Would You Swap Your Boss?

I don’t get to watch much television these days (a combination of a young
family, work and church), but I happened to come across an interesting programme
on Channel 4
last night called
Boss Swap.
The programme takes an interesting premise of transposing two company directors
into each others’ firms for a fortnight spell and giving them both free rein to
run the company how they like. Each of the companies is then followed in a
fly-on-the wall documentary to see how they respond to the different approach of
their guest director. In last night’s programme, Bryan (ex-Army, rather wooden)
from a plastic bag manufacturing company swapped with Lee (ladies charmer,
down-to-earth), co-director of a public relations agency. 

What made the programme so compelling was the way it stripped down the
essentials of good management to the bare bones. The editing of "reality TV"
programmes like this inevitably distorts and caricatures people, showing their
excesses rather than their genuine personality. Yet you could learn far more
about how to run a business in an hour from watching their differing approaches
than you could from many management training manuals.

Lee took a hands-on approach to the carrier bag company, heading straight
down to the shop floor to meet the company employees and finding out their
gripes and ideas for improving the company. By winning the others in the company
over with his enthusiasm and empowering them by giving them a stronger sense of
ownership in the company’s future, he seemed to be able to both build a stronger
team culture and improve the company’s effectiveness.

Bryan on the other hand demonstrated a more traditional top-down approach to
management, expecting his higher rank to automatically engender respect but
instead alienating himself from his temporary employees. I felt somewhat
sympathetic to Bryan; he undoubtedly had the harder side of the assignment in
entering a young dynamic company already full of people employed for their
creative talents. Not only did he struggle with his half of a swap but he
returned to find his own company invigorated by the very person whose shoes he
couldn’t fill.

A few characteristics of great management I think the programme hinted at:

  • Excellent managers don’t drive change simply by setting a direction –
    they share a vision with their employees so that it becomes a joint goal.
  • Excellent managers make their staff stakeholders in the company rather
    than simply employees.
  • Excellent managers are less interested in personal success than the
    success of those around them; paradoxically the result is their own
  • Excellent managers don’t see themselves as superior than their
    employees, just as differently skilled.

One of the most interesting things was how the companies followed up their
televisual fame. If you go to Lee’s PR agency
you get redirected to a special
that picks up on the Boss Swap publicity.
On the other hand, Bryan’s firm looks
like any other site. If you saw the programme, you might also be interested in
interviews they conducted with the chief protagonists
, which give further
insights into their reactions to the programme. I look forward to seeing future
episodes at some point…

Comments (3)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I wonder when (if ever) we’ll see this program(me) on US television. It sounds interesting. I just hope fox doesn’t co-opt it and turn it into some kind of weird boss-dating hoax show.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I believe it’s coming on 4 Broadband (available with a RealPlayer subscription); details here:


    I can’t endorse this service (rather the opposite in fact given that it’s Real 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    # Tim Sneath wrote about the performance of a PR executive in Boss Swap, a British reality TV show featuring two managing directors with very different styles who are