What I’ve Learned About Business From Mike Rowe

by Sharlyn Lauby on October 6, 2009

One of my favorite shows is Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe on the Discovery Chanel.   Mr. Bartender has actually been employed in a few of the jobs shown during the opening credits.  When we met, his job was doing whale autopsies, which (trust me) was a very dirty job.

For those who aren’t familiar, host Mike Rowe, a former professional opera singer, scours the country in search of the men and women who work some of the most thankless, undesirable, and horribly dirty jobs imaginable.  Then, he works as their apprentice, doing each aspect of the job and getting every bit as dirty as they do.  The show’s premise: highlight the work of these hard working individuals who make life bearable for the rest of us.

Aside from the sheer entertainment value of watching Mike deal with poop, slop, slime and dirt, there are several business lessons to be learned from watching Dirty Jobs:

Training is not optional. There’s no way this show would exist if Mike didn’t get some sort of training to do these jobs.  Most of the training is on the job (OJT) but that’s fine.  There’s nothing wrong with OJT.  The point is training is required and it does happen.

Employee engagement matters. Mike is constantly analyzing the responsibilities of his job and relating it to what happens in the organization as a whole.  He’s successful because, during the program, he comes to understand how his work benefits the company overall.

Involvement builds trust. Many of the jobs Mike works at involve a safety component.  It’s essential for him to trust the people he’s working with and vice versa.  The employees are able to maintain a safe work environment because they trust each other.  And, that trust comes from being involved and invested in each other’s success.  Keep in mind that involvement also has the added benefit of helping to identify operational efficiencies.

Trust creates teams. It might sound simplistic, but when employees trust that their co-workers are working just as hard and for the same goal, it creates a common bond for the group.  There are no silos and no agendas.  It’s about focusing on the work.

As managers and leaders, we know one of the key ingredients to workplace success is building strong, self-managing teams.  Our role is to act as a trainer.  To educate employees on the big picture and their part in the ultimate success of the organization.

IMHO, Dirty Jobs is a successful program because Mike Rowe is a big picture kinda guy.   And, the big picture in this case isn’t dirt, grime, sludge or soot.  It’s about work.  The future of work.  And, how we all fit in that future.

If you haven’t had the chance to see this clip (it’s been circulated a lot), here’s Mike at last year’s TED Conference discussing the pitfalls of job marginalization.  You see, despite his usual appearance on the show, Mike is a very sharp guy.  And his message of organizational awareness is something we can all benefit from every day in our jobs . . . dirty or not.

{ 8 trackbacks }


Puf October 6, 2009 at 9:01 am

Sharlyn, if you haven’t visitied this site yet, check it out http://www.mikeroweworks.com/
I’m a huge Mike Rowe/Dirty Jobs fan so I blogged about it last week. It applies action to his TED presentation.
Great post!

Robert October 6, 2009 at 11:39 am


Great post – as the son and grandson of metal polishers who began his career in the same “dirty job” arena – I have a real soft spot for the man and women who earn a living by the sweat of their brow. I am very hopefully that one of the positive outcomes of this recession is that we reward those who shower at the end of their work day as much as those who shower before their workday.

Very appropriate post for the HR Bartender – Thanks


Steve Boese October 6, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Dirty Jobs is such a great show to me as it celebrates ‘real’ work and the men and women that do that work. Real work is messy, uncomfortable, hard, and hopefully at times, uplifting. Thanks very much for this excellent post!

hr bartender October 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Thanks so much for the great feedback – lots of Dirty Jobs fans. And for good reason. I think Mike does a great job of promoting the importance of work. There is a message of job creation at a time when it’s really needed . . look for more in another post.

And yes, his project – Mike Rowe Works – is not a site to miss. Thanks for mentioning it.

Jenny DeVaughn October 6, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I really liked this post. My favorite line is “Training is not optional.” It is important to continue to develop new skills and develop professionally no matter what career path you choose.

Deirdre October 6, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Fun post! I love Dirty Jobs – I love how MR appreciates the people and the work they are doing. His sense of humor just adds to the mix.

larry heard October 6, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Watching dirty job is the only why I turn my tv on on Monday.

Three Star Leadership Blog October 7, 2009 at 10:00 am

10/7/09: Midweek Look at the Independent Business Blogs…

Every week I select five excellent posts from this week’s independent business blogs. This week, I’m pointing you to posts on learning about business and leadership from unusual places, reward strategies, employee engagement, and apprenticeships….

Wally Bock October 7, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

hr bartender October 7, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Thanks so much Wally . . high praise and always an honor indeed!

The training message can be carried through to all jobs – particularly at the management level where companies just seem to think folks know what to do just because they have the position. And Mike’s admiration for working people is genuine and heartfelt.

Thanks all!

Fred H Schlegel November 3, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Great connections to a great clip. Rowe’s assessment of the war on work was fascinating and a like your training take-aways that flow from the show.

Ran July 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Rowe’s view is indeed fascinating. Working people deserve getting worth for their labors. Great clip Rowe!
Ran recently posted..Resume Q&A Page is Up!

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