Mops and Mindsets: How Cleaning Restrooms Reflects True Leadership

We’ve all heard that leading from the front is a mark of a good leader. But have you heard that cleaning toilets and mopping floors demonstrate good leadership?

I was surprised by the number of articles and posts encouraging more leaders to clean toilets.

One of my greatest pastimes is mopping a floor or cleaning bathrooms. I genuinely enjoy this process. I can’t say I alwaysrestroom closed for cleaning did; I didn’t want this chore at home as a kid.

As a teen, I started appreciating mopping floors and cleaning toilets while working at a local community center. The floor was huge, and I spent what seemed like an hour on it. I had time to consider who used the gym, what programs we offered, my role, and how much I enjoyed our work. I found my little happy place while cleaning the floor.

Later, during basic combat training for the Army, I always volunteered to mop the floor. Partly because I enjoyed it and wanted to ensure we did the job right (to avoid more pushups later). We would typically take turns mopping until the job was complete. Once I got the mop, I rarely switched out and just completed the job. But I found a happy place while mopping. I would think about all the soldiers who had served before me and mopped on the same floor. Also, finding a happy place in basic training was a rare treat.

Never Ask Anyone to Do Anything You Wouldn’t Do Yourself

Most articles about cleaning toilets focus on never asking anyone to do something you wouldn’t do as a leader.

Another compelling reason for leaders to clean toilets is to foster empathy. By understanding what employees see and what they have to deal with, leaders can connect on a deeper level with their team. An older article in Fast Company, ‘Why More CEOs Need to Clean Toilets,‘ discusses this idea as a widespread complaint one of the CEOs on ‘Undercover Boss’ heard.  

While both are important, there are two other important reasons.

As an organization director, I was very particular about the cleanliness of our restrooms. I’ve always believed the look and smell of a bathroom and parking lot say a lot about a business or organization.

Clean Restrooms Reflect Value of Your Clientele

If you don’t take the time to clean and maintain your parking lot, front door, or restrooms, you don’t care about your clients, guests, or employees.

You’ll have a hard time changing my mind. My staff will all tell you how I feel about clean restrooms and parking lots.

A recent survey commissioned by Cintas Corporation found that 74% of Americans perceive businesses with dirty restrooms negatively.

When I worked in non-profit organizations, we always recruited volunteers to help with programs. I never let volunteers get assigned to restroom details.

It wasn’t right for us to recruit volunteers and send them to clean restrooms behind staff and clients. Cleaning toilets is a staff job and underscores leaders’ responsibility to ensure a clean and comfortable environment for their team and clients.

Often, I would assign myself restroom cleaning details. I would also spot-check and ensure we gave adequate time and attention to cleaning restrooms.

One of my top reasons for leaders cleaning restrooms is clean restrooms (front doors and parking lots) will tell your clientele all they need to know about how much you value them.

Cleaning Restrooms Reminds You of Where You Started

Every leader starts somewhere. Most started on the front lines, at the entry level, or as volunteers. I remember cleaning restrooms and parking lots in restaurants, at the community centers, and, of course, in the Army.

One of my earliest jobs was at the community center in the middle of a public housing complex built during World War II. Our director was passionate about maintaining the grounds and picking up trash regularly. He believed it was important that when people from the neighborhood walked onto the property and into the building, they had an escape from the daily crime and grime surrounding them.

I grew up in that neighborhood. We lived less than a block from the “projects,” and I grew up in poverty. Since those years, I have been blessed with some incredible experiences and leadership opportunities worldwide.  

Taking time to mop floors and clean restrooms is a humbling experience. It reminds me of where I started and keeps me grounded. It reminds me of who I serve and my journey to get here.  

Focusing on parking lots, front doors, and restrooms keeps us close to the needs of the clientele we serve.