In person: why kindness counts

When a relative had a stroke recently, CEO Karen Middleton had a taste of life on the other side.

I have long been an advocate of physiotherapists having leadership potential, mainly because so many of our professional practice skills are transferable to those required of someone who becomes a leader. 
Paying attention to the little things is an example of this: something that has been brought home to me over recent months.
A close relative recently had a stroke and was admitted to hospital and, as you might imagine, I have been watching closely the physiotherapists in action – I am sure they were delighted! (My relative had told them who I was, so they were aware the CSP’s chief executive was due to visit.)
I was able to see first-hand the no small miracle they were able to achieve through the rehabilitation they delivered. I can honestly say ‘physiotherapy works’. It really does. This was a fully-funded seven-day service on a stroke unit. It was usually delivered in the gym on the ward.
In many ways, this service might not be unusual in what it delivered. And from what I saw, my relative wasn’t getting any different treatment because of me. But it was the small things that made all the difference to us, her family. 
It was the very loose visiting times – given our long journey to visit her, we were never turned away because it was inconvenient for the staff. It was being invited into the gym to watch and get involved in the rehabilitation – this helped as we could see the progress being made on an almost daily basis and helped to reinforce the treatment. It was the availability of tea and coffee for us, the relatives, on the ward. 
It was also the way the resuscitation issue was dealt with – factually, but with compassion. It was the emails that updated us on progress or asked us to bring things in or take photos of her home to help plan discharge. We really felt part of the team. It was not judging us for not being able to visit every day and it was the fun and laughter that lightened the difficult moments. I could go on.
You may well be thinking this is all par for the course, but for me, it made me realise just how important these little things are. This is especially so because we often tend to pay more attention to the big things, particularly under times of stress, and forget the smaller ones. Yet, when we’re at our most stressed, trying to remember the smaller things too can make all the difference. 
So how does this transfer to leadership? Well, good leaders, in my opinion, notice the little things and they pay attention to them. They remember to ask about your child who’s been ill. They take the trouble to thank you personally for something you have done. They notice when things are not quite right and try to find out why. They will think about where and when to have that difficult conversation. You get the picture.
As with the clinical situation, these little things can be forgotten at times of stress, as I have discovered many times. When you do forget, it takes a while to gain back the ground you invariably have lost. I have found that people will be surprisingly forgiving if you get something big wrong, but not so when it comes to the little things. And, of course, the same goes in the clinical situation.
So what is the transferable skill here? I believe it is kindness. It’s as simple as that – and perhaps the skill of noticing (some would say perception). We develop these skills as clinicians and they transfer so well into the world of leadership – it really is surprising physiotherapists are not ruling the world!
To finish, please understand me when I say that for a while at least, my favourite physiotherapy team is that at Milton Keynes Hospital on Ward 7, the stroke unit. Thank you. fl

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