Undercover Boss Reveals More About the Boss than the Workers

What do employees say and do when their boss isn’t watching?

Organizations say they want to know what goes on behind the scenes.  But more often than not, senior leaders, particularly those at the top of the corporate food chain, don’t spend enough time in the trenches to get an unfiltered perspective of what happens on the front lines.

However, a few brave CEOs are going undercover to get the real dirt. Or in the case of Rick Arquilla, the raw sewage.

During a recent episode of Undercover Boss, Arquilla, President and COO of Roto-Rooter (, traded in his tailored suit and wing tips for a denim shirt, safety goggles, and heavy rubber gloves to go uncover as a Roto-Rooter “trainee.”

Arquilla spent a week pulling sludge out of pipes, answering phones, and trying to figure out the dispatch system he designed. The scene where he yanks a nasty, mildewed washcloth out of a clogged tub drain is priceless. (View episode on Rooter Washcloth

But beyond the comedic value of watching a CEO cope with the demands of blue-collar work, the real beauty of the show is the emotional connection. Posing as a fifty-something, blue-collar trainee named Hank allows Arquilla to relate to his employees in a way that CEOs rarely do.

He works alongside the single mother customer service rep who’s behind on her mortgage and whose parents take care of her autistic son while she works nights. She trains him to be empathetic, telling him, “Your customers come first.”

He assists a technician who cuts his own commission so that a poor woman can afford much-needed repairs to her pipes.

He observes a tech spending a long day handling all his own jobs as he also fields questions on his cell phone from fellow technicians. He’s amazed when, at the end of the day, the man invites him to come along as he spends an evening coaching basketball for under-privileged kids.

Arquilla, who grew up in a blue collar town and whose own father was a factory worker, is overwhelmed with emotion as he observes firsthand just how much his employees care about their jobs, their customers, their families and their communities.

During one scene when a welder who works at the Roto-Rooter manufacturing plant in West Des Moines tells trainee Hank (undercover Arquilla) that people are worried about losing their jobs, Arquilla is clearly humbled by how many families are dependent on the success of the organization he leads.

You gotta’ love a guy who’s willing to shovel you-know-what so that he can better understand his people.

Other businesses may be more glamorous than plumbing and pipes, but in era of corporate scandals and out-of-touch CEOs who seem more concerned with their mansions and bonuses than their own employees, it’s nice to know there are still a few good guys at the top.

This is why I love television.

Consider Arquilla’s comments when, after revealing his true identify, he calls together his team and, choking back tears, tells them, “You taught me how to do the work, but you also taught me how to be a better person, and for that I’m grateful.”

Real leaders don’t worry about what their employees are doing when the boss isn’t looking. Real leaders look for ways to support and appreciate the unsung heroes who make their company great.