Leadership Lessons from Undercover Boss

Some of you may be familiar with the reality TV show “Undercover Boss” where each episode features a top executive of a large company posing as a trainee or recruit to experience working at the ground level. The show usually concludes with the boss having a greater appreciation for the employees and the workers’ improved morale because of the validation. As a student of leadership styles and principles, I have always gleaned great lessons from the various stories to apply both personally, as well as within the ministry context of the church.

In an episode that featured Larry O’Donnell, who is the CEO of Waste Management, posing as an entry-level recruit in several different departments within his organization, O’Donnell quickly realized that the push from headquarters for greater efficiency was causing lower productivity.  O’Donnell also learned that it lowered the morale of his staff when stringent working conditions do not permit them to serve their customers well.  He observed in several instances how unjust punishment (e.g., 2-minute pay cut for every minute late) and over-scrutiny by managers further demoralized the team.

The action steps that were taken to improve morale began with O’Donnell’s commitment to listen more to the crew on the front lines.  He realized that too many top-down decisions were made with limited input from employees.  One of the remedies was to increase consultation with employees on corporate policies.  Morale quickly returned to the workforce as their work was acknowledged and rewarded.

What if God decided to become an undercover boss and descended from heaven to inspect our work?

Those familiar with the Gospel can see how He did just that. The Apostle Paul describes Jesus as God who came in human likeness in Philippians 2. Jesus was like a CEO who goes undercover and allowed himself to be treated as an entry level employee. Jesus temporarily left his high position and took the lowest place as a servant with the following mandate:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:3-11

There may be occasions that we feel undervalued in the work of the ministry. There can even be moments where we felt reprimanded for not performing up to God’s standards. The Good News is that Jesus came as an “undercover boss” to relieve us from the false burden of religion and acted as the mediator Himself to provide us access to all of God’s kingdom and promises. Just as our earthly work may feel mundane when we are disconnected to the grander vision, we can feel overburdened by ministry easily when we miss our regular communion in worship services and pattern in prayer and Bible reading.

Leadership development has played a big part in the growth of Coastal Church and our team has benefited from leadership lessons from both the secular and Christian arenas. One of the best growth opportunities for you may be participation in the Global Leadership Summit which Coastal Church hosts annually to inspire and equip our leaders to do the work of the ministry in your respective context. Your team gets better when you get better in your leadership!