The Apprentice: why personal effectiveness can make or break your career


May 3rd, 2012

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Lord Sugar is midway through his search for a new business partner in The Apprentice.  It’s a programme that you either love or hate, or indeed love to hate. It’s fair to say that this year’s candidates, for a £250,000 cash investment from Lord Sugar, have been a mixed bunch who are competing hard for the prize.

This week’s task was billed by Lord Sugar himself on twitter as “how you can start your own biz (sic) from scratch. This is how I did it one Monday morning in 1967 I bought £50 second hand mini van then spent another £50 at a wholesaler and that’s how Amstrad started”.   The candidates were given £150, access to a wholesaler and prime selling positions around Essex.  The simple premise was to sell what you buy, buy more of what is selling and the team with the most assets at the end -wins. 

What became clear, however, was that staying in The Apprentice wasn’t down to “smelling what sells” but the ability to influence, persuade and build relationships.

Led by Jade, Team Phoenix, executed the task in chaos.  After spending too much time choosing a sales pitch, the team were left with moments to choose their products.  Without a clear strategy in mind their product selection was random and stocking their respective stalls was done with little thought. Under pressure at the end, they cut their prices paying little attention to margins in a drive to sell as much as possible.  Despite this Jade led with persuasion overcoming any doubts from her team members even though the chaos ultimately cost them the task.

Her Achilles heel throughout was Azar who openly questioned her approach.  It was clear he had the business knowledge to make a difference because had she paid attention then they may well have won over the other team.  But he failed to persuade and influence Jade or his fellow team members.  His protestations were dismissed as moaning and his communication skills meant that instead of putting forward a convincing argument he overused the word strategy, therefore losing credibility and resulting in Lord Sugar showing him the door.

Work is little more than groups of people working towards a common goal or purpose, yet too often people operate in a social vacuum, or are too competitive, without realising the way to achieve more is to find a way to connect with others.

It’s a reminder to us all that having the ideas and technical capability isn’t enough, being personally effective – able to persuade, influence and lead others – is critical.  As Lord Sugar said last night who wants to be in business with someone who can’t persuade others to listen?