Undercover Boss: Why Authenticity Needs Introspection

I don’t watch much TV, but last night I’m glad I turned it on. I watched Sheldon Yellon, the CEO of property restoration company Belfor, teach me an important and subtle detail about how to achieve authenticity – not just in the workplace, but probably in life as well.

In case you didn’t watch the show, here’s a synopsis: extremely wealthy CEO with giant house, private planes, and hundreds of pairs of shoes goes to work on the front lines at his property restoration company, where the dirty work is no longer done for him. He uses power tools, cleans smoke damage, attempts to hang a drywall ceiling, pulls a dead rodent out of a wall, and shimmies on his belly underneath a house in its tiny (1′ clearance) crawlspace to check for water and insulation damage. He struggles, gets emotional, gets frustrated, and snaps at some of the employees. He just can’t do the tough jobs all of his employees are doing every day, and faced with his utter failure as a manual laborer, has an epiphany or two about how to treat them better.

The show was moving. Yellen definitely seemed to be transformed by the experience – showing emotions is risky, especially for a CEO on TV. But as you might expect, blogs have been lighting up with criticisms of Yellen’s responses to his week-long experience. For example, at Zap2It.com, someone points out that he only rectified a handful of employees’ concerns – he was just out in the field for a week. What about the concerns of the other thousands of employees? He handed out over $15K to each of the employees who appeared on the show, but what about everyone else who didn’t win this “surprise lottery”? Also, his decision at the end to institute town hall style meetings was not received well by the blog commenters. It’s a nice step, they admit, but would tend towards complacency over time – and if you’ve ever been at a company that did this, you’d probably agree.

Despite all the questions, I couldn’t help but observe how authentic Sheldon appeared to be in his interactions with the employees, and in his genuine concern that prompted the multi-thousand dollar handouts. Is he really feeling inspired and transformed, I wondered, or is he just faking it? Did the TV network give him a script that he needed to follow to make sure ratings would be high? (It *is* a sweeps month, I’m pretty sure.)

I concluded that he was really being authentic, and here’s the tipping point: he spent a lot of time on the show reflecting about his past, and his core values, and his current actions and beliefs. He recognized that his actions weren’t lined up with his core values – he was making decisions like instituting a wage freeze to help keep people employed, but without the personal contact (and without the employees being involved in these decisions) no one could see that the effort was in place to prevent layoffs.

He struggled to find ways to bring his behavior back into alignment with his values, and then (by the end of the show) he implemented some tangible changes.  This made me realize just how critical the processes of introspection and reflection are for achieving authenticity. Without examining how you’ve failed to live up to your own values in the past, you can’t fully get real with yourself – and figure out how to act authentically!

Find out more about Belfor here: https://www.belfor.com/en/us


  • Nicole,

    Great post. Authenticity seems to be in sort supply at times and I wonder if most people can even articulate their core values. I believe that aligning one’s behavior with core values is essential to living a fulfilling and meaningful life. There are continual temptations to stray from them. I also blog about this subject from time to time. Your readers may also be interested in some of my posts at http://findfulfillflourish.wordpress.com. They may also be interested in the free Guiding Values Exercise on my website, which is an engaging way to identify one’s core values. You can find it at http://www.findfulfillflourish.com. I’d very much appreciate your insights and thoughts.

    Thanks for such a great post.

    My best,

  • I saw the show two days ago and I am still bothered by this man. Personally I care very little about his wealth. I do, however, care that he owns a business and has control over 6000 employees. He has some serious personality issues. Yellen is an actor and a fraud, and I don’t see him ever changing. I encourage everyone to watch the show again and pay attention to the degrading comments that he makes about the work being done and the insensitive things he says. It was embarrassing. Telling the young man it was “stupid” in the way they were hanging sheetrock and cabinets. He went on to blame the young man for his own ineptness. He made the statement to the young man that he (the young man) pissed him off. That was after the young man was trying to be encouraging and supportive to Yellen’s efforts. I could never have any respect for a CEO who is totally disengaged from the work being done in the field. Really, he couldn’t even operate a drill / screwgun. The money he offered was the equivalent to bribes. He knew he looked like an a$$. Did anyone pickup on when he threw the customer items into a box and when advised to be careful because things can get damage, his response was to ask if the customer was home (to witness it). Why on earth would that matter? People of character aren’t concerned about “witnesses”. That is a glaring personality flaw. I challenge those of you who think he is a good person to watch the show again and really listen to the words he chooses to use in these different situations. For the sake of your employees…please sell this company to someone who knows how to run an organization.

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