Undercover Boss Leadership

June 2013

We hosted a group of clients at a recent Conference Board of Canada event titled Leadership Lessons from Undercover Boss Canada. Along with Gordon Frost of Mercer, who delivered the keynote presentation on analytics and talent strategies, we heard from:

  • Ellis Jacob, CEO of Cineplex Inc.,
  • Jane Riddell, COO of GoodLife Fitness,
  • Andrew Clark, Chairman, Clark Builders,
  • Stacey Mowbray, CEO of the Second Cup, and
  • Karen Stintz, Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission

What follows is a summary of some key comments we've ascribed to various themes that emerged:


  • Authenticity and passion are critical to inspiring others.
  • Inspire - but never stop being inspired.
  • The best leaders never stop learning.
  • The leader doesn't need to be creative but needs to encourage creativity inside the organization.
  • Kindness and compassion bind people to the leader and to the company.
  • Don't celebrate achievements until the 100% target has been attained.
  • Front line input to operational issues is important; often top-down decisions are made without understanding if/how these changes might work.


  • The challenge for leaders in 2013 is to focus on engaging and developing employees.
  • We are developing leaders now for roles and situations that don't exist today.
  • Less than 40% of organizations are developing their high potential employees.
  • Onboarding of new employees increases the likelihood of success and length of tenure.
  • A great corporate culture enables companies to recruit the best talent without having to pay top dollar, and provides a competitive advantage.
  • As employee engagement rises, discretionary efforts by employees rise.
  • Data analytics are vital to making informed leadership development decisions. Yet, on a global basis, only 49% of organizations feel that they have objective data, and only 12% are confident in the quality of the data.
  • 60% of organizations are increasing their investment in talent. 77% have a work force plan in place; yet less than 25% feel their plan is effective.


  • To enact real change, an organization needs to hire a critical mass of new people comprising about 20% of the company. Otherwise, their voices will be drowned out.
  • Workers of different generations want the same things, but they have different expectations as to how things will play out. As an example, a 40 year old employee will be satisfied with a weekly status meeting with his manager. A 20-something employee wants her boss's office door open at all times.
  • Over the past ten years, women have proven to be more effective at enacting change.
  • Outsource tasks that aren't part of the organization's core business.


  • Manage communications/manage your message - don't let Twitter take on a mind of its own.
  • Shut up and listen. Be humble, listen and engage.
  • Feedback is powerful.

Lastly, the Conference Board in conjunction with the Niagara Institute presented the following chart outlining the Evolution of Leadership, and how leadership qualities are ranked today versus 20 years ago. Projections as to how these might change 10 years hence are also noted.


20 years ago


10 years from now


Technical Mastery





Effective Communication

Effective Communication



Learning Agility

Learning Agility


Effective communication


Multicultural Awareness






We very much enjoyed the day, and hope that you find some 'pearls of wisdom' in the comments and information outlined above.