CEOs Transform the Workplace with Visible, Dirty Hands

September 4, 2019
Author: Tyran Saffold Jr

Often criticized for being in the media too much, Jerry Jones is the face of his organization, the Dallas Cowboys. His morning today consisted of ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange AND ringing his bank to authorize a 90 million dollar deal for Ezekiel Elliott.

Whether you agree with his decision to pay Zeke or not, few can argue that Jerry Jones, and CEOs like him, make delicate decisions all the time . . . and the best ones aren't afraid to get their hands dirty when they do.

The Visible CEO

Running a business is hard work. CEOs spend hours and days upon end, making sure that their company is running at an optimal level and for a small business, they will lay the groundwork for how the company operates. When CEO of ThinkWhy, Ron Johnsey, is spotted getting his hands dirty as he empties the dishwasher at 6:40 am, it sparks something in his employees. It is the sense that, if he is willing to do work that is seemingly below him, then the bar has been set—there is no job off-limits to anyone in the company.

Whether it is placing carpet in a new office or getting on the floor to fix a conference room table like ThinkWhy COO, Claudine Zachara, leadership sees what needs to be done and gets it done, no matter what it is. When there is visibility of hard work on the executive level, it will push your employees to operate at their potential. That is how you build culture and engage employees.

Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Truth About Employee Engagement” believes that job misery is caused by three things: irrlevance, anonymity and immeasurement, all of which can be satisfied by one thing — visibility.


From an employee perspective, executives that remain visible to their employees develop one thing — the thing that Millennials and Gen Z want from their boss — a relationship. Not necessarily a personal relationship, but one that makes any executive a real person and not just an ominous figure, “seated in an ivory tower, issuing directives,” as Ron Johnsey put it.

When employees can match a face with a business, it makes things real for them. When the CEO takes time to walk through their businesses, no matter how many there are, just to smile and show appreciation for their employees, it can increase morale.

Shake hands. Know employees by name. Compliment pictures of kids on your employees’ desks. For an employee, especially in a tight labor market, that type of culture can certainly shift the competitive advantage in the company's favor.

Care Enough to Show Up

According to a Gallup poll, employees value communication from their boss that extends beyond the workplace. The best leaders make a conscious effort to get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject, work-related or not.

Ron Johnsey gets it. Jerry Jones gets it. Despite the criticism Jones receives for being “too hands-on” with his team in its day-to-day affairs, he remains active and visible. He is on the field, shaking his employee’s hands during pregame warmups. He is congratulating them in the locker room after a great performance. His personal relationship with former quarterback Tony Romo still exists, even years after the former Cowboys star retired in 2017.

Depending on the size of a business, it could be virtually impossible for one person to have a relationship with each employee, but that is when the rest of the leadership team comes into play.

Extensions of the CEO

Hiring the right leaders and mid-level managers, who should be extensions of the CEO, is vital for business success. It all starts with who is placed in leadership positions. These intermediaries, as connectors from the CEO to employee, can be seen in the same light as the CEO. Employees need and want to see the faces of the leadership team, no matter who it is.

“It is extremely important for small business owners to be highly visible to their teams,” said Johnsey. “If you are a larger business, you should make it a practice to walk through your offices and talk to your employees. Show that you care. But it has to be genuine. Everything has to be genuine.”

For small business owners, it is increasingly important for company leaders to set the tone. As the CEO, it is easy to get lost in the day-to-day functions of running a company. Take a page from Ron Johnsey, from Jerry Jones, or any other successful business owners. If you are willing to become more visible and get your hands dirty, your employees won’t hesitate to get theirs even dirtier.