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Friday, December 30, 2016

7 Leadership Secrets for 2017

By Thomas Eden

In the television series “Undercover Boss,” CEOs, owners and other high-level executives go “undercover” donning disguises, aliases, and bogus biographies and work temporarily as entry-level employees in their organizations. Working closely with various employees, the participants get a chance to see what it is like to work for the company and how they are perceived as a leader.

Toward the end of each show the executive’s identity is revealed, dedicated employees are rewarded, bad employees are shown the door and executive works to address the issues and breakdowns in the organization that employees helped bring to light. It is my most favorite supervisor video training session I give.

Despite the happy ending format and the requisite reality television manufactured tension and tear-jerker moments, the program offers 7 valuable leadership lessons for 2017:

Leadership Lesson: Being an effective CEO takes courage. CEOs on “Undercover Boss” might get some great publicity for their organizations, but only by being brave enough to expose themselves and their management policies on television. Heading up a company is a challenging job that requires risk taking and unconventional ideas, and for the Frontier CEO disclosing his Christian faith took courage.

Leadership Lesson: Realize that every employee has a story. You never will know their story if you do not take time to ask and breaking bread many times helps break the ice. Working side by side is a great way to hear the employee’s story. Listening is a learned trait of highly effective leaders and until they believe you care you will learn very little. 

Leadership Lesson: Small changes can make a big difference. Sometimes the management changes that boost morale and productivity the most on the show aren’t expensive or expansive, sometime it is just making employees feel respected again.

Leadership Lesson: Saying “thank you” matters. The ability to express genuine appreciation is a top leadership trait. When you see good work say it and a handwritten note of appreciation will be kept by an employee for years. Know that unplanned acts of kindness, hospital visit, or unexpected gift card for over the top service make a difference to the morale of the entire team.

Leadership Lesson: Every company has room for improvement. Realize that every employee wants to be heard and it is is okay to acknowledge that there are problems within an organization. The goal should be to address issues rather than ignore them. Most CEOs who appear on the show are shocked by at least one issue they identify on their undercover journey.

Leadership Lesson: Rewards should be personal. In every episode, the executive calls a few special employees to his or her office for an unveiling. At that time, the CEO makes sure to thank employees for their hard work and dedication to the company. This is a highly anticipated part of the show and viewers live vicariously through these employees as the CEO says “thanks.” The visit to the CEO’s office includes a reward tailored to each individual’s need, a goal they want to achieve, and examples include training and development, help with educational costs, financial needs. 

Leadership Lesson: CEOs are changed for the good of the entire team. The CEO meets with the entire team and explains what the experience did to them and how they will never look at front line jobs the same way and puts a human face on decisions.

Common Sense Counsel. Giving employees a voice is the absolute draw of Undercover Boss. In 2017 Managers need to create opportunities for gathering—and spreading—information without putting the CEO in a wig and glasses. Consider how your 2017 might be changed.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at