Montgomery Burns’ Executive Washroom

The Simpsons Episode 15, October 18 1990

There’s an old episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which Homer grows a full head of hair and unwittingly impresses Mr. Burns. He’s rewarded by being given ‘the key’.

This key unlocks the executive washroom, a toilet reserved for senior executives at the Springfield nuclear power plant. Behind the locked door to the washroom is a waterfall, a classical orchestra and a servant. And a golden toilet, of course. It is reserved for the upper echelons of Burns’ leadership team while the rank and file have to make do with a row of dirty, graffiti-covered toilet stalls downstairs.

It was always one of my favourite episodes from when I was an avid Simpsons fan. I’m not saying that I don’t like The Simpsons anymore, I just don’t really have the opportunity to watch it these days. Anyway, that’s not the point.

The point is that it is not at all uncommon for leaders to display such arrogance. Perhaps not the waterfall and orchestra (that would be silly) but private toilets? Yes. Private dining? Certainly. Private floors reserved for senior execs only? Floors from which everyone else is banned? Most definitely. Some companies even have policies that prevent employees emailing top management. I kid you not.

It’s a statement of importance from them. To the rest of us, it’s the source of water cooler chat and colourfully-worded jokes that could not be repeated to a child.

A Little Effort Goes A Long Way

Needless to say, these types of behaviours are not great for building a team. Teams need leaders that are visible and approachable. Leaders that get stuck in and pull their weight. Leaders that demonstrate that they are part of the team, not some higher unseen power that has all the answers and should be followed without question.

There never has been and never will be a leader who has all the answers – despite what some of them may think. It only requires a little effort to become a better leader. It starts with being more human. Yes, it’s really that easy.

  • Have lunch with your subordinates in the staff canteen.
  • Invite them for a coffee sometimes and have a chat about anything except work.
  • Say hi to everyone as you wander around. Don’t just nod your head before you skulk back to your corner office and your spreadsheets. Show some interest in who these people are.
  • Take some snacks into the office to share. Stay and mingle for ten minutes and enjoy some cookies.
  • Attend the annual team building event and join in with enthusiasm. Don’t disappear to play golf. Everyone can see you and they’ll all be disappointed by your absence.

There are hundreds of small gestures that you can make on a daily basis. Don’t hide away in an ivory tower with a fancy toilet and expect your team to trust and respect you. That’s why I bring up the story from The Simpsons and the executive washroom.

And if you don’t know why you should do these things, you should resign immediately from your leadership position.

You just don’t get it.