Am I fit to fly? This is a question every pilot is taught to ask themselves every time they approach an aircraft with the intention of aviating. It’s a broad question that drills deep into the psyche and responsibility for self that a pilot feels and covers everything from their physical health to their mental presence and preparedness. Over the years, it’s perhaps a question that becomes somewhat rote and taken for granted, and yet, any professional pilot worth their qualifications will acknowledge when the answer to that question is “No.”. None of us wish to put our own lives on the line, let alone those we fly with and for.
Not being fit to fly can be as simple as having woken up with a sinus issue that can’t go without medication. Whether it’s the blocked sinuses that won’t withstand any change in air pressure as you climb and descend, or the medication you need that means you’re a little short of sharp – your decision to fly today could mean you’re found wanting at the exact moment your crew and passengers needed everything you had to give – and so you don’t. Perhaps some family news has left you blindsided and trying to process mentally and emotionally – meaning you have well less than your full self to offer the rest of your crew today. You’re trained to acknowledge that a certain intensity of mental and emotional distraction is beyond the normal human ability to put it aside, and trying to do your job on half a brain could lead to far-reaching errors.
In aviation, we put lives first. We acknowledge the days we’re “merely human” and lean on the historic examples we don’t wish to repeat of those who did when they shouldn’t have.
I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”. Rule 2 is to “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” Much like aviation’s “Am I fit to fly?” question, this rule reminds us to prioritize self-care and personal growth in order to become more effective. Whilst this rule applies to us all, I feel it’s particularly relevant to those who feel the weight of responsibility to others. Leaders. Be you in your own home, in a business, in a school or in a cockpit – you cannot lead others if you don’t lead yourself first.
When we treat ourselves like someone we are responsible for helping, we prioritize self-care and personal growth. Let’s have a look at a few of the benefits of taking yourself seriously, and leading yourself before you lead others:
Benefits of Rule 2
1. Improved mental health: When we prioritize self-care, we’re better able to manage stress and maintain a positive outlook. Acknowledging our mental and emotional state on any given day keeps us present, keeps us humble, and keeps us processing. This level of awareness can improve your mental health and help avoid burnout – IF you’re willing to acknowledge your own limits and prioritise your wellness. None of us are “fine” all the time. All of us can do the work to move through challenges if we’re in touch with what we need. Have I mentioned that you can’t lead others if you don’t lead yourself first?
2. Increased empathy: When leaders take care of themselves, they are better able to empathize with the needs of their team members. This can lead to stronger relationships, improved communication, and a more collaborative work environment. I’ve written a few times about the strength required to be an empathetic leader, and also about the power of imperfect leadership. Our humanness is often our greatest asset.
3. Improved decision-making: When we actively prioritise personal growth, we become more self-aware and reflective. Both of these qualities lead to improved decision-making, as we’re better able to consider our own biases and limitations. Staying in touch with yourself allows you to better evaluate the complexity of everything that goes on around you.
4. Increased productivity: When leaders take care of themselves, they are better able to manage their time and resources. This makes us more productive and effective overall. Our time and resources are irretrievable once we’ve spent them, so discernment is key.
5. Improved creativity: When we prioritize personal growth, we’re more likely to engage in activities that stimulate our creativity. More times than I can count, I’ve found highly pressurised leaders at the top of organisations (or the top of families) who are so busy shouldering the responsibility of everything that they have no time or energy to do what they do best – see the big picture of where things could go and create innovative solutions and new ideas.
Tips for Implementing Rule 2
While I feel the benefits of Rule 2 are clear, I’m fully aware that it can be challenging for leaders to prioritize self-care and personal growth when EVERYTHING else seems to shout more loudly for your time and energy. At least in aviation, we’re aware that making bad personal decisions can have life-and-death consequences. Even then, though, we often still have others in mind rather than ourselves.
Here are some additional tips for how you can start incorporating Rule 2 into your leadership style:
1. Set boundaries: Setting boundaries to protect your time and energy may include saying no to requests that don’t align with your values or goals, delegating tasks to others, and prioritizing self-care activities. Self-discipline is the way forward here, as well as acknowledging the true value of your time and energy if it is channelled effectively. I guarantee you there are things that only you can contribute, which if you’re left depleted, will mean that everyone loses.
2. Practice self-reflection: Self-reflection is an important component of personal growth. Yes, I know it can seem self-indulgent, and sometimes it’s scary in there. But leaders who take the time to reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement become powerful contributors. Self-reflection puts you more in touch with your personal and professional goals and means you’re more likely to create a plan for achieving them. Without this, you’re merely a tool others use to achieve their own goals.
3. Seek out new experiences: Seeking out new experiences that challenge you and help you grow may include taking on new responsibilities at work, volunteering in your community, traveling to new places, or just doing something that stretches your comfort zone. For me, that’s meant learning to paddle board. Considering I’m raised in a land-locked country, living by the sea is a new experience. Some weeks, paddle boarding is a calm and almost meditative experience. Some weeks, it’s more like a baptism in waves that are helping me reprogram my adrenal system! New skills and perspectives only exist outside of your comfort zone. Push!
4. Build a support network: Having a support network of colleagues, mentors, and friends who can provide feedback, advice, and encouragement is invaluable. This is the network that helps you stay accountable to your goals and provides a sounding board for ideas and challenges. Having just moved country myself, I can’t emphasize the value of these people enough.
5. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding (self-compassion), especially when you make mistakes or experience setbacks. Self-criticism and negative self-talk are seldom helpful. As a leader, would you speak that way to someone you were responsible for helping?
6. Invest in yourself: Prioritize your personal growth by investing in your own development. Attend conferences, take courses, read books on topics that interest you. Find new people to speak with or make time for those you know you can have a healthy debate with. Stay up to date on trends and best practices in your industry. Develop new skills and perspectives.
7. Create a self-care routine: Self-care should include activities that promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This is different for everyone, which is why it pays to stay in touch with yourself. Perhaps it’s exercise or meditation, journaling, or spending time in nature. Whatever it takes to maintain your energy and focus, and be better equipped to handle the demands of leadership – go and do that!
8. Practice self-accountability: Hold yourself accountable for your actions and decisions. Take ownership of mistakes and actively seek feedback from others. Practicing self-accountability allows you to model responsible behaviour for your team members and foster a culture of accountability.
9. Celebrate achievements: Taking time to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small, helps to bring into focus what you DO achieve. Often, big wins are spaced far apart because of everything it took to get there. Marking your progress by celebrating the small wins that contributed to your progression toward the greater goal helps maintain energy and inspiration.
10. Embrace failure: Failure is a natural part of personal growth and development. When we embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as a personal reflection of our abilities, we develop resilience and a growth mindset. Both of these qualities help us to better navigate challenges and setbacks.
11. Take care of your physical health: Physical health is an important component of self-care. It’s not rocket science – you’ve heard it all before. Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet and engage in regular exercise. Maintaining your energy and focus makes you better equipped to handle the demands of leadership. You don’t have to wait for the precursors to a major medical event before you take yourself seriously.
12. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and fully engaged in the task at hand. When we remember to breathe and take in what’s happening around us – the sights, smells, sounds etc – we stay present rather than rushing through the hours in a distracted way. Stay connected with yourself and those around you.
Whilst I realise this is a fairly extensive list, I hope something on it serves as a valuable reminder of how vitally important you are as a leader, as a contributor – and how you cannot deliver your full potential if you’re not fully charged. When we dispense all our energy to others and leave nothing for ourselves, we can’t ever do the things we’re here to do properly. By treating ourselves like someone we’re responsible for helping, we can improve our mental health, increase empathy, improve decision-making, increase productivity, and improve creativity – all of which make us more effective leaders.
by Christen Killick
April 24th, 2023