Check Out the Bathrooms: Seeing Corporate Culture and Leadership

dirty bathroom

Recently I had a very enjoyable business meeting with a former CEO who is now an advisor to a private equity investment group.  Having someone who has “been there” in the hot seat multiple times provides valuable insights to financial investors as they evaluate firms as potential acquisition targets. Not everything about a company can be seem by looking at data and financial statements or even talking to customers and suppliers.  What goes on inside the company is critical to evaluating its economic viability and future potential.

As we were talking, the former CEO told a story about how he evaluates the leadership of a company and it directly follows one of our leadership principles: Organizations are shadows of their leaders!

Here is how he told it:

Whenever I am asked to evaluate a company, one of the first things I do when meeting the CEO or President for the first time is ask to go on a tour, and specifically down to the areas where the hourly employees work.  Most times the plant has been given a “clean up” prior to my arrival, but I know what to look for.

One of the things I ask, early on in the tour, is to use the restroom.  Normally my CEO guide tries to point me in the direction of the executive restrooms upstairs.  But what I really want to see is the restrooms used by the workers.

If I walk into the hourly workers’ restroom and I find it dirty, with broken toilet seats and overflowing waste baskets, I immediately understand how leadership “sees” their workers, and what the workers themselves think about leadership.  Usually the graffiti on the bathroom stalls tells me more than any interviews or Powerpoint presentations.

What we find in these kinds of situations is a culture of disrespect for people, lack of pride and mistrust, with a focus more on profit than on performance and people.  Someone once said that you can eventually make a pizza so cheap no one will eat it, and the same is true for worker productivity, innovation and operational effectiveness.

Organizations are shadows of their leaders: that’s the good news and the bad news!

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to Check Out the Bathrooms: Seeing Corporate Culture and Leadership

  1. Cristina Nogueira says:

    Hi John!

    How are you? I have been reading all your post but being very lazy to comment. Probably is my personality 🙂 But I want you to know that I found them very real and coherent with my own experience working with CEOs of big and medium companies.

    This post I forwarded to the CEO of Bunge Brazil, given that this week they had a speech from a Brazilian phylosopher where he spoke about being excellent and linking that with being descent.

    I also want you to know that I met Cleo and I think we will start doing some work together in 2014. Thank you for the introduction!


    [Descrio: cid:image003.jpg@01CB088E.C302CCF0]

    Cristina Nogueira mobile: +55 11 98495 9834 Skype: crisnogueira47 making culture do-able

    From: “John R Childress . . . Rethinking” <> Reply-To: “John R Childress . . . Rethinking” <> Date: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 7:00 AM To: Cristina Nogueira <> Subject: [New post] Check Out the Bathrooms: Seeing Corporate Culture and Leadership

    johnrchildress posted: ” Recently I had a very enjoyable business meeting with a former CEO who is now an advisor to a private equity investment group. Having someone who has “been there” in the hot seat multiple times provides valuable insights to financial investors as they “


  2. Raunak says:

    Love this post. Just a couple of weeks back my colleague and I made a similar observation when we visited two administrative offices here. At one, the restroom was a dirty mess while at the other it was spick and span. When the two of us shared this observation we concluded that the restrooms reflected the personality of the head of the respective departments. And they truly did.


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