When my middle daughter, Morgan, was in first grade I was visiting her school for what I believe must have been a parent teacher conference. Her teacher, Mrs. Delsman, was explaining to me that Morgan was a huge help in the classroom. She said she especially enjoyed when she raised her hand to read to the class. She was amused at how Morgan would assume the role of “teacher” quickly and was eager to “remind” the other kids to “pay attention” or “keep your hands to yourself” in much the same way as Mrs. Delsman. She told me she thought Morgan would make a great teacher someday. As my chest was puffing with pride over my daughter learning such great leadership lessons at an early age (pipe down kids, I’m reading here!), Mrs. Delsman quickly moved on to the “and here is what she can work on” part of the conversation. Quickly regaining my senses, I inquired as to what was going on. She told me that Morgan loved to help others in the classroom (plus), however she said that sometimes she was so focused on helping everyone else complete their work, she didn’t do her own (delta). Hum. A good observation and lesson.

Thinking back on this lesson reminds me of what any airline traveler learns as they are buckling their seatbelts and getting ready to depart…even if you are only partly paying attention you have heard the flight attendant say, “in the event we lose cabin pressure, put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help the person next to you”. They know and probably you do too, you are really of no use to anyone if you can’t function.

As a working mom, I fell into this trap many times over the years. I was trying to attend to my family, my team, my boss and give them what they needed. I felt so compelled to help everyone else, I lost track of ensuring I was taking care of myself – mentally, physically and spiritually. If I’m honest, I probably spent too many hours on all the wrong things “thinking” it was for my own good. In the end I was run down, behind on everything and feeling like a failure. Been there?

As a certified leadership and business coach, listening and asking the right questions is the key to unlocking what’s next. The first thing to do is not beat yourself up. Put on that oxygen mask and go to work. Start by asking yourself some key questions to help you focus. What questions are right? Well, that depends on you. Some places to start:

1. What is on YOUR list (not others)? Make a list of everything you must do. The simple act of getting everything out of your head and onto paper or whatever your tracking device is can feel rewarding in and of itself.

2. What is important and what is urgent? Consider using the a time matrix (I am a fan of Franklin Covey’s, shown below) to put everything on your list into these buckets and then focus on what is north of the line.


3. What’s the most important thing you can do right now? Even though you may want to, you can’t do it all so pick a few things and then schedule the rest into your calendar.

4. What things can I either say no to, or not right now, or delegate? Deciding what goes on the “stop doing” or “not right now” list can be challenging, but can also deliver real relief. As a leader, think about what you can delegate so you are helping grow someone else’s skills.

5. What builds relationships and moves my most important life and business goals forward? As you are getting clear on what’s important, remember to consider the most important people in your life and the goals you have created.

As leaders, we can also help those we lead by asking the right questions. Being clear when co-creating goals and setting the right expectations help our team members feel empowered and fulfilled. Helping others is so rewarding, and it can be even more so when you have tended to your own needs first.

The feedback shared by Mrs. Delsman those many years ago has paid dividends. Morgan is now a sophomore in college, and is probably one of the most organized and self-aware people I know. Those early lessons have shaped her into a self-sufficient individual and supportive daughter and friend.