You cannot lead if you cannot follow
More importantly, if you're not willing to work the front line, you are probably missing out on revenue (or expense reduction). Inc.com has this article with learnings from Jet Blue. Jet Blue has always been at the forefront of providing things that customers want -- wifi at the gates, television service within the plane, competitively low prices. How do they stay ahead? Simple. According to the article, Dave Neeleman, CEO of Jet Blue spends one day a month as a flight attendant.
What a spectacular idea! The way to give customers what they want is to listen to what they have to say, and instead of listening to his people tell him what customers are saying, the CEO of the organization goes out and talks to the actual customers.
Can you see your CEO doing this? I hope that you could answer "yes" or even "maybe" (although I have the sickening feeling that most of you cannot).
Ok, so the CEO gets information direct from the people using his product -- very powerful stuff. What else does this accomplish? I never ask anyone to do something that I am unwilling to do. When running facilities, I will purposely pull dripping wet, disgusting trash bags out of trashcans in full view of all the employees and replace the liner. Why do I do this? Because I ask every single employee, regardless of their stated job title, to be willing to do exactly the same thing if they see a trashcan getting full. Believe me, from personal experience I can tell you that taking your own time to do some of the least glamorous work in front of your employees makes them respect you and makes them willing to do almost anything you ask . . . Because you wouldn't be asking unless you are willing to do it yourself.
Is your initial response to say that you don't have the time in your schedule to do something like this? If it is (and it probably is), then make time for it! This stuff is damn important! Justify it to yourself, your spouse/family, your boss as an opportunity to increase employee goodwill, directly interact with your customers, and effect the bottom line (you will, even though you may be able to quantify it initially). Should you be unable to convince your boss, find a new job. Should you be unable to convince your spouse, then look at your quality of life in general and figure out how to arrange your schedule to spend more time with your spouse/family and accomplish direct customer interaction. Should you not be able to sell it to yourself, you may want to re-evaluate why it is that you are in the business you are in.