Touch Somebody’s Toe

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This musing takes the form of a tribute to a great leader, and also a tribute to my late husband, Patrick Hare (another great leader!)

Professor David Taube was then the Director of the Renal Clinic at Hammersmith Hospital and a Consultant Nephrologist.

As some of you know, my husband Patrick – a co-founder of Kaizen – died in April 2007 after many years of ill-heath, and David had been the consultant on his case for several years, so we got to know him quite well.

He’s a remarkable man and a truly great leader.

Both Patrick and I were incredibly impressed and curious about what he did to bring about such great results – both with his patients and with his team.

There are many things that the Professor demonstrated to me over the years; the way he master-minded the creation of the new Renal Centre at Hammersmith – successfully battling the NHS bureaucracy to create a world-class facility with a multi-disciplianry team for transplants, treatment and dialysis; the way he talks to his staff – highly challenging but always expecting (and usually getting) the best from them.

He seems to have the knack of getting people to want to “step up” – to go the extra mile for him, for their patients, and for themselves…

However, the incident that I remember most strongly was the day that Patrick was feeling very depressed and down after a series of knock-backs.

He had a serious (life-threatening) infection, and the very powerful drugs they’d been giving him to battle the infection had just effectively killed his newly transplanted kidney.

Patrick had had a series of unsatisfactory conversations with some of the more junior doctors – and he wasn’t getting the answers he needed.

The Professor came in to see him whilst I was visiting.  The two of them did their usual back-and-forth banter.

Both were intellectual giants – and had the kind of relationship where each would admonish the other, often using quite dark humour.  (You didn’t do ‘fluffy’ with Patrick – you impressed him with your reasoning, you gave him facts and information, and you told him the truth – or woe betide you!)

I was sitting by the side, next to the bed.

And then I noticed what the Professor was doing.  As he was being the “credible consultant”, telling him about this treatment and that prognosis, he was also touching Patrick’s big toe – very lightly holding Patrick’s big toe between his thumb and forefinger.

Patrick very quickly became calm and relaxed, and after the Professor left told me he was feeling much better.

Over the months that Patrick was in hospital, I saw this happen countless times – with Patrick, and also with other patients.

He’d do a similar thing with staff who were struggling with crises or doubts – he’d touch them on the shoulder or the elbow – very gently – sending his own strength and resourcefulness to the other person.  You could actually see the transformation come over people.

And what makes it so remarkable is that it was in such contrast to his more “overt” manner – which was typically highly credible and authoritative.

The silent message was “I’m here.  I understand.  I care.  And I believe in you”.

I’d guess that your team are typically not lying down in bed during your interactions – neither are they (hopefully) fighting for their life.

However, the principle of truly connecting with others in a way that helps them to remember their own strength still applies.

It doesn’t have to be physical touch – it could just be bringing an extraordinary quality of listening into your conversations.

How can you find a way to “touch somebody’s toe” today? 

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