Team leaders are the backbone of any successful organization. They are responsible for guiding, motivating, and coaching their team members to achieve their goals. But how can team leaders develop the essential mindsets and skills that make them effective and positive leaders?
In his book Breathing Oxygen, Jason Barger reveals the six key mindsets that breathe life into winning cultures: clarity, inclusivity, agility, grit, rest, and ownership. He also shares practical tips and examples from his experience as a leadership expert and consultant for some of the world’s biggest brands.
If you want to learn how to become a better team leader and create a meaningful and productive work environment for yourself and your team, you need to read this book. In this article, we will give you a comprehensive summary and review of Breathing Oxygen, and show you how you can apply its insights to your own leadership journey.
Leadership, Business, Management, Self-Help, Personal Development, Psychology, Motivational, Nonfiction, Professional, Educational.
Breathing Oxygen is a book that explores the importance of positive leadership and culture in any organization. The author, Jason Barger, argues that just like every human being needs good air to breathe, every organization needs leadership that breathes life into its people.
He identifies six key mindsets that are essential for positive leadership: clarity, inclusivity, agility, grit, rest, and ownership. He explains what each mindset means, why it matters, and how to cultivate it in yourself and your team. He also provides practical tools and exercises to help you assess your current leadership style and improve it.
The book is divided into six chapters, each focusing on one of the mindsets. Each chapter begins with a personal story or anecdote from the author’s life or work, followed by a definition and explanation of the mindset, and then a series of questions and activities to help you apply the mindset to your own situation. The book also includes a self-assessment tool at the end, where you can rate yourself on each of the mindsets and identify your strengths and areas for improvement.
The six mindsets are:
- Clarity: The ability to define and communicate your vision, mission, values, and goals to yourself and your team. Clarity helps you align your actions with your purpose, and inspire others to follow your lead.
- Inclusivity: The ability to embrace diversity, equity, and belonging in your team and organization. Inclusivity helps you create a culture of trust, respect, and collaboration, where everyone feels valued and heard.
- Agility: The ability to adapt and respond to change, uncertainty, and complexity in your environment. Agility helps you innovate, experiment, and learn from your failures and successes.
- Grit: The ability to persevere and overcome challenges, setbacks, and obstacles in your way. Grit helps you develop a growth mindset, a positive attitude, and a strong work ethic.
- Rest: The ability to balance your work and life, and take care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Rest helps you recharge, recover, and renew your energy and focus.
- Ownership: The ability to take responsibility and accountability for your actions, decisions, and results. Ownership helps you empower yourself and your team, and foster a culture of excellence and continuous improvement.
Breathing Oxygen is a well-written and engaging book that offers valuable insights and advice for anyone who wants to become a better team leader and create a positive and productive work culture. The author draws from his extensive experience and research in the field of leadership and culture, and shares relevant and relatable stories and examples from his own life and work, as well as from other successful leaders and organizations.
The book is easy to read and understand, and provides clear and actionable steps and tools to help you implement the six mindsets in your own leadership practice. The book is also interactive and reflective, as it invites you to assess your own leadership style and skills, and challenges you to improve them.
The book is suitable for anyone who is interested in leadership and culture, whether you are a new or experienced team leader, a manager, a supervisor, or an individual contributor. The book is also relevant for any type of organization, whether you work in a small or large company, a nonprofit or a for-profit, a public or a private sector.
The book is not only informative and practical, but also inspiring and motivational, as it shows you how positive leadership and culture can make a difference in your own life and work, and in the lives and work of others. The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to breathe oxygen into their team and organization, and transform their team leadership skills.
Leaders must always be conscious, metaphorically, of the quality of the air they and their teams breathe in and out. Think of this air as your organization’s culture, its prevailing ideas and mindsets. Is the “air” in your workplace healthy or polluted? Does it build up your employees or break them down?
Consultant and author Jason V. Barger urges leaders to build their mindset and culture around six foundational attributes: “clarity, inclusivity, agility, grit, rest and ownership.” Leaders who focus on these priorities can be the breath of fresh air their people and their organization need.
- Working in a culture with a bad mindset is as damaging as breathing bad air.
- Productive leaders and their teams need six mindsets: “Clarity, inclusivity, agility, grit, rest and ownership.”
- 1. Clarity – Leaders need a clear vision that inspires others and motivates improvement.
- 2. Inclusivity – Team leaders value everyone’s contribution.
- 3. Agility – Flexibility is the fresh air that defines the best team leaders.
- 4. Rest – Everyone needs sufficient downtime to be effective.
- 5. Grit – Team leaders must be tough-minded and face trouble instead of running from it.
- 6. Ownership – Quality teams do the right work in the right way for the right reasons. They hold themselves accountable.
- To be sure your team members get your message, repeat it at least seven times.
Working in a culture with a bad mindset is as damaging as breathing bad air.
Bad air will make you feel ill, deplete your energy, deflate your performance, and undermine you and everything you say and do. To feel good, you need fresh, clean air – not polluted, toxic air. Just as people and teams need breathable air, they need a positive, productive and healthy mindset.
“In the same way that the chemical [oxygen] fuels the functionality of our entire body, so do the mindsets and actions that we experience each day.”
The best team leaders and their teams cultivate a state of mind and a culture that feeds “energy, possibility, connection and progress.” Such teams do not traffic in toxins like blame and negativity. They embrace positivity and beneficial change to make the air better for themselves and everyone around them. Having a positive or growth mindset puts you and your team in a better position to align your actions with your vision and values. To spark team positivity, share relatable stories and messages that will boost your team members’ vision, adaptability and sense of belonging.
Productive leaders and their teams need six mindsets: “Clarity, inclusivity, agility, grit, rest and ownership.”
These six cultural elements help your organization “breathe oxygen.” A growth mindset – as opposed to a fixed mindset – supports each of them. People with a growth mindset believe they can learn, change and advance, while those with a fixed mindset see the world as rigid. They aren’t grateful, and they don’t believe learning more or working hard can change anything.
“The best cultures anchor their values and vision for the future within every element of their organizational story. It’s the air they breathe.”
Demonstrate to your team members that you are grateful to them and appreciate their work. Celebrate their individual and group achievements, and give them time to connect with one another. Having a sense of gratitude even benefits your health. The UC Davis Medical Center in California outlined 12 positive effects of feeling grateful, including lower stress and less inflammation in people with congenital heart disease. People who suffer chronic pain and deliberately practice feeling grateful had a 10% boost in sleep quality, including the 76% of the test group who had insomnia; 19% of these subjects reported feeling less depressed.
As a team leader, help your team become strong and effective by cultivating these six crucial mindsets:
1. Clarity – Leaders need a clear vision that inspires others and motivates improvement.
To see how a committed leader with a clear vision can breathe oxygen into an organization, consider the Gonzaga University basketball team. The team from this small college in Spokane, Washington qualified for the NCAA Tournament for an amazing 22 years in a row. Only three other US colleges – The University of Kansas, Duke University and Michigan State, all substantially larger and richer – can match that record. Unlike any other college, Gonzaga made it into the “Elite Eight” for four of the six years leading up to 2022. Yet, in the early 1990s, almost no one outside of Washington had heard of Gonzaga. Its admissions were down, and the college was in financial trouble.
“The vision had clarity and direction. That doesn’t mean it was easy, or else everyone would have done it, and Gonzaga wouldn’t be this amazing example. They had clarity on how the mission of the basketball program connected with the overall university mission. They had clarity on the type of leadership they wanted.”
Gonzaga’s athletic director Mike Roth suggested a bold solution: Invest heavily in men’s basketball. He convinced college president Father Robert Spitzer to pour resources into the program even though it was losing money. This idea ignited the school’s success. Gonzaga became a basketball powerhouse, and its admissions and financial problems vanished. Applications have tripled since 1999 when the college’s budget was $72.7 million; by 2017, it was $283 million. Roth’s vision worked. As a team leader who could – like Roth – breathe oxygen into your team and your organization, do you have a clear vision?
2. Inclusivity – Team leaders value everyone’s contribution.
Creating a team that encompasses a diversity of backgrounds, opinions and ideas adds oxygen to your culture. Good leaders know that opening their team’s door to a variety of people brings in fresh ideas, so they welcome members of all backgrounds, based on their ability to contribute. Every leader has the opportunity to create inclusion, but that requires approaching your team members with warmth, not cynicism. Seek understanding instead of finding fault. Diversity comes with challenges and mistakes will happen, but with some grace, bringing different people together can make a team stronger and more aware.
Leadership is not a matter of exercising power or control just to serve a few top executives while neglecting everyone else’s needs. True leaders aren’t despots. They don’t cling to the top of the prestige pyramid, barking commands. Instead, they position themselves at the base of the pyramid to serve the people they lead. Real leaders model mutual respect, good character and intentional action. They treat their followers with respect.They are empathetic, trustworthy, optimistic, creative and honest.They shun gossiping, blaming, bullying, wasting energy and rushing to judgment. They’re strong collaborators who lead their teams in problem-solving.
“Leaders who breathe [the] oxygen of inclusivity and [the] mindset that we are stronger together into their own life and those around them will be more compelling, influential and effective.”
These leaders are role models because they are deliberate and intentional. When their team sets out to meet a goal, they help each person define his or her necessary, logical next steps. They are open about performance expectations. They plan, organize and control their own actions and attitude. They strategize and think ahead to determine the right way to serve their organizational goals and their teams.
3. Agility – Flexibility is the fresh air that defines the best team leaders.
The best team leaders have “mental agility.” Instead of succumbing to the rigidity of a fixed mindset, they embrace the flexibility and open-mindedness of a growth mindset. They’re willing to explore new possibilities and try new problem-solving approaches. While clear-headed and realistic, they think positively about the potential of the future. Instead of reading “OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE” as “opportunity is nowhere,” they read it as “opportunity is now here.”
“It’s way easier to cling to the patterns, routines or ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ It takes practice to breathe in a new way.”
The way you direct your thinking and build your willingness to embrace possible change can reshape how you understand what you can accomplish. Knowing the difference between convergent and divergent thinking gives you one way to understand the importance of breaking old habits and seeing the world differently. Convergent thinking looks for the expected “right” answer; it seeks patterns and known strategies. Divergent thinking is creative and considers multiple paths; it can be “spontaneous” and “nonlinear.” The best leaders can work in both modes without getting stuck in old routines or impractical tangents.
4. Grit – Team leaders must be tough-minded and face trouble instead of running from it.
Great team leaders are resilient and teach resilience to their teams. They don’t give up, and they strive to come out on top. These leaders draw resolve and inspiration from the accomplishments of other tough-minded leaders who’ve overcome seemingly impossible odds.
“Nothing great has ever been accomplished without conscious leadership and the collective spirit of a team culture focused on a mission greater than self.”
Take rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson. This pair of hardy souls lived on and became the first climbers to conquer Yosemite National Park’s Dawn Wall, one face of the 3,000-foot granite slab called El Capitan. To do so, the two intrepid rock climbers had to hang 1,200 feet in the air for 19 days in their “base camp portaledge (think hanging cot),” dangling from the cliff, buffeted by 40-mph winds. As you consider their persistence and ultimate achievement, think of the conquering heroes who inspire you. Ask what you can absorb from their accomplishments. As you establish what toughness and grit mean for your team, don’t be afraid also to demonstrate your humanity and vulnerability.
5. Rest – Everyone needs sufficient downtime to be effective.
The typical leader isn’t a superhero. Like every other mortal, leaders need the proper amount of rest after a hard day’s work to recharge physically, mentally and emotionally.
“The research found that world-class performance is achieved when 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is combined with 12,500 hours of deliberate rest and 30,000 hours of sleep.”
Unfortunately, many leaders, often including senior executives, shrug off the need for rest and recuperation. They find honor in being busy, and they tend to focus on work, work and more work. The wrongheaded attitude, “I’ll rest when I’m dead” is not all that uncommon among executives and managers, but, it is harmful, not smart. To be professionally sharp, everyone needs enough sleep and recuperative time. Rest is “the secret to elite performance.”
6. Ownership – Quality teams do the right work in the right way for the right reasons. They hold themselves accountable.
Real leaders hold themselves accountable. They stress responsibility and authenticity. They follow through on their promises, which amounts to exhaling oxygen that directly benefits their team. However, many leaders aren’t good at following up,and employees find it hard to respect an irresponsible boss. You can’t lead people if you don’t accept responsibility for yourself.
Great teams with strong leaders believe in “collective ownership” and the power of a sustaining culture. Their members know that the way they do things – with purpose and meaning – matters as much as what they do. They own their work: they commit to doing their part to create a better organization.
“Some of us are leaders by title, but most are leaders by the sheer reality that someone is watching the way we move throughout our [lives]…and is taking cues from how we respond. We are influencing them.”
In contrast, weak teams with poor leaders often suffer a lack of dedication and ownership. They plod through their work in a hollow culture. They wish for a sense of purpose, but just don’t have that “galvanizing spirit.” They’re going through the motions – and sadly, they know it. Lacking quality leaders who breathe oxygen into their air, such teams languish. Instead of adding oxygen, inadequate leaders – those who are selfish, arrogant or incompetent – often extract the oxygen from the air, creating an atmosphere where no one can breathe.
The members of well-led teams in sustaining cultures know their work is important. They embrace their responsibilities with the understanding that they are making a meaningful contribution. Yet such teams are apparently all too rare. Recent research shows “nine out of every 10 [people]…say they would take a pay cut to have a job with more meaning.” Findings indicate that 54% of employees are “not engaged” and don’t feel attached to their jobs.
“Psychologist Herbert A. Simon said, ‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.’ With more and more information coming at us, we are becoming more busy, cluttered, distracted, and scattered in our performance. We are becoming less efficient in many ways…”
If you are on such a dispirited team or have become the leader of one, consider what you could do to generate a more hopeful, engaged culture that defeats mindlessness and sparks energy – for your team’s benefit and your own. To start, try to breathe the oxygen of a positive, growth mindset – marked by commitment, responsibility and a sense of accomplishment – into yourself and those around you.
To be sure your team members get your message, repeat it at least seven times.
Breathing oxygen into yourself, your team and your culture isn’t a one-and-done effort; instead, it’s “rinse and repeat.” Use the clearest possible language to describe your team’s tactics, purpose, values and aspirations. Since adding oxygen is a matter of how you communicate as a leader, you must make sure your team receives and understands your messages. That calls for following the “rule of seven.”
“[There are] voluntary ways that we can breathe good oxygen into ourselves and others. Proactively. It’s about establishing pathways in our brains that allow us to fuel ourselves and others in life-giving ways.”
As marketing professionals at the biggest beverage corporations demonstrate in their work for such brands as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, this rule states that for a message to be received and acted on, its originator must deliver it to its intended audience seven times. In today’s world where constant messages bombard people, you may need to repeat your message more than that for your team members to act on it. But, if you can communicate well and establish the right team mindset – based on clarity, inclusivity, agility, grit, rest and ownership – the hard work will be worth it, and the oxygen you breathe will energize your team and your organization.
About the Author
Consultant Jason V. Barger is also the author of Thermostat Cultures, Step Back from the Baggage Claim and ReMember. The founder of Step Back Leadership LLC, he is a frequent keynote speaker on leadership, values and vision.