Walkin’ In Their Shoes

Posted by on Jan 28, 2014 | 5 Comments


One of the greatest gifts the theatre has given me is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes.  If I look over the landscape of my career, it has probably been the single most important skill I’ve carried with me.

I remember back when I had my events company in Seattle – what seems like a lifetime ago – and every detail was carefully crafted with that in mind.  If I were a guest, how would I experience this?

When I arrived at the event, where would I park?  How far would I have to walk?  Would I be wearing heels?  What will the weather be?  When I arrive, am I excited, or anxious, or feeling obligated, or annoyed, or hopeful?  When I open the door, what do I see? What do I touch?  What do I smell?  What do I hear?  How do I feel?

I would walk through every moment of the event in their shoes.  In the shoes of the men.  Of the women.  Of senior leaders.  Of clients. Of the hard working front-line employees.   Exploring with all my senses.  And it didn’t matter if it was a big client event, an employee picnic, or a huge global company meeting, I would only need to “act as if” I were the person experiencing it for the first time and the details I’d need to access would unfold.

Later, when I was hired to design my first training program, a “Customer Experience Program” for my biggest client, I simply unleashed the same skills.  Truth be told I had never designed a training program before that time, so I had no idea what I was doing from an expertise-standpoint, and while it may make L & D professionals worldwide cringe,  it didn’t matter.  I walked in the shoes of the customers to understand the minutia of their experience.  I walked in the shoes of the participants asking myself, “how could they discover what we needed them to discover minute-to-minute?”  What do they see, hear, taste, touch, feel?  How, from their perspective, might they receive each moment?

I actually had a past OnStage Leadership participant-turned-friend-turned-colleague email me a few days ago:

“I’m reading The Experience Economy and it’s got me thinking a lot about how you do your thing. Did this book influence your approach to Onstage?  Or are the connections there unintentional?”

I wrote back that I had devoured the Experience Economy when I had designed the Customer Experience Program and loved it (I also loved Colin Shaw’s Customer Experience).  “What people don’t realize is that it’s all the same thing.” I replied, “A customer experience and employee experience  aren’t any different – it’s all about understanding human needs and the impact you want to have.”

If you want your customers to have a positive experience, you must walk in their shoes and understand the experience you are providing through their eyes.  You have to go beyond meeting basic needs and understand what, as Seth Godin so beautifully captured in his blog today, might “surprise and delight” them.  How do they feel?

If you want engaged, excited, loyal employees, you must care enough to walk in their shoes and experience your organization, the work that they do, and your leadership through their eyes.  Going to work every day is an experience.  How do you want them to feel coming to work?  Feel about themselves?  Feel about your organization?  Feel about the work that they do?  Feel about your clients?  Feel.  Ignore how they feel, and just like with your customers,  I guarantee you will feel the pain.

If you want to have rich relationships with your friends, your family members, the people in your community, with the members of the non-profit board you’re on, with your kid’s teacher, with anyone really, the key is to stop, remove your own filter of the world, and try to see things from another perspective.

If it’s true that we see what we look for, then what if we were to start looking through the eyes of someone else?  How might that change the way we see?  How might it change the products and services we offer?  The cultures we create?  The way we show up in the world?

My kiddo’s fortune cookie tonight read:  “Curiosity kills boredom.  Nothing can kill curiosity.”

Imagine what would be possible if we all found a way to at least be curious about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Maybe, if nothing else, that’s a good place to start.

©OnStage Leadership, 2013;  Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share.  It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too.



  1. Teri Hardaway
    February 4, 2014

    Caught me at just the right moment. Two week countdown to a first meeting and training session with new vendors. I was just getting caught up in the training presentation to teach them our systems. REWIND! Tomorrow morning I will be walking in someone else’s shoes. Thanks Kimberly.

  2. Kimberly
    February 5, 2014

    That’s great, Teri! I’m sure, in doing so, your presentation will that much stronger. Thanks for sharing!

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