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What The Apprentice Can Teach Us

It’s that time again; Alan Sugar, flanked by henchwoman Karren and co., is back on our TV screens for yet another series of The Apprentice. It feels like it’s been running almost as long as The Mousetrap. If you haven’t caught any of the episodes so far (yes, we’re on the fourth already!) then you haven’t missed much; other than a handful of Britain’s supposedly ‘brightest’ candidates engaging in their usual squabbles and the odd bout of back stabbing. Rather than mimicking real-life, some aspects of the show are more like the scenes you’d find in East Enders, with the candidates so far from demonstrating any kind of desirable characteristics or qualities that it’s a wonder Lord Sugar hasn’t thrown in the towel already. That man must have the patience of a saint!

Whether for the right reasons or not, the show does nevertheless brighten the otherwise dull Wednesday night of many folks around the country. It is often quite unbearable to watch the collection of overblown egos (one candidate on the series describes himself as “half man, half machine”),but if we’re being honest with ourselves it’s these kinds of bizarre allegations and activities that makes us tune in every week. There’s often learning in the most difficult and ire situation and you might be surprised to find that there is here. Watching the candidates closely can give us pointers for reflecting on our own business behaviour.

1. Listening.

How many times have we heard the phrase “We’ve got two ears and one mouth for a purpose?” Often, no doubt, but it is true. Listening is a quality that many of us overlook in the business world, and a quality which many candidates also seem to forget on the show. We want to have a say in everything, and we’re often so busy trying to voice our own opinions that we forget to listen to others. This can be a problem, particularly where teamwork is concerned. Too many cooks spoil the broth and sometimes it’s about stepping back and letting the creative genius come from somebody else.

2. People buy from people.

The candidates who we’ve most warmed to in previous shows (and who have often done the best) are those who have character, demonstrate some common sense and act themselves. Remember Ruth Badger in the second series? Not the easiest character, but her down-to-earth, hard-working approach and loyalty to the project leader of the day made her a minor celebrity.

When you’re trying to sell your services, remember that it’s not just about the product that you’re offering – you have to sell yourself too. People aren’t robots, and no matter how good your service or product is, if you go in with the wrong attitude you’re not going to get a sale. People buy from people…

3. Getting the right balance.

Despite many of the candidates on The Apprentice claiming that they have come from management backgrounds and have a wealth of relevant experience, it’s surprising how many get completely the wrong end of the management stick. Successful leadership is about achieving targets through good management and that includes delegation and teamwork. The show seems to be littered with people with highly dictatorial styles or a complete lack of control. It’s about finding the middle ground; establishing your authority is important, but so is getting your team to trust you and pull together. This kind of realisation often takes years to crack, and judging by the skills show so far on the show, it’s going to be a while before the majority of candidates really master that.

4. Feedback.

If there’s any lesson to be taken from the show, it has to be the importance of feedback. How many times has a candidate come into the boardroom to be shocked to learn that their performance wasn’t fine and dandy or their product was a shambles? When we’ve worked hard on something it’s very easy to become blasé about it and assume that it’s perfect. If you’re managing people, positive feedback is vital, but so is constructive criticism. Employees need to know where they’re going wrong so that they can improve accordingly. Otherwise they’ll continue doing things the wrong way, and the way they’ve always done.

People are only human (despite what some people on the show would have us believe) and mistakes are therefore inevitable, both in the reality-show world and in real life. Watching the show gives us an opportunity to evaluate and compare our own behaviour with that of the candidates. You can learn a lot from television, apparently. I wonder how many of us will have become better business men and women in nine weeks times when the show has ended?

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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