Please fit your own mask before helping others: self care tips for corporate change makers
You know that part in the airline safety videos that encourages you, in the event of an emergency, to fit your own mask before helping others? And how they always show you a video of a mother putting her own mask on first, before helping her child, because even though it feels wrong to do it in that order, you are no good to anyone if you are unconscious?
It really got me thinking. Like all things do. About life in the workplace.
Our industry has been “transforming” for over a decade now.
Some players have done it well. Some not so well.
But all have expanded human effort over and above any other resource. Not by over-staffing as they would have done in the good old days. These are lean years and we hire accordingly. The banks that did this half-heartedly and the banks that did this well have one thing in common: they hired small teams of very passionate people, gave them airtime and limited resources; gave them access to the top but no actual approvals; gave them permission to run around and instigate and trusted in their indefatigable commitment and personal drive.
Ten years on, these guys are still fighting. Uphill battles. Against the grain battles.
And they score small victories. And they don’t give up.
They rally and support. They pick things up where they have no place to be, but hey they see the opportunity. They support colleagues where they have no reason to be, but hey, we are all in this together.
They are cheer-leaders and connectors of dots and helpers and psychologists. And they are always there. Always on. Always ready to support. And they never seem to sleep or switch off or say you know what? I don’t actually care.
They wouldn’t fit their own mask first. They care.
The corporate change maker’s instinct is to help others, period. They would even give away their own mask. They will run up and down the aircraft helping others.
Because they think they can take it. Because they think there is always more in their tank, before a rest. Because they know that if they don’t pick things up nobody will.
You are not good to anyone if you are unconscious
The simple logic of fitting your own mask first is you can’t help anyone if you are unconscious. It’s not selfishness, it is logic. It is not just self preservation, it is actually good sense.
That means all sorts of things when it is at home.
When tired, rest.
Not just because you need the rest (though god knows you do) but because by resting you also make it ok for others to do the same.
The reality after ten years of this, is that we now know it’s a mammoth marathon. Endurance is key. Knowing to preserve strength is a skill nobody said was needed. And yet.
We all know the right thing to do but when the time comes, knowing it, is not enough. We also have to do it. Fitting your own mask first means the effort starts with each of us. But doesn’t stop there. That last bit appeals to us corporate change-makers. If anything, helping others is how we would be persuaded to our own masks first. But let’s face it, When crunch time comes, nobody can or will make you follow the instructions. All accountability comes from you. And knowing that about some of our colleagues makes us distinctly uncomfortable and we are craning our necks up and down the aircraft to see who has put on their mask but not helped others. Seeing if we can stretch enough to help.
Refusing to believe we can’t help everyone.
Stay close to the oxygen supply or “not your circus, not your monkeys”
Pretend this is an exercise and not an actual plane crash, to avoid unnecessarily dramatic analogies. Pretend it is an exercise aimed at teaching everyone that responsibility starts with each of us.
Even the ones who never seem to assume any responsibility, that is the lesson for them. That they can’t count on you to be the one to pick up the slack each and every time. They can’t always count on you to make up the difference, start the effort, sustain the pace, finish the work. The lesson for them, you know who they are, is that if your oxygen supply doesn’t stretch as far as where they (their project, market or business unit) sit, you will not be able to help.
You should not be expected to help.
It is actually wrong that you should even try to help.
That is their lesson.
Let them mull it over and translate it in their own time into budget discussions and remit redesigns. Let them digest it and maybe have them start thinking how helping you actually helps themselves. Let them consider and you may get that environment as a service sign-off you have been waiting for, or the business alignment you and the organisation both need.
That is their lesson. Let them learn it.
It is not your lesson. Don’t shield them from it, that will do them no good. Besides, you should be learning your own lesson in this time. Which isn’t “learn to help”. You know that bit already. This new lesson is uncomfortable as lessons always are. And yours is different.
Realising you are not enough, but you are plenty
You are not enough. That’s your lesson.
You cannot take on the burdens of the world or turn around the entire organisation. You cannot fit everyone else’s mask for them. You cannot and should not carry the worry about whether the others will fit their own masks correctly, whether the people next to them will be helpful.
If your organisation honours the fact that you are what it needs then let them prove it by hiring some friends for you. People like you. Who fit their own masks first. So that they can help others. People who care.
It is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure there is more of you.
Enough of you to not stretch you too thin. Enough of you to be how the organisation operates and not a permanently exhausted outlier, whose energy, personality and optimism become the hard currency of your organisation’s hopes for the future.
No matter how much you take on, you are not enough.
But when you are not alone, you are plenty.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!