Imagine what would happen if leaders went undercover in their own organisations with the intention of finding out what REALLY happens.
That’s what happens on “Undercover Boss”, a reality TV show in which bosses pretend to be entry-level/front-line staff in their own companies. It’s an exercise in empathy, appreciation and truth-seeking and truth-speaking, all of which I believe are important for leadership. (Yes, I admit that people behave differently when the camera is in front of them but don’t let the imperfections prevent you from appreciating the essence of this show.)
The bosses discover the difficulties faced, the strengths with which their staff members handle them, extraordinary service, family/personal challenges faced by staff as well as behaviours that lack integrity.
I wonder how CEOs and other leaders in Singapore would be transformed if they became construction workers, salespeople, cleaners etc for a day…
I wonder how they would feel seeing the level of alignment between their company’s vision/mission/values statement and what is practised. Or between their own spiritual values and what is practised.
Literally going undercover may not be practical in many circumstances but there could be variations to it. They could:
~ Make surprise visits or ensure that a trusted team does surprise visits/inspections etc.
~ Become a mystery shopper.
~ Surround themselves with people who are courageous enough to speak the truth about them or the impact of their decisions on the ground.
~ Visit “Dialogue in the Dark” in Singapore, an experiential activity in empathy. Extend the learning from that to empathy in the workplaces or other areas of life.
~ Learn about leadership styles which emphasise self-awareness and self-reflection, and the impact of one’s actions on others. A few books that handle this in different ways are “A Hidden Wholeness” by Parker Palmer, “The Leaders Way” by the Dalai Lama and international management consultant Laurens van den Muyzenberg and “Heroic Leadership” by Chris Lowney on the Jesuits.
~ Be guided by role-models who emphasises pursuit of Truth, integrity and listening to one’s conscience.
~ Slow down and really observe yourself. At the end of each day, reflect on where you appreciate yourself, where you could have done better etc.
~ Slow down and really observe people. Master the art of spotting people’s strengths and positive actions and appreciating them meaningfully (which may not necessarily involve expensive gifts like sometimes it does on “Undercover Boss”). Here’s a useful resource on spotting people’s strengths.
What are other ways that leaders could seek and witness truth and experience empathy? How could you implement any of these ideas where you work?
I believe we are ALL leaders so although this post is aimed at formal leaders, if we all embraced truth, empathy and appreciation in our lives, we would see our world flourish sooner.
Catch “Undercover Boss” on Sundays at 10pm on Channel 5 in Singapore or watch clips on you tube. Here are a few clips: