Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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What are your values?


Those things that your organisation tells you about at your induction, but then you never see or hear of them ever again.

According to a report in the Financial Times in the UK last year, Maitland, a financial PR company, found that 3 words – integrity, respect and innovation – crop up over again in the values of FTSE100 companies.

It’s not that these are the wrong words (although I’m amazed that ‘agile’ wasn’t in there!), it’s just that if people are told that these are their values, rather than being engaged in a process to uncover them, then it’s very easy to disengage from them. One sure sign of this disengagement is seeing these values pinned up next to a desk as a reminder.

Values aren’t things to be pinned up. They’re things that we live, regardless of the situation that we’re in. They define our leadership style, our approach to problem solving and are the things that we become known for.

Rosa Parks stood for racial equality. Florence Nightingale for clean hospitals and Mikhail Gorbachev for openness and restructuring.

So, what defines you?

Quite often, this feels like too big a question to answer and we don’t really know where to start. So let me help you. List the things that you don’t like or that you think are wrong. These should be single words e.g. confusing documents would be ‘complexity’ or too much paperwork would be ‘bureaucracy’. Then next to these words, write their opposite. For example, complexity = simplicity, stagnation = progression and so on and then keep the latter.

Next, list the things that are important to you e.g. ‘family’, ‘timeliness’ or ‘involvement’.

Now, compare the two lists and strike through the duplicates. Once you have completed that, list the 10 most important things to you, then break them down to five. These are your core values.

If they don’t feel right – and you’ll know immediately – go back to your lists and do the exercise again until you have the top five that you’re happy with.

Always one to practice what I preach, I ran this exercise again prior to writing this chapter and here’s my top 10.

  1. Family
  2. Equality
  3. Simplicity
  4. Democracy
  5. Education
  6. Improvement
  7. Care
  8. Humility
  9. Laughter
  10. Mastery

I live all 10 of these at home and in my work, there’s no distinction between the two places. This is what it means to be authentic. Equality at home is just as important as equality in the workplace. Same with laughter!

Yet it’s fair to say that these values are different than they were 10 years ago. In that time my life has changed and I’ve grown as a person. I’ve become more compassionate, humble and generous. I’ve learned lots of new things and met lots of great people. I’ve had money and been flat broke. I got married, became a father (twice), emigrated (twice) and worked for and with over 20 organisations in many different sectors.

I know the right way to do things in 2016 and it’s not the way we were doing things in 2010. I also know that by 2020, that will have changed again.

That’s the thing with values. They’re part of our evolution and our drive to be better versions of ourselves.

This is why I’m so dedicated to working with organisations who value the role of project management and understand its role in the successful transformation of the things that they do. Organisations who value relationships and collaboration. Organisations that encourage the values of the conscious project leaders they employ and provide an environment where authenticity is embraced.

These are my work families. Where decision-making is shared in pursuit of the right result and everyone is trusted to deliver regardless of race, sex, age or experience. Where continuous improvement is seen as a valuable investment not a ‘resource’. Where mastery is the goal but taking yourself seriously is not. Where credit is given to the team and everyone shares in its success.

Every new day gives us the opportunity to be better people. What are you waiting for?

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