Leadership Lessons from "The Apprentice"
Last night I watched the three-hour rerun of the final episode of "The Apprentice" on CNBC. I came away with the distinct feeling that Mr. Trump was not nearly as impressed with Kelly Pewdew and he was with Bill Rancic, the winner of season one. For one thing, I think he has a weakness for tall, beautiful, strong, smart, impetuous, outspoken women, which pretty much describes Jen Massey, the runner-up. But choosing her would have meant rejecting the recommendations of virtually all his advisors. In the end, he seemed almost resigned to choosing Kelly.
Although I've not watched all the episodes this season, I did watch the last few when the competition narrowed and the in-fighting became intense. Besides being good entertainment, what can we learn from "The Apprentice"?
The most important thing involves likeability. Simply put, most of Jen's competitors grew to dislike her intensely while most of Kelly's rivals seemed to genuninely like him. In the end, Donald Trump could not ignore that reality. No one wants to hire a superstar that no one wants to work with. To put it in football terms, if you're going to be moody, petulant, spoiled and mean-spirited, you'd better score twenty touchdowns if you want to stay on the team. The simple ability to get along with others over the long haul may be the single most important trait you can have. If people perceive you as a good person, a hard worker, a team player, and someone who is positive, upbeat, and fun to be around, you're going to have a ton of job security. Many people get fired simply because they rub people the wrong way. One of Mr. Trump's associates called Jen "abrasive." He wanted Mr. Trump to choose her anyway, but it wasn't going to happen.
What else sticks out? Brains and talent matter but not perhaps as much as some might think. Passion matters a lot, especially the passion to speak up for yourself when you are on the line. Taking care of details came up again and again. People who let things slide eventually get found out. Manipulation works for a while, but in the end people rally to a leader with integrity.
Finally, the series demonstrates that in life there are many factors we can't control. It's not clear that the best leader actually won the contest. You could argue that a half-dozen others were more qualified than either Kelly or Jen and that Mr. Trump made some bad decisions along the way. Not that it matters greatly since every one of the contestants will be making huge money eventually (if they aren't already). But in any competition, there can only be one winner. When you don't get accepted, when you don't get the job, when someone else makes the sale, when you are rejected in favor of someone else, all you know is that you didn't win. You don't always know why, and maybe it wouldn't help to know why anyway. The race is not always to the swift nor the battle always to the strong. The smart don't always get rich nor do to the skillful always rise to the top. "Time and chance happens to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). You can do your best, and you can even be the best, but you still may be passed over. That truth ought to humble all of us.
Meanwhile it helps to know that being a good person still counts for something.
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