Home FieldsBusiness “When traveling with children, if emergency oxygen masks deploy, put your mask on first.“ – FAA

“When traveling with children, if emergency oxygen masks deploy, put your mask on first.“ – FAA

written by Miriam Ufberg 29 June 2007

Miriam Ufberg, MAPP, lives in New York City where she manages a yoga studio, which is part of the first national family of studios. She is a registered yoga instructor with a focus on scoliosis and spinal fusions. Her Positive Psychology focus is positive organizational development, leadership, authenticity, and the role of meaning in life and character strengths for emerging adults. Full bio.

Mimi's articles are here.

Oxygen mask

Oxygen mask

I recently flew from New York to Miami to visit my sister, brother-in-law and 3 amazing nephews (all under the age of 5!). It was remarkable to see my sister care for each child’s every need as though her own needs and desires hardly existed. Perhaps that’s why on my return flight to New York I was more aware of this FAA safety regulation. At first it sounded strange…”When traveling with children, if emergency oxygen masks deploy, put your mask on first.” Isn’t it always a parent’s job to put their child’s safety first?

Carol Gilligan’s Stages of Moral Development (see below), which stemmed from the idea that women’s stages of development differ from men’s as Kohlberg, Piaget and Erikson had laid out, explains that first one learns to care for oneself, then one internalizes norms about caring for others and tends to neglect oneself, finally one becomes critical of the conventions one has adopted and learns to balance caring for self with caring for others.

Carol Gilligan’s Stages of Moral Development

Stage Goal
Preconventional Goal is individual survival
Conventional Self sacrifice is goodness
Post-Conventional Principle of nonviolence: do not hurt others or self


Whether it is our roles as parent, leader, manager, teacher or caregiver many of us become caught in the conventional web of self-sacrifice equating with goodness. To go further we may even become attached to this identity, in that we want our children, constituents, team members, students and patients to see that we are sacrificing ourselves for their betterment; we believe that that’s how they can see our value. But as Gilligan’s model explains this conventional view is an intermediary stage along our paths that warrants further development.

Robert Quinnbook about business leadership in his book Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, describes the Normal State and the Fundamental Leadership State below:

Figure 1: Quinn’s ‘Normal’ State


Figure 2: Quinn’s ‘Fundamental State of Leadership’ State


A tendency in leaders, as we see them today is to believe that the job requires them to know the right answer, the right time, the right direction, never leaving room for error or uncertainty, except the certainty of falling into a rabbit hole. The belief is that always knowing what is right makes a leader; that is what exhibits an ability to ‘be in control.’ Missing the reality that this sort of action is only a concern for individual survival.

Putting the two models together, we can only become effectively and safely ‘Other- Focused’ and ‘Externally-Open’ if we are ‘Internally-Directed,’ and we can only be ‘Internally Directed’ if we take time to care for ourselves, to be aware of our own values and worth. As the FAA goes on to explain “This advice may seem cruel, but there is a very practical reason for it. If the brain is starved of oxygen, one can get confused or pass out and be unable to help themselves or their child.”

It doesn’t seem healthy or beneficial to others around us to neglect our ourselves in our pursuits to guide others.

There is another interesting link between these two models. While Gilligan’s model initiated from the need for a more female-focused explanation of moral development, I would argue that it carries validity for both male and female when acting in a leadership capacity.

As spiritual teacher Mark Whitwell addresses, we’ve become focused on the duality of things: right/wrong, male/female, giver/receiver, leader/follower, but Quinn’s fundamental state of leadership acknowledges that being a leader requires being externally open, which may result in following the ideas of others. Perhaps the role of leader and follower is less dualistic than we perceive it?

We progress by recognizing our capacities to lead and follow. In the same way, we progress by recognizing the non-duality of our masculine and feminine sides. Our feminine side is associated with being in touch with emotions.

As Kouzes and Posner have brought to light in their leadership book Encouraging the Heart, working in a professional environment does not require checking your heart at the door. In this book they report research from the Center for Creative Leadership that found the single factor that differentiated the most successful managers from the least was higher scores on affection, expressed and wanted.

Bottom line:

  • “Always give from the oveflow of the well, not its depth” –Sufi saying
  • Get in touch with your feminine side



Gilligan (1982, 1993). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Reissue.

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Quinn, R. (2004). Building the bridge as you walk on it: A guide for leading change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Oxygen mask courtesy of mockstar

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Jeff Dustin 30 June 2007 - 5:17 am


I believe in the contextual nature of leadership. In certain environments nurturant behavior makes a lot of sense. Raising children, counseling a coworker or friend, helping professions: all of these point to nurture as effective behavior. Other battlestations environments: engaging enemy combatants, fighting fires and surgery suggest that nurture would appear to waste resources like time.

The riddle seems to be: why do so many Negative Nellies appear to survive and prosper in business and other socially Darwinistic environments? If nurture was the superior tactic across the board, why don’t we have a majority of men who are kind and sensitive and are willing to give up Monday night football to spend time discussing feelings? Why didn’t the market, nature or social pressure weed out these competitive losers? There must be some edge conferred by something that are doing right, despite the disadvantages of their more ego-driven personalities. They might use their strengths to compensate for their low scores on humanity.

I love what you’re saying, there definitely is a time and place for nurturance, but maybe the results that you seek & achieve should determine your strategy.

Tear this argument apart Ladies and Gentlemen!

Miriam Ufberg 30 June 2007 - 10:19 am


I appreciate the comments and the offer to tear the argument apart.

1. Nurturance occurs way before the urgent situations that you suggest like engaging enemy combatants, fighting fires and surgery. Wouldn’t you think it would set the tone for how these high pressure situations are handled? I imagine its too late too receive nurturance then. If you are implying that in order to get the ‘tough stuff’ done leaders need to be strict, consider George Lakoff’s Strict Father vs. Nurturant Mother/Parent model which he uses to discuss the difference between liberal and conservative views on how government should lead:

“I should say at the outset that virtually all of the mainstream experts on childrearing see the Strict Father model as being destructive to children. A nurturant approach is preferred. And most of the child development literature within the field of developmental psychology points in one direction: childrearing according to the Strict Father model harms children: a Nurturant Parent model is far superior.”

2. You took a nice big leap there inferring that men should give up Monday night football to talk about their feelings…a bit of stereo-typing there, ya think?

3. With the climate as it is now, the trend appears to be moving away from the direction of ego-driven CEOs. Check out this article to shed some light on your belief that the ego driven CEO are ‘surviving and prospering’: http://www.worldbusinesslive.com/article/625439/the-end-ego-ceo/

“It’s fashionable to say that the late 1990s and early 2000s were an era of irrational exuberance populated by larger-than-life chief executives. Citigroup was headed up by the legendary dealmaker Sandy Weill, ‘Neutron’ Jack Welch commanded GE and Michael Eisner held the helm at Disney. And these were the relatively good guys. The dark side of this phenomenon was Kenneth Lay at Enron, Worldcom’s Bernard Ebbers and in all likelihood Hollinger’s Conrad Black. Finally, presiding over this from 2001, we had George Bush, the self-styled ‘CEO President’…”

The author goes on to indirectly point to elements of Quinn’s model of the State of Fundamental Leadership:

“So there is certainly some general feeling that the CEO style has changed in the wake of Enron et al and with the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002. “There definitely has been a change in the type of leader,” says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at global PR firm Weber Shandwick. “They are quieter and more measured, and very focused on holding on to their credibility.”

“Yet, she adds, at the same time, CEOs need to communicate more. “The drama of all the scandals has finally made it into the public consciousness in a big way. They have to prove themselves on a daily basis and this means being very open.”


Kathryn Britton 30 June 2007 - 9:42 pm

Hey Mimi,

Reminds me of the research that Marty Seligman mentioned to us — that the character strength most closely associated with leadership in the army is the ability to love and be loved. He also told us that the love strength ranks somewhere around 22 out of 24 in army surveys about what is important in leaders. Go figure.


(And, no, I don’t have a citation …)

Miriam Ufberg 1 July 2007 - 12:24 am

Thanks for that reminder Kathryn! I’ll look around and see if I can dig up that research.

Jeff Dustin 3 July 2007 - 3:39 pm


You had me at nurturance. While on a Likert scale of 1 to 7, 7 being totally agree and 1 being totally disagree, I would say my general agreement with you is around 6.

Here are my counterpoints:

There are certain specific situations where the strict model simply is superior in terms of bottom-line results. Let’s take childrearing where globally the nurturant model is considered a better method for children’s outcomes, things like sociability, self-efficacy, etc. Well and good, but can you imagine instances where strictness trumps nurturance? Let me present a few ideas:

1. Your child is reaching for a hot stove and there is little time to explain the hotness of the stove will burn the teensie hands. Hollering: “Hey stop it!” may prove a quicker and more prudent course.

2. A shadowy figure approaches you on the street and accosts you…do you nurture him and sympathize with his need for your money…probably not. You might fight or flee or even shout for help, but none of these are particularly nurturant behaviors.

3. Consider Jon Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis. He presents posttraumatic growth and how it is possible that overcushioning our children raises a weaker society. Just where does nurturance stop and coddling begin?

4. NFL Monday night football draws a wide range of viewers, but I’m sure the vast majority are sensitive tee-totalling women 😉 My point was that ego-driven people, neither male or female, have a tough time adopting a totally foreign strategy of becoming touchy-feely and nurturant.

5. I promise to stop at 5 points! Finally, I would not suggest that you have to be strict to get things done, unless the situation calls for it. I bet you are right that the majority of the time, the best default position is probably nurturant. However, it is not a panacea, that is taking the concept beyond feasability. Have you read Primal Leadership? Consider that the pacesetter and commanding styles of leadership, which correspond to strict styles, are at times appropriate in certain environments and contexts.

In short, I think I’d enjoy a definition of nurturance in concrete, behavioral terms and also claims that are supported by concrete evidence that nurture is clearly superior, in context, to the strict model. I’d find that argument more convincing.

Jeff Dustin 3 July 2007 - 4:05 pm

Dear Kat (and Friends),

Thank you dearly for giving me knowledge to help my wife’s career troubles.

I have one question that your expertise might be able to help. The subject is grief and grieving. What is an appropriate time to stop grieving for the loss of something valuable? What is your model for grieving? How does PP approach grief?

My wife is now stuck on the belief that the “World of Work isn’t Fair”. Here’s a woman who has glowing reviews in her field, gives practical, upbeat interviews with employers following time-tested interviewing techniques and still has gotten no replacement job. Atop that she feels helpless to change her situation much because objectively the hiring decisions are not in her control and the things she does have control of appear to have little effect on getting her a job.

Let’s say you were unemployed and perhaps had to give up your home and possibly living with your family because finances were just not there, how would you grieve or would you buck up and smile through the pain?

Or do u think griefs serve a legitimate purpose? Does turning off grief ignore the significance of your time with your loved ones and the valuable things that you own?
People often seems to cherish their grief and nurse it and don’t want to give it up, even though it hurts.

Put differently, what empirically supported tools can PP offer to those who are having a real objective rough patch, not just distorted thinking? Again we come back to motivation…there’s just no way around it!

Reframing sure works, but what if the other person is unwilling to employ it? Are there good ways to present this new way of perceiving a situation that will honor the right to grieve while still promoting a more efficacious way of seeing?

Sherri Fisher 10 July 2007 - 9:42 pm

Hi, Miriam–

The research you and Kathryn are looking for (love and leadership among West Point Cadets might get you the citation)is Chris Peterson’s.

Great article, great rebuttal points,
especially “Nurturance occurs way before the urgent situations…like engaging enemy combatants, fighting fires and surgery.”

In response to Jeff’s comment:

Having raised two kids I am surprised that love and proactive relational approaches can be confused with coddling. Positive Psychology principles are clear that flourishing depends on things like self-regulation, self-efficacy and self-determination, all of which can be learned in loving and proactive families, and which are acceptable outcomes to authoritarian folks. Proactive means making the limits clear and working on prevention instead of treatment.

Regarding the hot stove, most situations that kids get into are developmental (the three-year-old is not taking the keys and keeping self and car out past curfew) and can be prevented with proactive and educated parenting. Some things end up learned most effectively through experience. For an interesting book about this in the extreme, try John Callahan’s memoir, Don’t Worry: He Won’t Get Far on Foot.

Thanks, Miriam, for sharing your positive approach!

🙂 Sherri

Senia 11 July 2007 - 3:34 am


In fact, some HR consultants say that the worst thing that can happen to an employee is when he checks his heart or checks himself at the door.

Love it how the FAA announcement connected for you thoughts about the Gilligan research.

And very neat how the Gillian and the Quinn research overlap on the “Internally Directed.: I can completely see that.

My favorite part of your article is the reminder to be “Externally Open” and to move outside the comfort zone for discovery. That’s part of your counterargument as well to leaders that aim for the right decision, at the right time, in the right direction. Is life really all about trial-and-error that makes you grow, just like when we were kids and playing?

Vickie Gray 20 November 2008 - 8:12 am

I love this thread.

It’s interesting to me as an adaptive coach to look at the themes in terms of adaptability and resilience:

Adaptability requires connection with others in order to learn – we cannot adapt as effectively alone as we can with help because we cannot singularly know all there is to know (no matter how much we surf the internet!).

Connecting assumes people/groups to connect with and therefore previously developed trusting relationships.

That reflects on the “nurturance before firefighting” theme.

Quinn’s model raises another theme for me in being internally directed and externally focused. Adaptability requires taking effective action in new directions in order to successfully respond to change. WHAT directions is going to be driven by previously internalized learning, currently noticing what is important in the external environment, synthesized with input from the connections you’ve made. Combining all of that with Gilligan’s model, those who have achieved post-conventional moral development are more likely to build trust, and therefore a reliable network of connections, resulting in valuable inputs for successful adaptation.

Great discussion! Thank you!



Wonderful food for thought!


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