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Why The Apprentice should be fired for its impact on aspiring salespeople

The Apprentice

“I am hard, cold and unstoppable.”

“Weak people have no place in business.”

Two quotes from past participants in The Apprentice, which is back on our screens for a 13th series. Having been in business for over 30 years, both in corporate and SME, I have increasingly come to question the style of this programme. The comments and observations I make in this blog are made knowing that ‘nice’, ‘warm’ and ‘unsure’ don’t make for confrontational TV, Which is what the producers are after.

However, the programme delivers a negative perception of those of us in the real world of business, giving young, aspirational people the impression that the behaviours they see the apprentices portray are the ones they need to replicate in order 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 most definitely not good for the general perception of how to do business.

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

The importance of balance
Like much of life, a balanced perspective is needed. Good leaders need a vision but also need to bring people on board to share their vision and passion. ‘Cold’ and ‘hard’ are not attributes that people in general relate to. In his poem ‘If’, Kipling articulates this balance: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you/ but make allowance for their doubting too” is a good mantra and balance to keep front of mind. In his book ‘The Buddha in Daily Life’, Richard Causton asserts: “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”.
What The Apprentice candidates need to work on is 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. 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.

What is ‘weak’ anyway?
The other candidate quote I want to take issue with is “weak people have no place in business”. 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 and who therefore do not stand up and shout the loudest, or 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. But these characteristics do not make good salespeople.

Over the past 10 years, I have been running workshops demonstrating that it is characteristics such as thoughtfulness, reflectiveness, being analytical and having integrity that are the hallmarks of the top sales professionals. They are characterised by a calm, self-assured confidence.

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 programme, while compulsive TV for a large audience, is harming the reputation of those of us in business and sales. And that’s why I say, it’s time to fire The Apprentice.

If your company is interested in training its salespeople to be at the top of their game, contact me to find out more.