Most of all I want the POWER: communication insights from the Apprentice

For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only Undated BBC handout photo of (left to right) Karren Brady, Lord Sugar and Claude Littner ahead of the start of this year's BBC1 programme, The Apprentice. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday October 6, 2015. See PA story SHOWBIZ Apprentice. Photo credit should read: Jim Marks/Boundless/BBC/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: Not for use more than 21 days after issue. You may use this picture without charge only for the purpose of publicising or reporting on current BBC programming, personnel or other BBC output or activity within 21 days of issue. Any use after that time MUST be cleared through BBC Picture Publicity. Please credit the image to the BBC and any named photographer or independent programme maker, as described in the caption.

In this light-hearted blog series, IABC UK Board members provide commentary on the leadership and communication skills apparent – or not apparent – each week on the UK series of The Apprentice, hosted by Alan Sugar.


The first week of the series is always slightly odd, with 18 candidates each trying to make an individual impact.

“I want the cars, I want the girls”

One of the things communicators often recommend is that a leader needs to have a vision. However, a terrible vision is possibly worse than no vision at all.

Exhibit 1: two of the ‘vision’ statements from this year’s crop of candidates:

– “I want the cars, I want the girls, but most of all I want the power.”

– “Every morning I wake up with a surge of adrenaline around my body because I want to be a global phenomenon.”

Ridiculous. On the other hand, we also had this:

“The Trailblazer is a fully managed and implemented business growth campaign that starts with a focused base camp to remove the clouds from our clients’ business growth mountain so they clearly can see the summit we are aiming for.”

Lord Sugar’s response to this? The usual, straight-talking: “What a load of bollocks!”

The best vision is, of course, somewhere between these extremes.

Throw yourself into the thought pond

Of course before even creating a vision, your organization needs a name:

“Can I throw my thought into the thought pond and suggest that we call ourselves the Sugarbabes?”

Sorry: you just killed the fish. It won’t surprise you to hear this came from the mouth of the candidate who got kicked out this week.

Now, you have a name and a vision, so you will need a leader.

What credentials do you look for in a leader for a task that is food-related? Witness this exchange:

Candidate A: “Has anyone got any experience in food?”

Candidate B: “I do have some knowledge about food. I cook. And I’m intolerant to loads of food.”

Candidate C: “Because of what you said, I’d be stupid not to say yourself.”

Brilliant! Do none of the other team members eat?

Eventually, these two competing organizations (teams) got their names, visions and leaders sorted out and were able to tackle the work at hand.  These three ingredients are the keys to success for any company; and it is the job of communicators at the top of an organization to help communicate these things to create long-term success.

Engage your brain at some point

So, what was the result?

Team Connexus: 9 people, profit £1.87. That’s 20p each for a whole day’s work (at that rate Lord Sugar’s £250,000 could hire these nine people for 133,000 days, or 366 years).

In this case the failure of the task was down to poor project management and bad product design: and a focus on ‘adhering to the specification’ without questioning the bigger picture.

The good communicator and the good leader will always create an environment where people can think beyond their own role and process, and “engage your brain at some point”.

Having a name, a vision, and a leader is clearly not enough. These three need to be aligned and leaders need to create the conditions for others to do their best work.

Communications expertise aside, what have we really learned?

  1. No one will buy a salad that costs £9.00.
  2. If you eat, that qualifies you to be a leader.
  3. You can hire an Apprentice for 20p a day.

We’ll be back tomorrow, and commenting on the car crash that is almost guaranteed to occur when the apprentices tackle the wonderful world of shampoo.

Or as Lord Sugar’s bad puns would have it: “it’s going to be a bad hair day.”

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global  membership association with a network of 12,000 members in more than 80  countries. We deliver on the ​Global Standard ​in communication through educational  offerings, certification, awards programs and our annual ​World Conference.​ Follow  us on Twitter ​@iabcuk

Stephen Welch  is currently working at Dialog Semiconductor, leading the development of the Communications Department; to ensure continued success of this fast-growing business. He has expertise in helping organizations improve their communications to support culture change, innovation, communication, leadership development.

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