The New White Collar Means Getting Your Hands Dirty


A while ago, I had one of those years where I really needed a vacation. You know the feeling. Leading up to that point I had spent an intense two year rehabilitation period following orthopedic surgery, plus a lot of extra hours toward rebuilding my client roster and pursuing several demanding certifications. Perhaps the clincher though, was a recent heartbreak. A sunny beach, far, far away could not come fast enough. I was to leave the day after my final certification course ended.

Needless to say, up until departure, when I wasn’t in class or at work, my head was buried in books. I knew next to nothing about what was going on in the outside world.

So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived exhausted at the Providenciales airport and the driver said, “You’ll probably be back here in an hour.”

“Excuse me?” I stammered. “W-w-hat do you mean? I just got here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“You’ll have to if they evacuate the island.”

Huh. Evacuate the island. That wasn’t part of my itinerary.

Turns out that Hurricane Frances was headed straight for us. With all my studies and burned midnight oil, I had no idea about the weather in paradise.

Who says an all-inclusive resort can’t also qualify as adventure travel?

Within an hour of arrival at the property, I found myself at a “mandatory hurricane meeting” where the general manager outlined the plan in front of the entire resort staff and all the guests, informing us that after dinner tonight, every employee would be working to ensure our safety and secure the resort. People would be relocated to different areas of the property and the staff would remain onsite. He concluded by firmly asking us to be at breakfast no later than 8am the following morning to eat and pick up a hurricane kit before returning to our rooms, where we were to stay from 8:30am tomorrow until further notice.

From that point on and for the next three days, every employee at that resort was hard at work. Before the hurricane, everyone was doing something: boarding up windows, tying down anything that could move, handing out supplies to guests.

After the hurricane hit, all hands were busy replanting uprooted trees, rebuilding and repainting, cleaning the pool and restoring power, making the beach safe for guests to enjoy. Everywhere you looked employees from all departments were doing whatever it took, no matter the job or area of the resort. The general manager included. He was involved every time I saw him. In addition to directing the entire effort, he also participated in executing tasks as needed.

Interestingly, the success of that manager’s approach is echoed in a number of recent studies.

HR company Adecco conducted a poll recently, asking 700 employees and 300 bosses from both blue and white collar industries about the relationship between workers and management. In many instances, perspectives on a manager’s style differed between the groups. One of the main areas where there was nearly total alignment between employees and bosses? The statement:

“A good boss rolls up their sleeves to help the team get the job done."

"groundbreaking" by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr

Only 3% of respondents were in total disagreement with that statement. A reported 74% were in complete agreement and the remaining 20% fell somewhere in between Somewhat Agree and Somewhat Disagree.

Back on the island, the sense of accomplishment when most of the resort was up and running only 2 days after the hurricane, gave everyone a rush. Morale was high. The GM had rallied the troops and then got in the trenches and worked shoulder to shoulder until all was done. Not only did he motivate his team, together he and his team inspired the guests to comply and to be helpful.  We all felt like we had done our part. His leadership led to a pervasive feeling of accomplishment and a sense of community.

Another recent study by Inc. magazine took a look at leadership style. Again, their results reflect a new age in management. According to respondents from Inc. 500 companies, only 1% of leaders’ style is hands off and a whopping 2% is autocratic. The remaining 97% self-characterized themselves as leading with one of three styles, all of which are participatory in nature.

Gone are the days of the remote office from which edicts are sent to the masses on a lower floor. And more to the point, gone may be the days when a pure directorial style will net the same performance and loyalty as it did a decade ago.

Do you feel like your management style makes you a minority at work?

Maybe it’s time to take a vacation and get some perspective on dissolving the distance between you and your team.