Is The Apprentice setting a precedent for negative business leadership?

  • January 10, 2023
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The Apprentice returned to BBC One last week, with 18 new candidates thrown into the limelight as they flew to Antigua, tasked with selling excursions to tourists.

The Apprentice returned to BBC One last week, with 18 new candidates thrown into the limelight as they flew to Antigua, tasked with selling excursions to tourists.

Doug Baird, CEO at New Street Consulting Group says that Whilst the show is edited for entertainment purposes, there’s a real danger in highlighting and normalising some of the candidates’ negative behaviours such as when they lose their temper, become overly emotional or, in some cases, even demonstrate aggression.

Last week 5 Live interviewed a University of Bristol professor who suggested there might be some people – particularly undergraduates – who start to believe characteristics like ruthlessness and inflated self-regard are essential in ‘real world business’ if they want to get to the top.

However, when it comes to successful leadership, these types of attributes will not go very far in creating motivated and effective teams. The normalisation of this poses a real risk to the development of our future leaders.

Stability is an imperative attribute for leadership success. Teams need to have faith that their leader will act and make decisions based on logic, not emotion. This is a far cry from what is seen on The Apprentice where emotions such as pride can influence team leaders’ decisions.

The most successful leaders recognise that they don’t always have to have all the answers. And that’s OK. Those in leadership positions recognise their ideas and ways of working will sometimes come into question. However, learning how to handle criticism and take on feedback, is critical in fostering trust with colleagues.

“Equally important is the role empathy plays in effective leadership. It builds empowering, honest relationships with colleagues which ultimately enhances teamwork and productivity. A new study found when people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more innovative and 76 percent of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged, compared with only 32 percent who experienced less empathy.

“Leading with an iron fist is another example where candidates get leadership wrong on the show. Power play has no place in the real world of leadership. Far from hiding away in a separate office or ‘refusing to get their hands dirty’ – a popular generic criticism often used on The Apprentice – true leaders are approachable, open-minded, and as much a part of the team as everyone else.

Where the show does get the edit right though is in highlighting how these behaviours can damage a team’s morale and effectiveness. A recent study showed 44 percent of people quit their jobs due to negative behaviour from their boss with micromanagement, lack of trust and empowerment and poor direction being some of the most offending behaviours listed. The negative impact these behaviours can have on a team is clear to see when watching the show both during the tasks and in the boardroom debrief.

There are often diamonds in the rough though who demonstrate great leadership skills, and typically will be the winners of the task. The success of the team is so clearly linked to the effectiveness of the leader. It’s why the losing team leader for each challenge stands the highest chance of receiving the infamous ‘you’re fired’ from Lord Sugar.

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Is The Apprentice setting a precedent for negative business leadership?