What I’ve Learned About Business From Mike Rowe

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.


  1. says


    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


  2. says

    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!

  3. says

    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.

  4. says

    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.

  5. says

    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.

  6. says

    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!