you don’t wear yourself out with totally focussing on everyone else.  Finding that balance is often a challenge and so, as part of the coaching programme, we talked about strategies for achieving the right balance.  And that is where the quote comes in.  There is a reason that safety instructions on airplane flights tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others;  no-one can help other people if they can’t breathe.  So, part of the strategies we developed together included some time for the manager to devote to themselves; to make sure they are not overstretching themselves but are still in a position to assist their team, both collectively and individually.  Managers have always experienced challenges when managing a team and those challenges have been exacerbated in the middle of a pandemic.  Making sure you look after yourself enough to continue to be able to meet those challenges is all part of being a good manager – and it is good for all of us to take time to breathe now and again! If you feel you need help with sorting out your own ‘oxygen mask’, then please contact me:  louise@create-excellence.co.uk