27 March 1962

March 27, 2022

It was a Tuesday, and the date was 27 March 1962.

The Shadows had the number-one record in the UK hit parade with “Wonderful Land” but in a maternity ward of a long since forgotten hospital in Bradford-on-Avon, things were far from wonderful. A young woman called Pamela (younger than both my daughters now) nearly lost her life, giving birth to a tiny scrap of forceps delivered humanity.

The midwife had been primed on Monday evening to break the news to Pamela’s husband Brian that she was gravely ill. Pamela, having gone into labour on Friday, was exhausted and in agony with her baby seemingly unable to move into position but also pressing against her spinal column. A Caesarean Section had been mistakenly ruled out, and now there was genuine concern that both mum and baby might be lost. Brian had been sent home against his wishes, worried sick for his wife, to await news. He called early Tuesday morning from a pay phone at his work and was told that his very poorly wife was alive and so was his new born son. My first day might have been my last, but (spoiler alert) here I am.

Mum reminds me of her story every year. Last Sunday we had a cup of tea together (and a glass of champagne) and she told me the story again. She always finishes by describing how she awoke from an exhausted sleep and found that I had been taken away. She screamed for her baby fearing the worst, but I was quickly brought to her, a bit battered and bruised, but I settled quickly and wrapped my tiny fingers around one of hers. She tells me each year how she had never felt such an intense love as she did in that moment, and each year I hear her story I feel overwhelmed at how lucky I am to have someone who fought so hard for me when I was just a tiny scrap of life.

It would be easy at this point to say something empty and clichéd about human potential and being grateful for every day, but I don’t want to do that. We all have our own family stories, each unique to us and special. It turns out that we are all burdened by being both uniquely wonderful while at the same time being just one of seven billion similarly wonderful souls. Is it any wonder that we are sometimes confused about our place in the world?!

However, on my sixtieth birthday (I mean, WTF, sixty!) and on this one day only, I would like to say a little about me. I promise not to do it again.

I am shy and introverted, but I always prefer being with real people rather than their social media avatars. I am sometimes accompanied by a gentle depression that mostly allows me space, but sometimes it jumps on my back and I find it hard to move. Even so, and even on darker, slower days, I consider myself to be unbelievably blessed. I do not seek attention and I never (ever) want feedback, but I love to learn. I have never delivered the perfect programme and I hope I never will, because I always need there to be something I can make even better. I am stubborn as hell about some things and ridiculously relaxed about others. I don’t like change, but I don’t mind uncertainty.

I also have no wish to be remembered for my work; but I hope so very much that my work will be remembered.

In my head and in my heart there is no personal legacy. I do not believe I am important in any way. However, I also believe that my work has never been more important and I have never been more determined to carry on and to relish the opportunity I have to teach, to write and to influence; and in doing so to show that there is a kinder way to lead.

If all that sounds a little contradictory, I will try to explain.

To inspire someone is not to be inspirational yourself. The person inspired is the one who must get the credit. They are the inspirational one. The joy of mentoring is helping someone find a better way for themselves, but until they have taken their first steps nothing is achieved. When those steps are taken, the achievement is theirs.

I have achieved nothing; the people I help are the achievers. However, as each person is helped I want them to reflect on their responsibility to now share their gifts and blessings with others. In doing so we create a wave of kindness that gently rolls through our work and through the years of our work. My wish therefore is to help as many people as I can; and while I do not need or seek credit for doing so, I do hope so much for the time and energy to try.

OK, that’s quite enough about me, but as it is my sixtieth birthday (have I said that already?) I will test your patience a little more, because I have some reflections I would like to share. They are reflections of my working life, trying to make sense of a hotch-potch of steps forward and back; mostly failing, but always hoping.

Dear Reader,

You are a leader whether you like it or not. Leadership is not about hierarchy or titles, but about influencing people and things, it is having an opinion, stopping harmful stuff, looking after a moment in time because the moment needed you to step in. Leadership is noticing and acting. Make no mistake, you are a leader.

Being a leader is the greatest privilege of your working life and the hardest thing to get right. You will make mistakes, so the only way to navigate this journey is to be true to yourself, because when all else can fail and you feel overwhelmed, your values will hold you up and allow you to breathe.

Please tell your story so others can hear their story in your words. Be the example they need you to be. Be kind (obviously) but ask for help too. Then, when you have been helped, do not look to pay back, but always look to pay forward.

We are all leaders some of the time and all followers most of the time. However, with all the focus on leadership in books, in training and with online influencers, make sure you learn to be a brilliant follower too.

We all know that a problem is easier to spot than its solution. A solution that works is the most precious thing of all. Solutions however have to be tenaciously and strenuously dug out of the problem they are embedded within, and they are hard work to release. Let’s not therefore stand by and point, but step in, muck in and help to fix things.

Please care about your fellow travellers as they accompany you on your career journey. Empathise with everyone, but do not infantilise anyone. We help no one by making them dependent on us. Lift others up so that they in turn can lift others too.

Say out loud what you need. Say out loud how you feel.

When a role does not work out, move on. Always trust your judgement even when others may not; but listen to everyone and learn from everyone.

Be gracious when something goes well. Be humble when it does not. Always stay in the moment, it is the only one we’ve got. Remember that not everything can be fixed or made better. Sometimes we have to let things go. We should not regret trying, but we should not let trying in vain be the only thing we can do. We must learn to fail without animosity, anger or concern for what others may think or say; they did not wear our shoes. We tried our best, and now we can move on.

It is a kindness to others if we try and fit in, but we should not bend ourselves out of shape. When something feels wrong, say that it feels wrong, but then always offer to make it feel right.

We should give our time willingly when it can be used to help someone else. Being paid to help is not important. We do not improve the value of our help when we are paid for it, and we do not devalue our help when we are not.

We must try to call out harm when we see it. It will be the most courageous thing we ever do, and it is never easy; but if we can say what we see, even just saying it out loud is sometimes enough; and every infinitesimal small difference is always worth it.

Our careers matter less than the people we help. Our difference is in the behaviours and actions of those we helped to be themselves, not in the lines on our CVs or in the prizes that carry our names.

I am sixty today (I may have mentioned it earlier) but whatever our age and experience, we have never been better prepared to make our difference and so we must always care to make it. Thank goodness for the gifts we can share; but more than ever we must learn to share them well. The best of you may be in the future, but the best of you today is still more precious and more vital.

Sixty years ago today nothing much happened, just a terribly difficult birth in a long forgotten maternity ward. Not to be forgotten however is the pain and anguish felt by Pamela and Brian, or their love and joy for their first child. Their love, sacrifice and strength to carry on, not just on 27 March 1962, but throughout their married life, will be a lifelong gift for me to honour and pay forward.

I hope we may all have the opportunity to use our time and our blessings to make our difference in the world; a world that will always be improved by our love, kindness and care.

Thank you for indulging these words. Please take the greatest care. Paul xx

© 2024 LBC Wise Counsel. All rights reserved