The Apprentice 1: Why Desperate Dan Got Fired

The Apprentice is great TV and this series looks better than ever. It always starts with pantomime posturing where wannabe business titans  look into the middle distance and with a straight face say things like "I am the best salesperson in the world...everything I touch turns to sold". Another said my management philosophy is JFDI (Just **** do it.

This presaged the kick off task making and selling sausages whilst staying up all night knackered. As Shaping the Future Adviser I saw it as a leadership and engagement challenge "par excellence. "Whilst the apprentice is entertainment,  there are some real lessons when you look closely. The first task resembled a talent meat market, because they first had to choose what might be termed a "sausage strategy" after being dispatched to Smithfield at midnight to make and sell sausages. They chose a project manager (of which more in a later blog), and a team name.

Team names are always crucial. The women’s team chose Apollo because part of the Apollo mission we were told is "failure is not an option". From a learning perspective the idea that failure should be ruled out in the first instance is just plain daft. Even Lord Sugar failed in many ventures. Who uses the famous emailer for example? But the idea that any personal vulnerability or open admission of a need to learn is wrong runs deep in British business and the workplace. All such behaviours are exaggerated in the Apprentice.

There is also a big debate in the UK about whether product startegy drives the stysle of people management.  This episode gave an interesting lesson in the nature of leadership styles related to product type. Cheap rusk enriched, sausages, made from the roughest cuts, encouraged a management style in the men’s team which was harsh and domineering. To call "Desperate" Dan Harris "too directive", is like saying Jeremy Kyle is a tad judgemental. His bullhorn articulation of the JFDI strategy led to cowed mutinous employees, a very poor team relationship and an atmosphere of finger pointing and blame shifting. Engagement was entirely absent. His team mates basically shafted him by not flogging bangers which meant the women narrowly beat them.

The women chose (after some feisty challenge from Melissa) an upscale product and therefore had a management strategy which was more involving and eganging. Or is is it a gender thing? The team leader led by discussion, encouragement and involvement. , Apollo also got their numbers right and knew what their packet cost and profit margin should be. Everyone mucked in on every task. They still got basic stuff wrong though. Sausages are sold on their sizzle as Nick Hewer reminded them, yet they failed to have a griddle to create the aroma and therefore the sales which would have given them a much bigger margin.

However it was the astonishing lack of self awareness of his hectoring, buying style of management which done for desperate Dan. His reports hated him and undermined him. They wouldn’t go the extra inch never mind mile because they knew failure was a good way of getting him out.

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  • Like John I watched the first episode of this year's The Apprentice with the usual mixture of shock, horror and deja-vu.

    Dan was the losing project manager. It's  fascinating to see, over and over again, how lack of self-awareness +

    apparently limitless self-confidence + pressure = disasterous leadership. Having said

    that, self-confidence and decisiveness are equally characteristics of great leaders.

    It seems that many people (if the Apprentice candidates are in any way representative) have never been given any feedback about their styles of working and how they engage their co-workers and employees.

    I pondered on whether consistent feedback to Dan, given early in

    his career ("You don't listen, you don't respect your colleagues, you do not win

    your colleagues' trust) might have made a big difference to

    his Apprentice performance, built on his strengths in the right way,

    and even made him a potential winner...?!


  • It questions the value of desperate dan's management coach and mentor?

    Allan M