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Why the apprentice should be fired for its impact on aspiring sales people

sales people

“I am hard, cold and unstoppable”

“Weak people have no place in business”

Two quotes from two new participants in The Apprentice, back on our screens for an eighth series.   Having been in business for over 30 years both in Corporate and SME, I have increasingly come to question the style of this program.  The comments and observations I make in this blog are made knowing that this is a made-for-TV programme and that ‘nice’ ‘warm’ and ‘unsure’ don’t make for confrontational TV.   However the program delivers a negative impact on the perception of those of us in business, and it might make young aspirational people feel that the behaviours they see the apprentices portray are the ones they need to replicate to ‘get on’ in business.

Among behaviours witnessed by the apprentices is that of being ‘right’ at all costs and then vigorously defending their view irrespective of the facts or evidence.  It also encourages the individuals to personally attack each other, all good for the viewing figures but as I will discuss, not good for the general perception of business.

Conventional wisdom and management thinking articulates that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas; Belbins team roles indeed stated the need for complementary skills.   I would contend that the modern business leader’s style is fostered by a considered approach not the consistent belligerent assertion of force of character, something that seems to be ever present in The Apprentice.

Like a lot in life, it seems a balanced perspective is needed; the leader needs a vision but also needs to bring people on board to share the vision and passion for it.   Cold and hard are not attributes that people in general relate to.   In Kipling’s poem ‘If’ he articulates this balance: “if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too” seems to be a good mantra and balance to keep front of mind.  Another attributable quote that reinforces this is the following: ‘One characteristic of the truly wise man is that he can recognise the wisdom of others and is more concerned in discovering the truth in any situation than in simply defending his own opinion.’

The word “balance” reoccurs so much in life, the balance between confidence and arrogance.  To be confident is to know one’s self, know the areas that one is strong in and the areas where one needs to develop or bring in resource and capability to augment.  This requires self -leadership and a peace of mind to facilitate clear thinking.  This is not possible if you are only interested in proving that your opinion is the right one all of the time.

The other quote, which intrigued me, was “there is no place in business for weak people.”  I wonder what personal attributes the individual attributed to the term weak.   Weak in the context of The Apprentice probably means those individuals who feel uncomfortable with unnecessary confrontation, would not stand up and shout the loudest and make personal attacks.

In the field that I have worked all my life (sales) there is a general perception that salespeople have shared characteristics with the stereotypical apprentice: brash, arrogant, forceful, and disingenuous.  I have over the past 10 years been running workshops demonstrating that it is the characteristics of thoughtful, reflective, analytical, and considered together with integrity that are the hallmarks of the top sales professional.  A calm self-assured confidence characterises them.  In The Apprentice I see little thoughtful professionalism only the forceful belligerent assertions of opinions.  Why is this important?  Because in most of the tasks that Lord Sugar sets there is a large sales component.  So his program, while compulsive TV to a large audience is harmful to the reputation of those of us in business and sales.

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