Category Archives: Emotions

Is Celebrity Apprentice good business training? By Lew Sauder

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but one of my favorite shows is Celebrity Apprentice.  Not that I think it’s quality TV by any means; I just get a kick out of seeing how petty some of these washed up rock stars and former Playboy models can act on national television.

I started watching it with my kids thinking there were leadership tips they could learn for when they get into the business world.  Instead I generally use it to teach them how NOT to act when they get in the real world.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise, the typical season starts out with a team of eight men against a team of eight women.  Each team is given a task per episode to raise money or market a product and Donald Trump announces at the end of the show which team won.  One member of the losing team gets fired.  They continue to eliminate one person each week, redistributing players to other teams if it becomes lopsided, until it comes down to two finalists.  Those two compete against each other in the season finale to determine the Celebrity Apprentice.  Some observations I’ve made about the show are:

  1. Since the object of the game is to avoid getting fired, the participants are playing not to lose rather than playing to win.  It’s an interesting dynamic as teammates pretend to be team players, trying to win for the team, but knowing that if their team loses, they could be singled out to be fired.  The project manager knows that they are responsible for the task, but if they lose, they can choose two people from the team to bring back into the board room to argue why one of them is the scapegoat – I mean reason – the task failed.  This is not an environment that induces risk taking.  If the project manager decides on a bold approach and it fails, the PM is most likely to be the one fired.  If a team member has an opportunity to take a risk to help the team, they’re better off playing it safe and going below the radar.
  2. Few celebrities are good leaders. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the show is watching a former actor try to direct a diverse team of people who are more interested in showcasing their own capabilities and looking good, than in helping the team succeed.  It results in a team with three or four people vying for control, when there is supposed to only be one designated leader.  The test of wills often ends up with a weak leader submitting to one or more of their team members. If the team loses, the team members throw the PM under the bus for being a weak leader.
  3. Unprofessional behavior in the board room. Donald Trump’s board room has the appearance of a very formal setting.  A long beautiful conference room table where Trump and his two offspring advisors, Donald Junior and Ivanka, sit on one side while the participants submissively sit (or stand) on the other.  It’s a beautifully decorated room in the prestigious Trump Tower in New York City. Despite its solemn setting, this is where the team members get nasty.  F-bombs and other obscenities are regularly bleeped out, team members make accusations of others’ behavior and lack of assistance and team members have been known to cry.  The Donald often sits and lets two or more team members go at each other, essentially enabling the petty back-biting.

 

So I sit watching this circus with my family and criticize the above behaviors pointing out to my kids the poor management and leadership skills that the various contestants display.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize how real world it is. I see these violations in the business world all the time.

People are always worried about either getting fired or getting passed up for promotion for screwing up.  It’s much safer to keep your head down and just do what you’re asked than to try something bold and risky to increase the odds of failure.  And why make a suggestion for a new way to innovate your organization’s process and risk pissing off the manager that designed the current one?

A former actor may have been nominated, or even won an Oscar, but it’s no indication that they can manage.  The same can be said for business managers.  Usually the most productive worker bee gets promoted to be the boss when the opportunity arises.  It’s no indication they will be good at managing.  It’s a completely different set of skills. Leadership requires a combination of confidence, humility, empathy, decision making and many other abilities.  Assuming that a good research analyst can lead a team is as illogical as assuming a good actor can do it.

Professionalism is no better in the business world than in Trump’s board room.  I’ve heard f-bombs in the nicest mahogany lined offices and in the offices of corporate presidents.  And people get thrown under the bus on a regular basis, both privately and publicly.

So it brings me to the question I should ask myself before I use it as a business lesson for my kids: Does Celebrity Apprentice simply prepare us for how business works? Or does it point out all that’s bad about corporate politics to teach us how not to act?

I’d love to hear your take on this.  In the meantime, maybe we should just switch to watching The Office.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Communication, Consulting, Emotions, Employee Review, Meetings, Morale

Keeping Your Cool Under Pressure

It hasn’t happened often, but I’ve worked with some very unreasonable clients.  Either they have exaggerated expectations of their highly paid consultants, or they know that they can get away with abuse without the threat of us going to Human Resources.  I’ve never taken it personally and I’ve found that if I look closely enough, I’m not the only target for these people.

Considering the rates they’re paying, I’ve never been able to figure out why they don’t work with us rather than against us. I suspect each difficult client has their own reason.  Some people like to stir the pot and exhibit their power over other people.  Another observation I’ve made is that they like to push people’s buttons to see how far they can go, and consultants are easy targets.  Maybe they were bullies when they were in grade school.

With this type of client, I’ve found that the worst thing you can do is let them get to you.  They may rant and rave about how badly you or your firm as screwed up.  I had one client tell me that I was just a paper pusher and he had to walk behind me doing damage control.  I had to wonder, if all I did was push papers, how much damage could I have caused?  But I didn’t bring that up.  I tried to stay calm and ask questions.  In the most non-confrontational way, I would try to diffuse the situation and ask him to provide specifics in an effort to help resolve the problem.  I knew he was being irrational and just blowing off steam.  I could have yelled and called him an asshole, but for me to get angry in response would have just escalated it and potentially gotten me removed from the project so he could save face.

Speaking of saving face, I’ve found that sometimes, they are so irrational, it’s a no-win situation.  If the client thinks you’ve done something wrong, it may be best to fall on your sword, apologize and ask what you can do to rectify the situation. This is a particularly good strategy when the client is right.  Denying that you screwed up when you really did looks much worse than just admitting you are wrong.

The key tactic is to remove emotion.  Whether they are trying to get under your nerves or doing it unintentionally, you must maintain your professionalism and keep your composure.  There is nothing to be gained by heating the argument up further.

This applies even more so when it comes to emails.  If a client sends you an unfairly critical email, you may have a first instinct to flame one back at them.  But documenting your angry tirade will only give them evidence to support removing you from a project.

You may think that being removed from a project like that is a good solution if it will get you away from this jerk.  But if you leave because you couldn’t handle a client, that could be a black mark on you within the firm, that will last the rest of your time in their employ.  Rolling off of the project could also land you on the bench reducing your utilization, and by extension, your evaluation rating, your raise and your bonus. It’s best to suffer through to the end of the project and move on.  That’s one of the great things about consulting; right about the time you’ve grown weary of a client, you get to move on to the next project at the next client.

When a client flies off the handle, there could be a thousand reasons ranging from their boss being a jerk, to personal issues at home.  It can be for any number of reasons.  Even if they have a legitimate argument, it’s no fun to be ridiculed unnecessarily.

If you can say something to ease the tension or help solve the problem, that’s great.  Sometimes though, you just need to be the sacrificial lamb and take their wrath.

What about your experiences?  Have you ever had to deal with an unreasonable or bad-tempered client?  How have you dealt with it? Did you retaliate with your own anger or let them have their say and move on?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Emotions, Morale, Performance Evaluation, Uncategorized