Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Aug 24, 2010

I spent four days on my own over the previous weekend looking after my two girls Olivia age one and Georgia aged two. It really opened my eyes to what my partner has to do most days.

Although I do spend a lot of time helping with the kids I have never had to do so on my own for that long. I came away with a real appreciation of what looking after them entails, the good side and bad side and also came up with ideas on how to make it easier.

It got me thinking again about how useful getting a real experience of what others have to do is. In work there are very few examples of the management doing this.

Bigger companies such as Tesco actively encourage the senior managers to spend a few weeks a year in their stores doing all the different jobs, and there are TV programs such as Undercover Boss that follow the MDs of companies as they really do put themselves in their employees shoes.

These though tend to be exceptions to the rule, and in most businesses the managers are not given the time to step away from their own jobs to really get a sense of what the people working for them have to do, and indeed what the customers also experience. Even if you have risen through the ranks it is surprising how quickly you forget exactly what it is like to do a job.

It would make a huge difference to the ability of leaders to engage with employees if every leader committed to spending one week a year doing the various jobs in the company and really getting to know what issues the people on the front line are facing.

There is also a shortcut to getting a different perspective. It comes from NLP and is called the Perceptual Positions.

It is particularly useful to use when a situation is troubling us or we believe we have become static in our thinking. Being able to step out of how you perceive things and into someone else’s world is very powerful. Being able to combine this with having an impartial non emotional take on the situation can pay dividends.

Perceptual positions were developed by John Grinder and Judith DeLozia (1987) from earlier work looking at how therapists Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls used roles work to enable clients to have a better understanding of others.

The process involves using different spaces in the room or chairs to represent a) your own perspective B) the other persons perspective and c) an impartial point of view.

By moving through the different positions insights are gained. By regularly using the technique as a manager you can get more of a sense of what you need to do to be able to communicate, influence and understand those working for you.

If you can really try out others jobs for a few days a year do so. If not aim to really get a sense of where others are coming from and also what an impartial observer would think by using different perceptual positions. Oh and if you get the chance to look after kids for a few days, take it!

If you are interested in developing your leadership or creating more effective teams we would love to have a conversation.

If you are interested in developing your leadership or creating more effective teams we would love to have a conversation.

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