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Want Good Leadership Training? Watch Undercover Boss

Updated on April 2, 2015

Most leaders don't spend a lot of time watching television. With a reality show on every channel, it's no wonder television is sometimes referred to as the "boob tube". But if you long for the good ole days when television was worth watching, all is not lost. There is one reality show that you can enjoy and get good leadership training from at the same time; Undercover Boss. If you've never seen an episode, here's the gist. A high level executive of a large company goes undercover as a new employee of that company in order to learn the inner workings of the organization. While undercover, the leader interacts with fellow employees and learns, firsthand, the inner workings of the companies daily operation. Initially, I didn't think much of the concept, probably because reality television shows, in my opinion, are a waste of time. But after watching an episode, I immediately saw its value.

Going undercover allows these executives to experience the inner workings of the company firsthand and also allows them to tap into the true feelings of the companies employees. This is management by walking around at its finest. Or as the Japanese put it, Genchi Genbutsu, which means go and see for yourself. Sounds easy enough right? Not so fast. Many of these executives were hearing the truth from their employees and the truth was, some of the employees actually hated the company. Employees cited concerns about low pay, poor or no benefits, poor working environment and uncaring leadership. While the majority of the employees still took pride in their work, there were others that displayed their displeasure by their attitude with customers and in the performance of their work.

The leaders were shocked to hear that some of their employees were unhappy. They were also surprised to hear that some of their employees were working two jobs, raising a family and trying to go to school. Management by walking around is absolutely essential to the success of a company. Of all the resources that a company has, it's human resource is it's most valuable. If leaders are out of touch with the needs of the employees, it won't be long before it affects the bottom line. It’s important for a leader to get around and talk to subordinates; to let them know that you are more than just the person in charge. They need to know that you care; that you have their best interest at heart.

Now, I hate to spoil the ending of a story but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that the ending of each episode of Undercover Boss has a very happy ending for most of the employees. The undercover leader not only learns a lot about the employees, they also learn a lot about themselves. While some of the employees were actually terminated (and rightfully so), many of the undercover leaders sympathized with some of their employees and offered financial assistance to them. Some of them even got promotions within the organization because the leader was so impressed with their dedication and professionalism. Fair warning though; many of the episodes are "tear jerkers" so have your Kleenex close by.

I strongly encourage all leaders at every level to watch Undercover Boss and learn from it. Unlike most television shows today, you can actually walk away from each episode with a sense of responsibility and a call to action.

For more great leadership strategies, read my book: Your Career in a Fish Bowl: Guarding Your Words and Actions as a Leader.


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