Dr Fiona Bartels-Ellis OBE is Head of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the British Council where she sets and drives the strategic direction of the organisation’s work across its offices in 110 countries in support of its cultural relations activities. In June 2005 was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her equality and diversity work. In July 2008 she won the Ghana Professional Achievers (GPA) Award for humanitarian services to the UK and Ghana and in 2009 the Peter Robertson Award for Equality and Diversity Champions by ORC Worldwide.
My Definition Of Success | Success means different things to different people of course and there are different kinds and periods of success. In general terms, success for me is feeling at peace with one’s self and others. This needs the foundation of self-acceptance and self-awareness which involves recognising and knowing your strengths and weaknesses and working on your weaknesses if they create problems for you and others. It also means being honest about the thoughts, words and deeds that do not align with each other and doing something about bringing them into alignment. It is important to remember that ‘talk is cheap’ and ‘actions speak louder than words’. We are all uncertain about many things, whilst also having dreams and aspirations; it’s important though to get the right balance between realism and aspiration. I try to understand others and empathise with them and whilst this is not always easy, I think it is an important part of being what I define as successful and at peace with one’s self and others.
I Am Driven By | The things that drive me now are different from when I was younger. When I was younger I was driven to establish myself in the world of work, doing something stimulating that would enable me to grow and develop and bring me an income that meant I would be independent and have some form of at least modest financial security. I was also driven, quietly, to prove my father wrong. His approach was to be very slow to compliment, praise and encourage. His general stance was tough love.
Now I am driven to be someone who improves things in different, generally small ways, whilst also fulfilling my obligations to those around me as a mother, partner, sibling, friend, colleague, community member. I am also striving at this point in time to improve my work-life balance.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I would like to be remembered as an honest, open, compassionate person who contributed in small positive ways by helping people when they needed help and I could give it. I don’t want a legacy that says the world was made a worse place as a result of Fiona having been in it.
Critical Skills I Develop | I believe in being solution oriented, not problem focussed. If something is not working you have to change direction – if you keep doing the same thing, you will keep getting the same thing. I also believe if you fail to plan you are planning to fail – planning has an important role in my life but I don’t overdo it. I look ahead and make sure I can meet my commitments and responsibilities – I believe in being proactive, rather than reactive. I try not to over commit and under deliver. I avoid drift and putting things off and aim to finish what I start and get closure, so I am in the completer/finisher camp. I try to love what I have until I get what I love; this means not spending my time being dissatisfied, but looking for small ways of improving or changing things for the better.
The Meaning Of Life | What is the meaning of life is a very big question. I don’t know the answer. I am not sure anyone does. I do think living is an art and a complex journey with twists and turns, set back and opportunities and lots and lots of challenges for most people. I think one meaning of life is to learn to live it in the smartest way possible and make the most of it. You can do this by listening and observing and learning about the kinds of things that will help you and those around you to be happy and fulfilled. This, in my experience involves choosing who you spend time with wisely and avoiding toxic people and ones that bring you down, rather than lift you up. It also involves understanding yourself and caring for your physical and mental and emotional health. Eat well and develop good sleeping habits and move – they are the foundations of physical health. Don’t keep all your problems to yourself. A problem shared can be a problem halved.
Performing At My Peak | I don’t always perform at my peak but I work hard to. I aim for high standards. I don’t like a minimalist approach – doing just enough to get by. Sometimes this happens because you have to prioritise things. Sometimes the challenges of life take over. I found this when I had children and was combining the sheer hard work of young children with demanding jobs. Keeping yourself in good shape physically and emotionally and asking for support are all important, as is learning how to work smarter not harder and be kind to yourself. Perhaps most important of all learn how to reflect critically – look back, review and analyse – and use the reflections and data from them effectively to help you improve your performance and make it the best that it can be and needs to be to deliver as many periods of peak performance as you can.
I Am Inspired By | I am not inspired by one person and have never had role models. I learn from others continuously and am grateful to have had positive examples and guidance from many people that I have made use of. I am inspired by those in different walks of life who stand up for what they believe in, who behave constructively and can think things through for themselves and speak up on behalf of others. I am especially inspired by courageous people and advocates for positive change. There was a British politician called Tony Benn who died recently who I found inspirational because his approach is aligned to this and of course Madiba falls in this category. I find Muhammad Yunus inspirational. I am inspired by independent minded people who think for themselves as I have said and who support other people and convey energy and compassion. This includes Maya Angelou and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I am also inspired by disciplined and focussed people who take their time to produce work of an exceptional quality with pride and humility and some humour – to be able to laugh is so important I think. I especially observe and think about people who can get their message across effectively and can think in the moment clearly and articulate in a compelling way.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | My dream, ambition and goal is to be able to nod off to sleep when and where I want to like some people I know. I really envy them. I am working at it, trying to find the magic ingredient/s! Also to find time to write about aspects of my field of work to stimulate further debate and action and to see a couple of initiatives I am involved in come to fruition.
Dealing With Doubt | I tend to face self-doubt, fear and negativity. By this I mean I get in touch with them and explore how they are impacting on me, rather than block them out and avoid acknowledging them. I am motivated to understand them so I can deal with them in the best ways possible. There is a lot to learn in this approach and it has helped me reduce them.
As a social worker early on in my career I had to deal with a lot of violent situations. A few in particular bordered on being life threatening. I was tactical in my response but did not run away. I am, as a general rule, a ‘fight not flight’ person and a ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ person. I don’t mean a physical fighter but someone who does not shirk from confrontation just because it is uncomfortable. I think there is a lot to learn from constructive confrontation and setbacks. You have to build your resilience and not get trapped in feeling a victim. At the same time don’t deny the pain, upset, rejection and hurt you feel but seek to understand it and work constructively with it.
It is generally not helpful to keep comparing yourself to others but I am intrigued by some of the sayings I have heard. They include ‘show me your friends and I will tell you who you are’, ‘if the door you keep knocking on doesn’t open, try another door’, every cloud has a silver lining’. Few of us are geniuses but more of us could be if you believe the saying ‘genius is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration’.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | The best advice I have ever received is probably something I was told at 14 which I have always remembered. My music teacher at the time said “Fiona you are a character; always be a good one”. I can’t entirely work out why it has stayed with me but there are several reasons I have been able to identify. It is such good advice because it was telling me to be a force for good. I think we should all try to be a force for good as the positive potential in this would result in awesome things.
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