I was on a flight earlier this week and, for the first time in over two years, almost no one in the airport or on any of the airplanes I was on was wearing a mask. The flight attendants even made an announcement to be sure everyone knew that "while masks are no longer required by federal regulation, each person should respect the decision of those around them as to whether to wear a mask or not."

That's because, earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the federal mask mandate was illegal, and the CDC and Transportation Security Administration said they would no longer enforce it. That means, you don't have to wear a face mask when traveling by air in the U.S. (unless local governments still have a mandate in place).

Unless, of course, the plane starts to lose pressure. Then again, that's an entirely different type of mask, but as I traveled, it made me think about a mask rule every leader should embrace. Here's what I mean:

Planes fly at roughly 35,000 feet. The air at that altitude isn't breathable by humans. So, commercial airplanes are pressurized to around 8,000 feet. While the ability to get on an airplane and quickly reach faraway locations is really quite incredible, not being able to breathe is not at all incredible.

That's why, before every flight, the cabin crew goes through a safety briefing. You've probably heard it before. You know, the instructions on "inserting the flat metal flap into the buckle," or where to find an inflatable life vest, or the location of the emergency exits. I travel a lot, and I realize as I write this that I've heard it so many times I could probably recite the entire thing. 

One part, however, has always stuck out to me.

In the event of loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the panel above your head. Reach up and pull the mask towards you and place the strap behind your head. Pull on the ends of the strap to tighten your mask. Breathe normally and note that oxygen is flowing even if the bag does not inflate. If you're traveling with children or someone who needs assistance, place your own mask before helping others.

It's the last part that gets to me. "Place your own mask before helping others." I mean, that makes sense, right? If you're unconscious because your brain isn't getting enough oxygen, you're not going to be much help to anyone else. The person who needs your help with their mask needs you to be okay first. 

That's not complicated. On the other hand, if you're traveling with someone you care about and something happens that causes the oxygen mask in front of you to fall, maybe it's a parent thing but there's an instinct to immediately help your child. Somehow we think the best thing we can do is put them first. 

Except, again, if you pass out, and they don't know what to do, you haven't actually helped anyone. You have to be okay before you can help others be okay.

I love that principle because the same thing is true even if you aren't traveling where the oxygen is hard to breathe. It's true of every team you lead.

If you're burned out, tired, overworked, depressed, or overwhelmed, you're not going to be much good to the people who are counting on you. You can't lead in a healthy way if you're not healthy.

That means you, as a leader, need to take time off. It means you need to have boundaries. It means you need to shut off your notifications and get away. It means you need a vacation or a dog or a gym membership. It probably means a thousand different things for a thousand different people, but the rule is the same--you have to take care of yourself first.

To be clear, I don't mean you should be selfish. On an airplane, you don't take someone else's mask from them just so you can get more oxygen. They don't tell you to put your own mask on and let everyone else fend for themselves. The point of putting our own mask on first is so that you're able to help.

The point of making sure you're not burned out or overwhelmed is so you have enough margin left to lead well. Your team deserves that, which is why this is a mask rule every leader should embrace.