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Why More CEOs Need to Clean Toilets; Lessons in leadership from “Undercover Boss.”


Why More CEOs Need to Clean Toilets; Lessons in leadership from “Undercover Boss.”

In the new reality show,  “Undercover Boss,” executive leaders go “undercover” as new hires in entry-level positions, to better understand how their organization works.

The first episode featured Larry  O’Donnell, President of Waste Management, Inc. cleaning porta-potties along with one of his employees. After each show the executives reveal their true identity and talk about what they’ve learned.

To some people this is a revolutionary concept, but I have to ask, “Why doesn’t every manager, executive or CEO take time to understand what their employees actually do at work?”

I’ve conducted numerous organizational assessments and have spoken to several thousand employees, during my last twenty years as a consultant.” My clients include; hotels and restaurants, high tech, facilities and waste management, airlines, transportation, beverage bottling and distributing, public works, and call centers.

The most common complaint and question I hear is, “Why doesn’t my manager/ director/ CEO, try to do my job?” followed by, “ if he or she tried to do my work, they would understand what I have to deal with everyday.”

This is a big “DUH!”  The common mantra these days is, “engaged employees are productive employees.”  Employees who think you have no idea or empathy for them are not going to be engaged.

I know that senior executives can’t necessarily meet all of their employees, or spend all their time on the floor, but they at least need to know what people who are on the phones, on the production floor, in housekeeping, and behind the counter, have to deal with every day. They need to have a process in place, that holds each level accountable for communicating with the next level down, and every one in management needs to spend a day at the call center, cleaning toilets, at the bottling plant, or driving the bus.

I’ve worked at entry-level jobs in various industries, and I’ve worked with CEOs. I know that where there is acrimony between employees and management and executive leaders, you’ll find low morale, poor service, extreme stress and increased absenteeism, and, too many resources allocated to internal problems as opposed to growing business. I also know that when inclusion, communication, and empathy are part of the culture, employees are happy and they are much more likely to make your customers happy.

So maybe, there should be more CEOs taking an hour or two to clean the toilets, flip burgers, or listen to customer complaints.

Simma Lieberman

"The Inclusionist"

Creating workplaces where people love to do their best work and customers love to do business


Simma Lieberman Associates


Fax: 510.527/0723 

1185 Solano Ave. PMB 142 

Albany, CA 94706  


Author of “Putting Diversity to Work, how to successfully lead a diverse workforce.”


Upcoming book, “The Dynamic Workplace, Where Employees Love to Go, and Customers Love to Buy.”

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