Failing Upwards: Put on your own mask before assisting others (Pt2)

Reflecting on my experiences with various leaders, managers, and bosses, I've gained insights into effective and ineffective leadership styles.

Failing Upwards: Put on your own mask before assisting others (Pt2)
Neons by Night, ZephrSnaps, 2024

If you haven't read part 1, check it out first, as this is a continuation.

From poor leaders, I've learned what doesn't work: breaking the team's trust, operating without transparency (a lack of communication), employing a destructive and unempathetic approach, micromanaging, and setting people up for failure. These traits have stood out as particularly detrimental in my observations.

In contrast to the negative leadership traits I've observed, my experiences with friends, influential leaders, and competent managers have taught me the core qualities essential for building and leading a successful team. These include:

  • Trusting Your Team: Believing in your team's ability to do their job is fundamental. This trust forms the foundation of a strong, cohesive team.
  • Encouraging Autonomy: Allowing self-sufficient individuals to work independently fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility. Setting clear expectations that the end goal is what matters and giving them the freedom to determine their work methods can lead to innovative and efficient outcomes.
  • Open Communication: Maintaining open lines of communication is crucial. It ensures everyone is on the same page and can contribute ideas and feedback freely.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Being transparent about decisions and processes helps build trust and understanding within the team. Encouraging accountability ensures that team members take responsibility for their actions and contributions.
  • Setting People Up for Success: It is vital to provide team members with the necessary tools, resources, and support to succeed. This not only helps in achieving team goals but also in individual professional growth.

These positive leadership qualities create an environment where team members feel valued, supported, and motivated to contribute their best work.

Glasgow by night, ZephrSnaps, 2023

I have always stood by the fact that the key points that draw me to a job are the following three:

  • Good People
  • Good Work
  • Good Money

If a job has all three, there's a good-to-high chance I will be happy doing what I'm doing. Provided there is a good structure in place, and the money and work are good, if there is bandwidth, the good people can be built around with ample support. Sometimes, all it takes is getting into a position where someone gives you a chance.

Put on your own mask before assisting others.

One of the most significant areas I have seen myself learn a lot about over the last year has been while looking out for your team should be an essential part of your role, you also need to look after yourself and put your own mask on before helping others with theirs. It underscores the importance of self-care and personal well-being as foundational to effectively leading and supporting a team.

The key things you need to keep in mind and do in any management role are understanding the importance of the following:

  1. Self-Care is Essential: Just as in an emergency on an airplane, you must secure your own oxygen mask before helping others, in management, you need to ensure your own well-being to be effective in supporting your team. This includes managing stress, maintaining work-life balance, and staying mentally and physically healthy.
  2. The Art of Delegation: Understanding how and when to delegate tasks is vital. Effective delegation helps manage your workload and empowers your team members, giving them opportunities to grow and develop their skills.
  3. Seeking and Valuing Advice: Recognising that you don’t have all the answers and being open to seeking advice is a sign of strength, not weakness. It demonstrates humility and a willingness to learn, essential leadership qualities.
  4. Leveraging Expertise: Knowing when to consult others for their expertise is crucial. It’s about recognising your team's strengths and specialisations and leveraging them effectively for the best outcomes.

Management vs Subject Matter Expertise

So, finally, the elephant in the room, often the path to progressive promotion is to follow the management track; how does one retain subject matter expertise while effectively balancing managing and leading a team?

Well, it is the path I've been pursuing over the last year, maintaining leadership over 9 consultants while balancing learning tooling, writing documentation, delivering client work and furthering my craft. How do you do it?

It's all about load balancing and carving out time in your diary to do the key things you need to do; admittedly need to take my own advice and carve out more time, but for the most part, I try to split my time between my team and my own self-learning. It has become evident that based on writing posts, tools and development, my personal brand has suffered; thus, this blog post and the previous one are the first I have written on zsec in a wee while!

Accidental snap on my camera this evening, ZephrSnaps 2024

So, have I failed upwards?

No, I would say I have; everything I do is calculated, but for the most part. My personal and professional growth approach has always been strategic and calculated. However, my commitment to helping others along the way is a vital aspect of this journey. I believe that success is not just about individual achievements but also about the positive impact we can have on those around us.

By sharing knowledge, offering support, and encouraging opportunities for others, I aim to contribute to a broader culture of growth and collaboration across whatever I do. This philosophy expands my experiences and helps me build a robust, supportive network that benefits everyone involved.

If you're interested in more of my pics they're available on and