Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First and Watch Your Career Take Off

As a professional woman, are you very good at looking after everyone else’s needs but less good at caring for yourself? Do you think about your boss, your team and your colleagues before considering your own priorities? At home, are you always focusing on the needs of your children, partner, parents and friends and put yourself at the bottom of the list? Do you sometimes secretly find yourself asking: What about ME?

This is very true of many women leaders in the City with whom I work and some men too. How does this focus on others play out in terms of  your career success, relationships, health and happiness? Are you where you want to be in your career?

Who Supports Human Resources Professionals?

Some roles are by their very nature focused on others. HR professionals, for example, spend so much of their time supporting and developing others but who supports and develops them?

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Whenever I fly, I am always struck by the instruction to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone with whom you are traveling. Initially this sounds so counter intuitive. As a mother, how could you possibly attend to your own well being before that of your child, for example? However, thinking about it further, how would you be able to help your child if you pass out through lack of oxygen?

How does this apply to you as a  leader? Do you find yourself thinking about everyone’s else’s needs and forget your own? How creative are you when exhausted? Or how can you personally grow and maximise the value you add if you arrange development for your team but never make time for your own learning or postpone your executive coaching sessions?

Focusing on Your Own Needs is Not Selfish

For women leaders and aspiring leaders, the reluctance to focus on their needs often stems from a feeling that it would be selfish to do so. However, not focusing on your own development and well-being ultimately means that others lose out as well, as your performance suffers. In order to become a leader you need to focus on your development. To remain a leader you need to keep growing – and create a sustainable work-life balance.

Create A SHIFand Your Career Will Take Off

In order to help women to develop as leaders, I have developed  a five step SHIFT Leadership Framework:

  1.   S – Strengthen Your Presence – A strong personal brand enables you to be authentic, credible and connect with people at all levels. Your brand also includes managing your energetic presence, personal image and communication, including body language.
  2. H – Harness Your Potential – This includes identifying and capitalising on your strengths as well as being clear about which weaker areas are “mission critical” and maximising time and energy. Creating  balance between work and other aspects of life is also vital for sustainable career success.
  3.  I – Initiate Supportive Relationships – It is necessary to develop supportive relationships within your current work setting- including sponsors – as well as in a wider professional network. It is important to be able  to initiate these relationships, enhance your influence and also handle difficult relationships.
  4. F – Focus on Strategy – To be a successful leader requires developing more of a “big picture” approach and increasingly focusing on the strategic aspects of your role and the business as a whole. It is also helpful to take a strategic approach to your career as a whole.
  5. T – Think Like a Leader – Thinking like a leaders underlies all the other aspects of the SHIFT framework. It is necessary to develop a leadership mindset. This includes handling the “little voice” of doubt that we all have in our heads and also learning to let go of some of what we have excelled at to date in order to take on even higher level leadership tasks.

To Find out More

If you would like to learn more how you can make a SHIFT or how you can help support the women leaders and future leaders in your organisation to do so, please visit:


Invitation To An Evening Event in London: Developing Women Leaders – Thursday 29 September 2016 – 5.15pm

For  a hands-on experience of how YOU can make a SHIFT in your career, we would love to invite you to join us on Thursday evening. For more information and to book a free place, please follow the link below:


We do hope you can join us!

Catherine Cuffley is an executive coach who specialises in helping organisations in the the City of London to develop their women leaders. This helps organisations to optimise their talent and women to maximise their contribution and fulfil their potential. She works one to one with leaders and runs group programmes. She is in the process of writing a book, ”SHIFT: Insights From a City Coach on Succeeding as an Authentic Woman Leader” informed by insights from neuroscience, to support women in fast tracking their career and developing as leaders. For more information, you may also like to connect with Catherine on LinkedIn.

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