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Undercover Boss - A Lesson in Humility

January 18 2011

One of my favorite shows on TV is Undercover Boss.  As a consultant, coach and trainer I believe this show is a must see for anyone in management.  Are some of the scenarios questionable or unrealistic?  Maybe, but don’t let that get in the way of the message.  You must have a “Boots on the ground” mentality in management.  If you don’t you will lose touch and lose your effectiveness as a leader.  Another great example of this mentality is the movie When We Were Soldiers.

I loved last week’s episode, http://www.cbs.com/primetime/undercover_boss/video/ , because it reinforced exactly what I teach.  In my book Hire on a WHIM I speak of the four qualities that must be hired because they can’t be taught.  The CEO of Belfore, Sheldon Yellen went undercover to see what his frontline workers were doing.  The aha moment occured after Sheldon had spent the day with a woman who grew up in a boxcar, took baths in a large metal bucket and was homeschooled by her grandmother who herself lacked a formal education.  She could not pass the company’s written exam because she couldn’t read and yet she was joyful, had a tremendous heart for people and had an enviable work ethic.  Here are a few quotes from Sheldon as he sat in his private corporate jet and pondered what he had learned:

“This week I’ve met people who have worked harder than I ever have.”
“I can’t help think of how I can help people like Brenda”
“I’ve lived my life in a bit of a bubble…I thought I was very in tune and in touch with so much more than I really was.”
“As I reflect on the people I met I now question what I’m doing with my life.  Are the 5 star hotels really necessary?  I also will question how I operate and conduct my own life going forward.”
“We here at corporate have a disconnect….”
Sheldon learned a strong lesson in humility.  This is something that only life could teach him.  He can not learn and own the quality of Humility in a classroom or from a PowerPoint presentation, life must teach it.  This is why I continue to harp on the premise that the qualities that make up WHIM must be hired because they can’t be taught.  As you are searching for the best talent, look for those who already possess each of the four qualities and for specific experiences that taught them.  I welcome your thoughts.

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