Last Friday I hurt my back during a basketball game. Due to this unexpected injury, I was under house-arrest. It was Saturday night and I was in no means ready to go to a friend’s birthday party. Sadly, I watched TV all day and lived a life of a couch potato. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing except I just couldn’t find anything to watch until the evening. The Notre Dame – Michigan State game became an instant classic. As I was flipping channels during the commercials, I landed on “The Apprentice.”
The two teams, men vs. women, had to design a workspace to fit the modern vibe of NYC. From my initial reaction, I thought the men’s team was a complete mess. After a few more minutes of watching the women’s team, I realized the real mess was not the men, it was the women.
As a former Director of Leadership for a non-profit professional development organization, I paid close attention to the various styles of leadership. It was always a great lesson and reminder for me on how people lead in different circumstances.
The men’s team was able to sort out their differences as the show progressed. The women’s team was a bit challenging. The Project Manager of the women’s team was Nicole. She was all about delegating. She wanted everyone to have a role and asked each person what she wanted to do. She asked for their opinions and trusted their judgments. Sounds pretty nice, eh? Who wouldn’t want a leader like this? We all want to be heard and want to be trusted to do our jobs, right?
As the show neared the completion, Nicole finds herself in the boardroom with two other women. Her nice demeanor and empowering leadership style did not result in her desired goals. Her teammates all despised her and did not spare any harsh comments to Donald. She was portrayed as soft, indecisive, weak, wishy-washy, lazy, and incapable.
To her credit, Donald really saw her in a different light from the other women. He was impressed with her hospitable and warm personality. Unfortunately, once the final decision was made, Donald echoed the famous words, “You’re FIRED,” sending Nicole to take the walk of shame back to the limo. Ultimately, Nicole was the Project Manager and it was her responsibility to create an atmosphere for success. She was unable to lead her team and it cost her the opportunity to advance. (Donald was caught on camera saying he would give her an interview with the Miss Universe pageant acknowledging her skills as a presenter and her leadership style. Hopefully, she did well and was able to secure a job with Donald.)
After watching the show, I began to sort out the events that led to Nicole’s firing. I believe that she really tried her best to lead. She wanted to build consensus and wanted to achieve a nice work environment. She was labeled indecisiveness. This was Nicole’s way of delegating and opening the opportunity for others to contribute. Unfortunately, the women did not view it that way and thought she lack the ability to make decisions.
Even with the harsh criticism, Nicole did have an upside. I did see her potential and her ambition. She did display a personality that would work well in a team environment. Whether she becomes a leader of a team will depend if she was able to see her gaps and work on the skills to improve her leadership ability.
Hindsight is always a killer. It is always easy to look back. That is why we have to take in the daily lessons and ground it in our daily behaviors. This will help us prepare for similar or related events that we will encounter. When the situation arises, we will be able to come to a better decision in the moment.
Here’s the “Laosy Guy’s” guide to not getting FIRED:
1) Before you enter the game, know the game. – One of the things every leader should do is to acknowledge the playing field and set the ground rules at the beginning. In the situation of Nicole, she was thrown into a group of women she has never met. (How many times have we found ourselves in a similar situation?) She needed to demonstrate the ability to be aware of the situation and set the tone. Here’s an example of what she could have said, “Ladies, thank you for the opportunity to be the Project Manager for our first task. It is very exciting. I know each and everyone of you share the same excitement. I know each of us are not familiar with each other. I acknowledge that it can be tough working for a new team and new people especially for a new boss or Project Manager. We will have to work through our unfamiliarity and do our best to support each other. Eventually, we will learn about one another and the best process to achieve success. I believe in collaboration, hearing everyone’s opinion, and utilizing everyone’s unique skills. I will ask a lot of questions like, “who wants to take charge of this task?” When I do so, I am delegating and am looking for someone to step up and take charge. If you believe you have the ability to perform well, then please feel free to volunteer. For us to be successful, we need to work openly with each other. This is what we should expect from each other.”
If Nicole had set the groundwork, then the women would have known she was delegating when she replies, “I trust your decision, go with it.” Instead, they viewed it as wishy-washy. Everyone’s definition of delegation is different. The women expected her to give them orders. Nicole wanted to give someone the opportunity to just do what they do. Knowing the game and setting the tone can improve the process.
2) Use your Sixth Sense! – A great leader has the ability of awareness. During the show, tension was rising every minute. The women just hated their situation. Nicole was unaware of this tension. She thought everything was going well. In respect to her, I also think that the women showed a lack of personal responsibility. Would it be hard to pull Nicole aside and tell her she is mishandling the task? Apparently, the team was too frustrated with Nicole’s leadership. Nicole needed to take a breath and ask for feedback. She could have asked questions about how the process was going. If she was bold, she could have asked about her performance. I didn’t see her ask any questions about how people were feeling. She was very distant to each person. Perhaps, she was blinded by her ambition and skills. It is never safe to assume things are going well. As a leader, you need to be aware of the situation and need to do a proactive job on knowing the truth.
3) Get down and dirty! – I think the most destructive event that led to the chaos was Nicole’s absence when it came to painting the walls and doing the dirty work. It can be argued that a top level leader should not have to get their clothes dirty and paint. They have other top-line items to tend to. In the situation where there has been no trust built between the leader and the sub-ordinates, I believe it is critical for the leader to show and demonstrate the ability to work alongside with the laborers. She didn’t really have to paint. She just has to be in the same space and mindset as the other women. She needed to earn the respect of the team. Unfortunately, Nicole was not able to align herself with her team and it led to her vicious scorning in the end.
It also became apparent to me that I missed doing leadership work with others. I have always enjoyed working with others on improving their leadership ability. The act also allows me to look at my own gaps. I believe we have to grow daily through our experiences. If we can look back and honestly say we were better than we were yesterday, then we are making progress on achieving greater success in the future.
In closing, I was impressed with Nicole’s efforts. She does have the potential to grow and become a strong leader. A lot of people believe leadership is something you are born with. That might be true to a certain extent. We are all born to be leaders and will achieve our highest potential if we continue to work hard and allow ourselves to learn every day.