Whether You’re A Leader Or Not, How Have You Walked In Others’ Shoes?

Leadership Lesson: Part of effectively helping and serving others is paying attention to and understanding what goes into the work they do and the needs they have.

In order to move people from the current state of things into a better future in the smoothest and most effective fashion, leaders should consider what it’s like to walk in their followers’ shoes.

Only by truly understanding everything his or her people have to go through and experience can a leader make the best decisions to effectively complement the ongoing daily work.

So, as they make their way, leaders should keep the impacts of both their general and specific actions and decisions in mind.

Keeping the specific impacts in mind means leaders shouldn’t be making decisions without truly understanding the work that the directive entails. The tools, resources, and people needed for a decision should be considered when weighing the options for action.

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When it comes the general effect on the work environment, every decision or action by a leader has a ripple effect throughout the organization, whether that decision directly ties into the other efforts or not. For example, areas not directly involved in the action may be affected if resources or attention are taken away from those efforts to affect the directly impacted areas.

By ignoring these specific and general details that go into the work and decisions, leaders are essentially closing their eyes, choosing instead to misunderstand the capabilities of their workers and organizational operations.

The disconnect causes confusion, overwork, and, in some instances, demoralization.

There’s nothing like an boss or leader who doesn’t understand what goes into executing a strategy, operation, or tactical move.

It is the leaders who pay attention to and are appreciative of the daily nuances of the work grind who can tap into what it is their workers can really accomplish.

Without deep understanding, communication isn’t effective because you’re not speaking the right language, timing is too difficult to harness because there is no understanding of how the work is done, and morale is somewhat lower because there is a disconnect between what’s expected and what can really be delivered.

So how do you walk a mile in the shoes of those who work around you? Do you understand what goes into how they accomplish their duties and responsibilities?

What do you know and understand about…

…The Work They Do?

It’s important to know what people do, to understand what their responsibilities are, and to have a good understanding of what the real expectations are of each position. I say “real” in addressing the expectations because job descriptions don’t always match the work done day-in and day-out. Jobs can sometimes entail either more or less than is outlined in the job description. If the job entails less, we need to determine if the person can handle more. If the job entails more, has the person transitioned smoothly into how their capabilities are reconciling to the work.

To truly understand someone, you need to understand the lay of the land that they navigate and call work.

…The People They Work With?

It’s vital to understand what the relationships are in which people need to function in their duties. A key to people’s work is engaging and harnessing relationships. Sometimes such relationships might even dictate a person’s performance more than would – and, sometimes, should — be expected. Leaders and colleagues should understand how relationships either add value to a person’s performance or siphon it off its effectiveness.

To truly understand someone, you need to understand who it is they have to deal with.

…The Goals They Have?

It’s commendable – yes, “commendable” – when a someone knows another person’s goals. Whether you’re a leader or not, knowing someone else’s goals, and even dreams, allows you to provide what you can in support and resources, as reasonably as possible, to help that person work toward those goals. Creating such a culture of assistance helps guarantee that nothing is taken for granted and that each person is performing at their best because they feel supported.

To truly understand someone, you need to be able to appreciate that we all have goals and dreams.

…The Commitment They Have?

It’s vital to know what kind of commitment someone has to the organization, goal, or mission. Knowing someone’s commitment level allows us to determine how we can – or if we can – harness and strengthen that commitment. If we hard-charge forward, without acknowledging or thinking about what someone is committed to, we don’t know how much they are behind us or how motivated they are to achieve their best.

To truly understand someone, you need to know how much fight they have in them for your cause.

…The Tools They Utilize?

It’s imperative to know what tools people around you both have and need. They may have the greatest work to do, finest people around them, strongest goals to work toward, and deepest commitment to drive them, but if people don’t have the right tools in place, all of it is for nothing. They’ll have this drive and fuel within them yet have nowhere to go. Tools are how we can harness those best desires and motivations. No matter what your craft is, whether a service or a product, without the proper tools nothing can be built, created, formed, or delivered.

To truly understand someone, you need to know what has been provided by way of tools to allow them to achieve their potential.


The effort to understand what others do, either as colleagues or as followers, isn’t an extensive or exhaustive exercise. It’s not some intense form of cross-training. But by realizing what others do, how much they put into their work, and what resources they have to work with – both tools and people – one can understand them that much more.

Understanding others as much as possible paints a complete picture, and that complete picture helps drive a more meaningful and thorough interaction.

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Aside from being able to better lead people by understanding the general nuances of their work, in cultures where people understand each other’s work, morale is higher, greater efficiencies are achieved, and personal investment runs deeper.

It’s always important to work well with others, delivering for them, providing for them, and bringing the best out of them.

The best way to do each of those things it to walk that mile in their shoes and understand the workplace and mission from their perspective. Seeing the world from their perspective sharpens yours.


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