Last night, after the Super Bowl, a new show aired for the first time called “Undercover Boss.” I haven’t been much of a fan of reality television series over the years, but it seems to me this might be exactly the kind of “reality” we need to see much more.
If you aren’t familiar with the premise, each week a President/CEO of a large company goes “undercover” in their own organization. On the first night, the president of a large waste management company went to work at a number of the company’s various divisions. He cleaned Porta-Potties©, worked at a landfill, sorted through refuse, rode along on a garbage truck and tried to collect blowing trash. It was hard work. In fact, he was so slow and uncoordinated on one job he was fired on his first day!
I heard someone describe “Undercover Boss” as “the right show at the right time” and after having seen it, I think I understand. One of the most striking aspects about the show was how disconnected even a caring, professional leader can become from the people who work for him (or her). Even more significant, however, was how much a person could change by spending even a little time with the “little people.”
Here are just a few of the things the “boss” learned by going undercover: 1) He learned some of the rules he put in place as CEO were being used by others in management to harass and even oppress workers. For instance, in the interest of productivity, garbage truck drivers didn’t have time to even take a bathroom break. One woman driver was forced to take a jar on her route in case of emergencies.
At another facility, workers were being docked 2 there is more courage and honor being reflected in the lives of his workers than he ever imagined. The man who had to fire him on the first day had been undergoing kidney dialysis for 18 years and was still going strong.
Others who worked in the worst conditions did so with grace and humor and took great pride in their work. Indeed, some were doing the work of two or three employees, and doing so without fair compensation. Probably the best part of the show was when the truth was revealed to everyone. The workers who had worked most closely with the undercover boss were brought together in one room and were obviously surprised to see the “new guy” had actually been the president of the company! Back in the President’s office, he then went about making the necessary changes in the way his company did business. It was moving to see his response.
I found it interesting the one person the undercover boss felt he needed to correct wasn’t an employee, but a fellow manager. When he confronted the man, he said, “You had a new employee here last week… It was me.” The manager had never taken the time to meet the new guy.
The parallels to the Gospel story seem very plain to me. God became human and came among us, full of truth and grace. He was at once ordinary and yet extraordinary. He experienced the world in the same ways we experience the world and suffered just as we suffer. Those with whom he had the most difficulty weren’t the ordinary workers (or sinners), but those who were supposed to represent the “boss,” but used their status in selfish and wicked ways.
How wonderful to see the Gospel in a show that has no pretensions of being religious. All I can say is, “stay tuned.”