The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic - Peter Drucker

The TurningTides Blog

Ideas and inspiration from Turning Tides

Leading Improvement: Words that Transform

 

Carpe Diem

Feeling particularly energised during a conversation with a client yesterday, the words Carpe Diem (seize the day) popped into my mind. Simple words. But put them together and they create something bold and confident. They inspire and uplift. Amazing how words can do that.  

Written almost 2000 years ago by the Latin poet, Horace, the Carpe Diem line in its full expression, includes quam minimum credula postero – ‘put little trust in tomorrow'. It's about taking action for the future today because 'the present' is all we can be sure of. Adding my own interpretation, it represents having the presence of mind to act, to 'catch the wave' because the opportunity - these set of circumstances - may never come again. Just thinking about the words evokes feelings of optimism. I literally straighten my back!

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The Nature of Impact

 

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What do the late Margot MacDonald and my late mum have in common? They were very different in character and in the bailiwick of their lives. Margot was a larger-than-life Scottish politician. My mother, by contrast was reserved, gentle and family-focused. Born on a tiny island in Shetland called Trondra, just over 1 sq. mile in diameter, she preferred the written word to oration. The limelight was not a place of comfort for her and definitely not one she sought out.

The cord that connects Margot and my mother, and most recently Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, is Parkinson’s disease. Margot campaigned for the right to end her life through euthanasia should the disease become too difficult to bear. A much debated campaign but I respect her view. My mother similarly struggled with the disease in the last 10-15 years of her life. She passed away seven years ago this month (17th April, 2007), age 80.  

The many hues of impact

The phenomenon I want to focus on here is impact. It comes in many hues and guises.  Margot McDonald made a huge impact in life. Billy Connolly still does, and with flamboyance.  My mother did too. Admittedly the reach of her impact was very different; less obvious, but none-the-less hugely significant for those who came under her radar. She had that old fashioned island wisdom that is rare these days. She found it hard to express her emotions in the traditional sense but she would observe and notice. Her gestures (guided by profoundly humanist principles) shouted louder than any words. 

 A discovery of lasting impact

A few days after she died my brother and I made an astonishing discovery. We found poems that my mother had evidently left in a place where she knew we would find them. One was in her hand writing, although not her own words. The other was a tiny verse cut from a newspaper taped to a sheet of writing paper. The end-stage effects of Parkinson's meant that even cutting the poem out of the newspaper would have been difficult for her. The poems told us that she knew she would be leaving us soon. The image of her preparing such things made the poems seem all the more poignant.   

The poems are not original and not of great literary quality, but the impact of her gesture has been far-reaching. She had chosen the words for her family with true intention. She was preparing us all for the transition that was ahead in a simple yet most profound way. I took enormous comfort from her words and have returned to them often. Such clear-headed wisdom in the face of adversity!

Impact is not always about 'big'

So, when it comes to making an impact whether as a leader, a good citizen or as a parent, it's not always about big personalities. Sometimes it's just about holding steady in the eye of the storm. Admittedly, impact is often only known in hindsight and like beauty and quality, personal impact is in the eyes of the beholder. But how can we understand it better?

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#Compassion - what can we learn from the natural world?

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Watching wild geese flying in formation this morning I was reminded how magnificent a species they are. A few years ago a colleague sent me the poem 'Wild Geese' by Mary Oliver. I had undergone surgery and was deeply touched by the gesture. She added this story: 

....when wild geese are in flight and one becomes ill or injured, two other geese drop to the ground with the ailing goose. They provide protection and care for the goose until it recovers and is able to fly again or dies. It is only when the job of caring is complete that the geese fly off to catch up with their own flock or join another passing group.  

Her simple gift and the sentiments behind it made me feel cherished, respected and part of something bigger.

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