14 April 2011

Stepping into Other People's Shoes

A close friend of mine started a trial period in a small company in London. He was struck by how informal everything was: no project briefings, no team meetings (even though, apparently, there were teams), no paper contracts, no Health and Safety talks. Being laid back himself, this didn't worry him too much (and the emphasis here is on the "too").

But then the anecdotes of poor line management began. They seem simple and unimportant, but worth telling.

My friend, let's call him Carl, was working on some drawings for a scale-model. They weren't finished, the deadline was approaching. "I'm going home now", he said to his manager. "Oh", his manager (let's call him Sam) said. Silence.

Carl said:"Would you want me to take them home and finish them for tomorrow?"
"Yes, that would be great".
"Then why didn't you say so yourself?" went Carl's thought bubble.

Anecdote number 2: Carl arrived one afternoon after his lunch break. "Carl, " said Sam. "Would you go into the meeting with Martin? He's meeting a client."

"Sure. Anything I should know about it or anything you want me to look out for?" "No, just go in there with Martin". "That's considerate of Sam", thought Carl, still in his trial period and keen to be involved.

Following the meeting, Sam comes up to Carl: "Okay, brief me. What's going on with the project?"

Luckily Carl had his brain switched on (which is more than can be said for others) and was able to pass on the information, but surely a "Could you go into the meeting and brief me afterwards" would have been appropriate?

You can see how these anecdotes kept Carl and myself entertained for a while. Puzzled by all of this and knowing that Sam never really looked happy all day until he got to the pub, all I could of think of was, "Poor Sam, obviously he doesn't want to be a manager. He is one of these people who was a good model-maker and has been promoted to team leader, when all he wants to be doing is making models."

Oh how wrong I was. Not at all. My friend found out later that Sam had always wanted to be a manager, it had been his goal for some time. In trying to understand Sam's inability to communicate and manage others, I had come up with a whole story to make sense of it, when the answer seemed so much simpler. Sam is just really bad at his job, mainly because he doesn't talk to people.I had tried to make sense of a situation by putting myself in someone else's shoes - unfortunately, unaware of Sam's own parameters, I had used mine to solve the conundrum.

Needless to say, my friend is no longer working there. He was one of three people who left in a month.


  1. I wonder if Sam's bosses are even worse than him in not realising that he isn't fit to fill the manager's shoes...

    This type of unfit behaviour would make me want to disregard hierarchy and directly speak to Sam's bosses...someone should brief them about the real situation at work!

    ah, the joy's of office life!!!

    best regards,

  2. Thanks for your contribution -

    In answer to your first point: yes, Sam's bosses are even worse than him. My friend left due to a misunderstanding thinking there was no work for him. He never got an e-mail/phone call from Sam's boss, who had originally hired him. I think in this case, unfortunately, it's also a question of culture. Yes, it would have been interesting to know whether Sam's bosses were aware or even cared, of the situation at work.

    Thanks Quartum's neph, keep them coming!