The harsh truth is… you need to know how to manage yourself before managing others

I fly enough that I’ve moved past paying attention to the safety briefings, but somehow I still have the spiel...
5 min read

I fly enough that I’ve moved past paying attention to the safety briefings, but somehow I still have the spiel rattling around in my head. It’s like that song you heard in childhood – it’s going to live rent-free in your head no matter what you do.

These days I try to ignore it, but the airlines have worked hard to up their entertainment factor during the pre-flight lecture. They’ve moved beyond mundane demonstrations to engaging videos, witty crew routines, and even musical variations. They are doing their best to get my attention, and I’m fighting hard to ignore them. Even with my best efforts, there is one sentence that always resonates with me: “Secure your mask first before helping those around you.”

For any of us traveling with loved ones, this may seem counterintuitive. Instinctively, one might prioritize helping others first. However, the logic is clear—without ensuring your own well-being, you can’t effectively assist others, especially in a crisis. This principle extends beyond airplane speeches; it’s a fundamental concept in leadership. Before managing others, you have to learn to manage yourself. Leaders struggling to find their own footing will also struggle to provide effective guidance to their teams.

The discipline of self-management is critical. You have to put in the work necessary to manage their behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, but even more importantly, you have to understand why it is important. Here’s the uncomfortable truth: your company cannot rise above the ceiling created by your self-management. In other words, how you handle your “business” might determine whether or not your business reaches its potential. So let’s dive into the work of self-management by looking at three ways that it impacts your workplace.

1. Your self-management creates a healthy environment.

You set the tone for the organization, and you have considerable influence over how your people feel about their work. According to a recent UKG survey, 60% of employees identify their job as the most important factor influencing their mental health. Additionally, the influence of a boss carries the same weight as the influence of a spouse.

In order for your workplace to thrive, you have to be mentally AND physically healthy. When these areas are out of balance in your life, it invariably has an impact on other areas. Creating a positive work environment requires you to recognize the connection between physical and mental health. For me this has looked like establishing morning routines, incorporating exercise, meditation, gratitude practices, and maintaining a healthy diet.

Think about the importance of the way you show up to the office every day. If you are going to create a healthy environment, it starts before you walk in the door. The disciplines you practice from the time you wake up until the time you show up will go a long way towards creating an environment that enhances employee well-being, creativity, productivity, and retention.

2. Your emotional intelligence creates a healthy environment.

Since the global pandemic, there is significant research that highlights the importance of creating a culture where employees feel valued and understood.

One study found that 73% of people surveyed believe emotional quotient (EQ) is more important than intelligence quotient (IQ). In the same study, half of employees reported that their bosses lack emotional intelligence.

Dr. Ben Redmond

This means that growing your emotional intelligence (the foundation of self-management) needs to be very high on your priority list. Here is a short list of how I’ve been working on elevating my EQ. I’ve worked on controlling my responses (verbal and non-verbal) rather than reacting impulsively. I’ve worked on navigating disappointment by managing my expectations. I’ve focused on displaying resilience in the face of setbacks. I’ve worked to lead with confidence and a non-anxious presence instead of giving into anxiety and spreading my stress to others.

If that sounds like a lot of work, you would be correct. I’m still working on it, and I don’t always get it right. Here’s what I know – what I focus on will grow. So I’m focused on recognizing my triggers and my patterns so that I can respond with thoughtfulness and intentionality. When you lead this way it not only enhances the workplace but also builds strong, trusting relationships within the team.

3. Your example creates a healthy environment.

Your character is contagious, and it influences everyone around you. This statement is true regardless of the quality of your character. In other words, whatever character you bring to the table will naturally flow through the rest of your organizational culture. If you are a leader who brings transparency, authenticity, responsibility, and accountability into your organization, then it will show up everywhere else.

According to a Gallup survey, only 21% of U.S. employees strongly trust their organization’s leadership, and  19% feel enthusiastic about the future under their leadership. Let that stat sink in, and imagine what would happen if we put our energy into the example we set?

Dr. Ben Redmond via Gallup

Here’s how I have been addressing this. I’ve been intentionally focused on getting feedback so I can address my blindspots. Since the perception of my team directly influences my impact, it seemed important for me to actually understand their perception. My other action step has been to track the alignment between my words and actions. Nothing undermines credibility faster than a word-action gap, so I’m working hard to be consistent. This is worth the effort for all of us, because strong character inspires trust, while weak character undermines influence.

My fear is that this post will fall into the category of pre-flight safety speeches. You’ll hear it, but it won’t really land because you’ve heard it too many times before. Here’s the challenge – secure your own oxygen mask first. Focus on your own self-management, prioritize growing your emotional intelligence, and pay attention to the alignment between your words and actions. The payoff is worth the effort.