The Innovator’s Field Guide: The Leader in the Corner Office

“He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interests.” –Theodor Adorno

There’s a reason why the CBS reality series Undercover Boss has been on the air for eight seasons. The show places a chain-store executive or owner of a large company in an entry-level position within their own company. The series’ first episode reached 38.6 million viewers, and the New York Daily News review tagged Undercover Boss as “an hour of feel-good television for underappreciated workers.”

Part of the show’s success is undoubtedly the schadenfreude of bosses slogging it out in the corporate trenches. The takeaway for leaders and the main component of the show’s longevity is the underlying need for associates to feel like their efforts matter and are understood by the “folks upstairs.” If the majority of America’s business leaders were successfully executing the concepts of team development and servant leadership, Undercover Boss wouldn’t have lasted through its first season.

I’m not suggesting you should be able to perform every task of your team– you build a team to allow you to grow the company. Consider what your team members would do if you offered to work a day performing their job duties. Would your team members not give the offer a second thought because you’re already ingrained in their work processes? Would they believe that you were out of touch enough not to know how or what they do? If the answer is the latter, a reevaluation of your role could be in order. Taking the time to understand the “nuts and bolts” of your company’s work processes will not only build loyalty to you as a leader, but your perspective could lead to new efficiencies your team members had never considered. NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird once said, “Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you‘re going to get respect from the other players.”

In a nutshell, leadership requires rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. It means that you’re willing to dive in after a loose ball.

 The Leader in the Corner Office Accelerators

  • How close are you to the action of your team?
  • What would your team say about your understanding of their roles, responsibilities, processes, and outputs?
  • Where should you engage with your team to learn a little more about what they do?