The shoe detective. What do your shoes say about you?

In work, whether employed or as volunteers, we all experience The Boss.  We've grown up in families where we meet our first boss, then at school, clubs and in friendships.  Today i'm looking at the world of work, where as adults we have enjoyed good working relationships with bosses, however there are times we have  been 'over-managed' or even 'under-managed'.

I want to tell you about a training programme I was running for a manufacturing firm, which ran as 10 workshop on a monthly basis over a year.  This tale comes from the third year cohort of managers attending  the course.  By this point in the programme there was a good level of trust between the participants and us trainers.

On this particular morning we were  discussing Perception, Projection, Prejudice and Professionalism as part of the psychological resilience segment.  It was enlightening and challenging in equal measure;  part of a company wide drive to change management strategy and gain cross departmental buy in, moving away from an existing competitive silo management culture. Near the end of the morning session  I wanted to close the session and bring home these principles in a fun way  and so I introduced the concept of:

'If your boss was a shoe, what type of shoe would they be?'

The energy instantly rose in the group, they split into discussion groups, there was a buzz in the room. Much fun was had as people connected with their inner child, filling sheets of paper with descriptions and even drawing pictures  for effect. Hi


Here are a sample of the results :-

  • Most managers are like new work shoes, they are uncomfortable at first, but fit well once you get used to them..
  • Designer – perfect, it's love at first sight from the shop window, you want to have them, but that wears off  quickly when they begin to pinch
  • Trainers – they go the distance, especially for people in a hurry.
  • Wellington boots,  hidden away in a cupboard, but great when conditions are tough.
  • Tap dancing shoes – all noise and showy,  rarely useful after the drama
  • Flip flops – leisurely,  they come out when the sunshines, flimsy and cool.
  • Slippers – warm, comfy, soft and without support not suited for tough conditions.
  •  Doc Martens – functional, tough, no glitz.
  • My favourite shoes,  you wish You had bought several pairs . Then miss them when they're gone.
  • Platforms – lofty and tall, a bit unstable on newbies disguise reality

Although, I didn't request it, they even identified shoe styles for different departments –

  • Sales were patent leather, shiny buckle – raised heel.
  • IT wear dusty Brogues.
  • HR – Doc Martens
  • Engineers – Climbing boots or steel toe capped boots – (they do the graft and get their toes trodden on)
  • Social media, graphics & Marketting – trainers, flip flops, crocs, the latest fashion.
  • Admin – M & S flatties or lace ups – lower paid, very busy.
  • Finance – well made expensive shoes, bought at the sales.


IMG_9230Admittedly there was some fun anticipated by introducing this metaphor to explore management styles.  It brought up the whole issue of stereotypes, projection and reception.  We all agreed that it's good to have a selection of styles to use appropriately, although a small group  insisted that one or two pairs were sufficient and some of the participants clearly had a shoe addiction.

Finally, they decided that the best bosses transitioned as the need arose between being a connector – engaging people, leader, coach, consultant – checking out and reviewing whilst objective enough to challenge others with dignity   Humility, understanding and integrity were highly valued attributes and not showing favouritism was a must               .img_4694

We broke for lunch and on their return to the training room , the walls were decorated with new posters entitled

 'If my boss was a shoe rack, what shoes would be on it?'

Prior to the course, I had asked each participant to decide whether or not they wanted anonymous feedback during the course.  If so, the were given  sealed envelopes to hand out to their subordinates,  colleagues and managers,  to complete  an anonymous pen picture of each participant – today was one of those feedback days.   No one was named or shamed in the process, but the energy dropped … significantly.  However, as we carouselled around the room, reading the descriptions (which were very even handed and informative). most participants recognised themselves and some even liked what they read.  Some agreed to change their shoes for the appropriate need and a few said it was 'a load of cobblers!'

IMG_9235i am glad I removed the paper that was entitled "smelly"  that ones for another day.

The feedback we received from individuals proved a pivotal turning point (for the majority of participants) putting theory to practise and applying flexibility to their management styles.

I have received longer term feedback, showing that since developing the management & interpersonal skills cours 5 years ago now, internal communications and cross departmental up selling  has increased.  There is clear evidence of  buy in to the culture change.  There has been a rise in productivity and decreased absence and staff turn over.  This has been during a period of recession here in the UK.

Do you recognise your manager from these descriptions?  

How would you be described in terms o footwear?

Is it time to go shoe shopping, repair or recycle?

Please join the fun and reply by adding a description of your boss in footwear terms, photos & illustrations  are optional