Project Practitioners > Find Your Ethos

Find Your Ethos

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Pete Carroll is the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League (NFL). Carroll is known as a player’s coach, meaning players like to play for him. Authoritarian figures do not necessarily have a buddy-buddy feel to them. Carroll does.

He is one of the few to successfully make the transfer from college coach to the professionals. This transition is difficult because, in college, a coach has a pick of players. There is no salary cap to restrict who can play for what team.

Coaches like Carroll could get the best players at each of their positions and have them sit on the bench because their rosters were so deep with talent. The wealth of talent makes a coach’s job much easier in college. Plus, what they say goes in college. They have the ultimate power.

In the NFL, coaches have limited power. Players make more money than them, and the fans come to see the players play and do not care how the coach feels. The salary cap limits the talent a team has. If you had the best player at each position, you could not afford to have a team. $25 million per player is an unreasonable ask, yet in college, that equivalent exists.

Carroll’s success as a coach comes from an ethos he developed over time for his teams. These eight items are supplanting into the minds of his players. No matter the situation or score, if his players follow these guidelines, success is bound to come.


  1. Always compete.

Play to the whistle blows and until the clock reads zeroes. An office equivalent is from 9 am to 5 pm, you are in the moment. No outside distractions. Your game face is on. Focus is on the task at hand. Passing the buck or finger-pointing is not an option. Everyone plays their role and pulls their weight in the same direction.


  1. Protect the team.

You are in this together. If the project fails, everyone fails. Even though a name, owner, or sponsor takes the ultimate fall, the team is not protected. You had a mission to succeed, and it did not happen. Protecting the team also means you have each other’s back. You pick up the person next to you when they are struggling. You are happy when someone else succeeds.


  1. Leave no doubt.

Make the most successful project or team that much more successful. There are no flukes or one-offs. You are succeeding because you have the recipe for success. Luck is only a small portion of the reason. Leave no doubt in the eyes of others that you know what to do and how to do it.


  1. Play in the absence of fear.

Sports require reaction instead of thinking. Thinking causes fear. Reacting causes action. Overthinking about how to word an email or if you should make the call to an owner builds this fear that paralyzes an individual. If you are operating without fear, decisions become easier and quicker because the consequences do not scare you. Play, or manage, in the absence of fear.


  1. Stay in the moment.

An emergency water heater spraying water everywhere will get people to act really quick. If you operate out of the moment, you start to think about mold everywhere and the house flooding when in reality the tenants shut off the water quickly enough to save everything, and only the downstairs ceiling got water damage. Staying in the moment allows you to deal with the problem as it comes rather than speculating.


  1. Support individuality.

We are all humans after all. Each of us has a story of heartbreak, failure, success, overcoming obstacles, and so on. Allow those individual stories to be shared. I am not saying go around the room and ask everyone their names and where they are from like in grade school, but I am saying get to know the nuances of working styles and personalities. When you find out those answers, use them to your and the individual’s benefit.


  1. Be an excellent communicator.

Continuous feedback loops are important. Official, sit down reviews are great but commenting in the moment can have a greater impact than a meeting three months later about this same topic. Communication is not only for trying to make things better but also recognizing what is working. Project managers tend to focus on improving rather than what the team member is doing great right now.


  1. Have fun, show lots of love.

In the end, we all have the same fate. No one survives so you might as well enjoy the ride. If you are not having fun (at least sometimes), time to look elsewhere. Life is too short to dread the commute to work or avoiding people at work because the last thing you want to do is talk to them. Projects and deadlines are stressful enough, no need for the environment to add more.



My personal mantra is “Show up and shut up.” I would never deliver this message to a team and expect anyone to follow suit. This message is specifically for me and my mindset. It is put your head down and get the work done. Everyone has problems and do not add to the stack.

This straightforward approach sometimes is perceived as standoffish. I do not mean it in that way. I focus on the present and do anything to make it happen. This mantra also bleeds consistency and discipline. There are no excuses to not show up and do your work. People depend on project managers for guidance and knowledge. Without your presence, neither of those are possible.

In jiu jitsu, everyone is sore and hurting. Talking about it does not make it better. In project management, everyone has to get things done yesterday and on tight deadlines. Talking about it does not buy you more time or resources.

What is your ethos or mantra? How has it helped you?

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