A Lesson in Selfishness

by Onyeka Nchege on April 28, 2017

So many leaders think the most important thing about being an effective leader is leading people. But in reality, true leaders put themselves before everyone else. Sounds a bit arrogant, I know, but this very topic came up during a conversation among members of a mentoring group I lead.

To better understand the importance of helping yourself before everyone else, there is a terrific airplane analogy used to help inform the value of doing so. Every time we take an airplane, the flight attendants run through a presentation about safety precautions. In the event of an in-flight emergency, we’re instructed to secure our personal oxygen masks before helping others with theirs – including our own children. For any parent, helping yourself before your children seems out of the question. But there is a valid reason for this.

Imagine: You and I are sitting next to each other on a flight to Charlotte. Suddenly, the pilot informs all passengers of the in-flight emergency, instructing everyone on-board to utilize the oxygen masks that have been dispensed from above. You see I am struggling to secure my mask, so you stop what you’re doing and turn your attention to me to help me secure it properly. A heroic gesture, right? Not quite. You see, the idea of you trying to help me with my mask before securing yours points to four possible outcomes:

  1. If you do not help yourself first, you may die
  2. If you do not help yourself first, I may die
  3. If you do not help yourself first, we both may die
  4. If you do not help yourself first, you will eventually be of no use to anyone else

While drastic in illustration, the four possible outcomes underscore the point about why you should be selfish in growing yourself (secure your mask) first.  

Now, imagine the very same scenario, but before offering to help me with my mask, you secure yours first. You are now in an optimal position to help others who need it, including me.
Leadership is no different. You can’t possibly expect yourself to be of any value or assistance to anyone unless you’ve taken the time to take care of yourself first. This means investing in the time and resources necessary to recharge, grow, adapt and develop into an experienced, prepared and clear-minded individual. It’s not selfish, it’s imperative.  I can’t help you until I help myself.  I can’t pour into you until I have been poured into myself.  I can’t share what I know until I know what to share.  

Take Action: The next time you’re thinking of jumping in to help someone, think about whether or not you’re actually in a position to do so. Consider putting on your own oxygen mask before putting on someone else’s. Otherwise, you run the risk of running out of oxygen before you’re able to deliver it to anyone else.

Leadership on the GO…..It’s O.N


When Opportunity Knocks, Be Prepared to Answer

by Onyeka Nchege on March 5, 2017

I recently had an opportunity to learn directly from the great John C. Maxwell. I was attending a partner forum in Atlanta and was fortunate enough to be among the select few invited to listen to, learn from and engage with one of the most influential leaders in the world. And I jumped at the opportunity, because I recognized the value of learning directly from an internationally respected, “been there done that” (BTDT) leader.

But there once was a time I may have missed out on the opportunity altogether. One thing I picked up from this partner forum was how to truly recognize the value of an opportunity like this; the value of listening to and learning from someone who has proven, time and time again, to accomplish the things I continually strive to accomplish; someone who has the wisdom, experience and “battle scars” to accompany the trophies and the medals – all of the figurative indicators of success.

These opportunities are few and far between, so it’s absolutely crucial that we capitalize on them if and when they present themselves. But how can you prepare for those moments? What do you do when opportunity knocks and you have the opportunity to connect with a BTDT leader? The following represents what I believe are the six most important points to consider the next time opportunity knocks on your door:

What’s with the Sensi? – Before opportunity knocks, you must absolutely recognize the need to seek counsel and wisdom from others. My father always stressed that “no man is an island.” And while I may not have always understood that piece of wisdom, it’s clear to me now that he was reminding me that in order to be successful, others have to play a role and more importantly, you have to be willing and open to let others in to help. 

Ask the question – There’s a famous saying that reads, “a closed mouth never gets fed.” If you have an opportunity to get in front of a BTDT leader, you have to leverage your network to extend your reach to those who may be able to help you in your journey. Get in the habit of asking this one question of those you are connected with: “Who do you know that I should know?” Opportunity may knock on your door, but you have to find it first. 

Prep for success – When opportunity knocks on your door and you are moments away, days away, or months away from meeting with that BTDT leader, take the time to find out everything you can about that individual. Invest in your preparedness by asking yourself why you want to meet this person in the first place. What do you hope to get out of the meeting? And most importantly, think through and write down an exhaustive list of questions to ask the person. If your intention is to learn from someone who has achieved what you aspire to achieve, then you should come prepared to ask questions – it shows your level of seriousness

Respect the time/protect the time – This one is simple. Early is on-time, on-time is late, and late is unacceptable. And be sure to honor the time. One way to do this is to be fully engaged in the discussion and be mindful of not running over the allotted time without permission. Remove all distractions to avoid something stealing your attention away from the discussion. Your level of attention might be the difference maker in having a second meeting

Be a sponge – Soak in everything and leave nothing to chance. Take notes because you want no conversation to escape you. There’s always learning in every conversation. It’s amazing what you can forget when you don’t write things down. Don’t be that person that says “I don’t need to take notes, I’ve got a photographic memory. I will remember everything we talk about.”

Ready set go – Act on what you learned. Let nothing become stale, allow nothing to collect dust on your “mind shelf.” Put action to the plan. Squander no opportunity that comes from the conversation.

Coming out of my session with John C Maxwell, I was able to put all six points into action. Recognizing the need to connect with someone who has ”been there, done that” I scheduled a meeting with a former CIO who has led several business technology capability transformations and currently runs a successful technology solutions consulting organization. I walked away with several pages of valuable notes of DOs and DON’Ts that are already serving me well. I can’t wait to continue striving to achieve.

Take action: What are you waiting for? No man is an island. Ask the question today and prepare for when opportunity knocks.

Leadership on the GO…..It’s O.N


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