What would you learn as an Undercover Boss?

January 20th, 2012

When it comes to mentioning TV shows, I don’t usually stray from PBS or the Science and Discovery channels. But seeing a promo for the start of this year’s CBS reality series “Undercover Boss” prompted me to go back and watch some shows from the first two seasons on on YouTube.

Here’s the set-up: Each week, “Undercover Boss” cameras follow a different chief executive as s/he leaves a comfortable corner office, puts on a disguise and steps into an employee’s shoes to see how his or her company runs. Employees with whom the CEO gets placed are told this new person is being filmed for a documentary about entry-level jobs, or some such story. While working alongside frontline members of their team, these CEOs see the effects their decisions have on others and where problems lie within their organizations. They get an up-close look at both the good and the bad and can determine firsthand how to eliminate bad policies and set things right.

But the best part of the experience for each of them is reconnecting with their workforce and discovering the unsung heroes who make their companies run successfully. They learn that people work hard, want to do well, have dreams about creating a better life for themselves and others while doing meaningful work.

Sheldon Yellen, CEO of $1 billion Belfor Holdings, the world’s largest property restoration company, went undercover for the show and later explained in an interview with Inc. magazine’s Tennille Robinson why it was a “life-changing” experience for him.

Here are a few of his thoughts on being a better leader:

The closer the top management can be to the people who are doing the heavy lifting every day, the better the organization can be more sustainable. It gives you a real grounded sense of what’s important. And what’s important in an organization, to me, is people. That is your single greatest asset.

You can’t lead with titles, you can’t lead with rules, and you can’t lead with just words. You lead with trust, compassion and listening. The only way to have these three realized is if you have real, open, sincere, honest relationships that matter. Not work relationships, but all the time relationships.”

“I think those that believe that their title gives them credibility is unacceptable. To me, you should earn the right to lead other people by doing the right thing and being the right kind of person.

If you were to go undercover in your organization, what do you think you’d learn? What would be right? What could be working better? How engaged are your employees with your company and its purpose? How connected are you with the day-to-day experiences of your managers and staff? Where do your ideas come from for improving your company for your employees and users of your service or product?

I think probably the answers to those questions can be found without the help of CBS.

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