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An undercover boss makes a good leader

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers

While you’re Managing By Walking Around, throw in a dose of Managing by Walking in Their Shoes. 

The entire nation has witnessed what leaders can learn by spending time on the front lines, thanks to the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss.” Meanwhile, other leaders have experienced similar success by walking in the shoes of lower-level workers. Examples:

Scott Moorehead, now CEO of Moore­­head Communications, was initiated into the family business by spending a year working in practically every job. The experience, which included driving a delivery truck, “made me a very employee-centric CEO,” he says.

Through her company’s Reality 101 immersion program, which requires front-line stints by execs, Carolyn Kibler learned about the daily challenges of operating dialysis equipment. Now, as operational vice president, she better understands her front-liners’ challenges.

For example, the experience helped her see flaws with an efficiency proposal by one of her operational managers. She realized the negative impact it would have on dialysis technicians.

Famous for his appearance on “Under­cover Boss,” Subway’s chief de­­velopment officer Don Fertman gained ground-level perspective during his week as a “sandwich artist.”

He now proposes bumping sandwich artists to the top of the org chart, since they “ultimately determine our success.”

Because of that experience, Fertman has since convinced all senior managers to spend a week as a sandwich artist, which may become a mandatory annual assignment. He also conducted a dozen focus groups with the sandwich-makers.

One of the biggest lessons he’s learned from walking in the shoes of these front-liners? “They want to feel good about what they are doing for a living.”

— Adapted from “How to Be a Better Boss? Spend Time on the Front Lines,” Joann S. Lublin, The Wall Street Journal.

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