Many years ago, in another life, I was working in retail banking in Ireland. The 1980s were recessionary times and things were difficult. The bank I worked for seemed to be in a constant state of change with new regional managers being appointed on what seemed like a quarterly basis. Each in turn would do a tour of the branches in the region, introducing themselves to the staff and try, often in vain, to make an impression of sorts; an impression that would tell us, perhaps subconsciously, that our future would be safe in his hands (back then, only men reached such lofty heights!)
Three or four regional managers later, my somewhat glib character assessments had gained a modicum of notoriety. I seemed to be spot on. When asked to explain how I could foretell how long they'd last and what type of regional manager they'd prove be, I realised I'd based my perceptions on the type of shoes they wore. I noticed something similar at the IGF in Vilnius recently, as alluded to in my previous blog post, and found myself recasting my shoe types in a multistakeholder mould.
The Hush Puppie or variations thereof is a moccasin-like shoe made from soft suede. That 'soft' exterior is set upon a tough leather sole, hardened by years of having to walk the talk. If trod upon, can be brushed up and made like new. Reminds me a little of the tenacity of Civil Society/NGOs, a sector often seen as the softer side of policy debate, yet with a hard-core sole.
The Leather Loafer is made of different stuff entirely, favoured by those involved in Government. It reminds me of that eternal balance between having it all and yet having to appear not to have too much. Stylish yet practical. Shiny enough to appear transparent but not so shiny that it offers a true reflection. Occasional detail on the front that varies in intricacy from a simple design that says 'I'm just that little bit different from your ordinary shoe' to tassles and charms that say 'There's more to me than meets the eye - have a closer look'. It's about image.
The Brogue is sensible. This shoe never goes out of fashion but does have a 'trend' within itself. Laced or slip-on or velcro fastened or buckled, the important thing here is to stay current. The 'refashioning' takes place within a broader context of consistency and dependability. Reminds me of Academia and its constant battle to keep
up with public sympathies and donor empathies all the while maintaining that sturdiness of credibility.
The Custom-made shoe is often hand-sewn, with the best of leather. Its wearer sreams of self-importance and success. To think that someone is walking around in shoes that cost more than I make in a week is mind-blowing, but in Business, expense is relative. The old maxim of dressing for success is still taken seriously by those trodding the path to the corporate boardroom.
Sitting in a bar in Alaska one day, I got into conversation with some oil workers. They were sharing what they considered the 'give-aways' - what to watch out for if you really want to know what is important to a person. Some said fingernails - no matter how well-dressed or well-spoken, someone with ill-kept fingernails was not to trusted. Others said collars and cuffs - frayed edges were evident of a lack of attention to the broader life picture. And one, just one, said 'shoes'. A big man, ruddy complexion, who had seen far more winters than I had summers, said 'Show me a man with well-cared-for shoes, and I'll happily walk alongside him.'
perhaps its not so much the style of shoe the stakeholder wears, but the degree to which that shoe is looked after and cared for that counts. mmmm.....maybe there's something in this shoe thing after all.