Monday, January 08, 2007

Thoughts on The Apprentice: LA, Episode 1

I have to admit, I love this show. Watching it, I am the armchair quarterback of the leadership football season. The show gives us opportunities to stretch our leadership muscles asking, "What would I do if I were them?" Let's look at some of the more interesting moments. If you haven't seen the show yet, you can watch it here.

Before I start, I'll note that this is television. It is certainly contrived and heavily edited for better storytelling. Some parts are probably scripted and re-shot to that end. The best we can do is take the context we are given as a starting point.

My first observation may be an error of bad scripting. The contestants drive to the mansion four to a car. Each candidate silently contemplates strategies for their opening gambits. Hello, this ride was their opening gambit. The people in the car are both teammates and competition. They all threw away an opportunity to position themselves as leaders. Again, probably scripted. I would have worked the crowd every opportunity I got.
Lesson 1: People are the medium in which we practice leadership. Talk to them.

The first mini-project was putting up a large tent. They all attacked the tent project with the energy of the realization that it probably mattered. But, lacking any defined leader, it started out as bedlam. The dynamics are familiar to all of us: a desire to finish quickly, no stand-out leader, people jockeying for the lead. A decent strategy at this point would be to sit back and let someone else risk being shot down as the leader. The best outcome is to ask for the leadership role and get it. The worst is to ask and be denied.

Heidi stepped up and assumed the lead. The team gave it to her. I'm impressed with Heidi. She managed to take the lead softly, without appearing aggressive. She waited the right amount of time for the team to realize they were not making progress without coordination, but not too long so that someone else grabbed the lead first. The risk paid off. She earned the highly visible first project lead role and parlayed it to a seat next to Mr. Trump in the board room. This is a huge advantage.
Lesson 2: Before risking to take the lead, make sure the team realizes they need a leader. Only after that, take the lead before someone else beats you to it.

Sometime into the tent project, everyone must have realized that Heidi had succeed in setting herself apart. Frank acted to do the same for himself by bullying his way into the lead. Heidi realized she had already won this task. She gave him the lead rather than look foolish by fighting Frank for it. Very well played. Bullying works as a tactic, but fails as a strategy. The team didn't need a new leader. The team gave Frank the lead, but not their respect. He will suffer for this later.
Lesson 3: Nobody respects the bully.

The first real project had the two teams, led by Heidi and Frank, each running a car wash for a day. Frank started the project barking directions in a limited, street-side strategy session. Then he grabbed one of his teammates and ran to a local copy shop to print fliers. Yes, you read correctly: He ran to the copy shop. There is so much wrong here. One, his team was not prepared enough for him to leave them. Two, he could have sent anyone to get copies. Three, you don't need two people to make copies. Four, there must be a better way to get around LA. Five, filers were not an effective way to get cars to pull into the car wash.
Lesson 4: Plan first, act second.
Lesson 5: The leader needs to delegate and stay available for the whole team.

Heidi made early mistakes as well. There came a point where they had more cars in line than they could wash. Too many of her team were holding signs to bring cars in; not enough people washing. Heidi noticed the problem and re-balanced the team so more people rolled up their sleeves and washed cars.
Lesson 6: Be open to changing direction.

Either team could have improved by 25% with better planning and execution. I picked up on a few other lessons along the way. First, both car washes had a staff of experienced people there to help them. Neither team engaged this extended staff in the planning or main execution of the task. The car wash staff in the background seemed to be mocking the candidates in their neatly tailored business suits.
Lesson 7: Your are never too important to ask the line staff for help.
Lesson 8: When there is dirty work to be done, change out of your suits, if only metaphorically.

The big loser of the week was Martin. Martin appeared to be trying to stand out in every way. He dressed oddly. He coupled a weak joke about hugging Mr. Trump with a poorly timed request to go to the bathroom. He tried to take a supervisory role during the tent project. Being so visible is risky, but not a bad plan for getting noticed in this competition. On the plus side, Martin did an excellent job of playing the group psychology in the evening. He effectively, put Frank on the ropes with his team mates as the primary cause of the team's loss. It would have worked if Martin hadn't been such a poor performer in the car wash project.

I'm disappointed to lose Martin. I think he had more skills to show us. Frank on the other hand has already annoyed me beyond what I want to see. I think we have seen all there is to Frank. Although, it may be interesting to see how the others deal with the bully approach. Frank is what I think of as a one-time leader. He gets people to do what he wants one time, but they will never volunteer to work for him again.

Next week Heidi gets to be the project leader again. This is tremendously valuable currency. My advice to Heidi is that she not forget to spend her currency effectively. As the leader, she can subordinate the project leader role to another member of her team. In doing this, she should make it clear that since her neck is on the line with Mr. Trump, she needs to retain some oversight and control. This has two positive values for Heidi. First, she gives someone on the team an opportunity to show their leadership skills. Second, it sets up Heidi as the senior leader for the team, and cements her superior role for the rest of the competition.
Lesson 9: You gain more power by giving some of it away.

For more Trump fun, check out The Trump Blog.

No comments: