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#6444 Mar 11, 2005

MSNBC.com

Lifting the `Apprentice' curse

Taking charge doesn't always get losing

manager fired

COMMENTARY

By Sarah D. Bunting

MSNBC contributor

Updated: 12:08 p.m. ET March 11, 2005

Until the most recent episode,

the Boardrooms in "The Apprentice"'s

third season followed a predictable

pattern. Trump, George, and Carolyn

pointed to a lack of leadership, or poor

decision-making at the top, as the cause

of the team's loss; then Trump fired the

project manager .. almost without exception.

The firing of John broke the streak;

PM Chris made a few tactical errors and

came in for some harsh criticism, but

he survived. Should he have? Should Trump

have spared John instead? And should Trump

have spared any of the PMs he's fired so far this season?

Although viewers might have wondered if Trump had gone on autopilot,

firing each week's team leader more or less by rote, most of the

previous firings did make sense. The show isn't a popularity

contest; its ostensible point is to select an executive, a person who

can come up with creative ideas and execute them efficiently, a

person who gets along with others and can manage them effectively.

None of the Apprenti is going to do all of these things flawlessly

all the time, but a demonstrable inability to lead a team is an

excellent reason to punt a candidate.

Chris held his own as a team leader. In a task that required the

teams to negotiate prizes with music talent for a charity auction, as

well as to coordinate the TV spot that would promote the auction,

Chris delegated the negotiation to John. George took issue with that

decision, at some length, but it made sense, given the time

constraints Chris had to work under and the fact that Chris is

perhaps not the strongest on the team in terms of interpersonal

skills. He claimed that he's a strong negotiator, but he probably

prevails in negotiations because he's so scarily intense; sending

John made more sense, in theory.

But in practice, John's ego is out of hand; he's a schmoozer, but

he's not as good at it as he thinks, and his tendency to condescend

to, pimp out, interrupt, and outright dismiss the women on his team

isn't just irritating .. it's foolhardy and bad for business. And

on this particular task, he lowballed the talent. His mistake; his

responsibility.

Should Chris have started shouting (and, it's worth noting, sweating

profusely) in the Boardroom? No. Will he get much farther in this

game if he can't modulate his emotions better than he has? No.

Should Trump have fired John anyway? Yes. Most of the fault lies

with John, and compared with some of the Custer-esque failures we've

seen in leadership so far this season, Chris did just fine.

Most PMs deserved firing

But most of the fault lay with prior firees, too. Todd got fired for

absenting himself from the task entirely; he left the team

shorthanded, they lost as a result, and he got fired. Brian made bad

decisions, refused any input from his teammates, and went from zero

to abrasive in about ten seconds; unworkable ideas and an unwork-with-

able personality got him fired. Kristen and Tara both misunderstood

the task, didn't deliver what their clients wanted, and got fired as

a result. Audrey over-delegated, whined, didn't put her foot down

with John, and got fired.

The only PM who probably should have escaped, but didn't: Danny, who

couldn't control the obnoxious, lazy Michael. Michael, universally

loathed in the suite and by the audience, should have taken a firing

for backstroking through the task on his exemption. The rules don't

permit a firing in that case, however, and because he couldn't axe

Michael, Trump had to fire Danny.

But Trump and his Viceroys frequently point out to PMs that it's part

of the job to manage "difficult" members of the team .. and that's

absolutely right. Executives have to get results from the Michaels

and Omarosas of the world when they won't focus or follow

instructions; in the real world, stockholders don't want to hear you

pointing fingers at underlings. Trump knows that, and has started

firing those who don't get it.

Last week, Audrey offered a perfect example of the issue facing Trump

each week: should he fire John for not pulling his weight and

antagonizing the PM, or fire the PM herself for not cuffing John into

line? Firing Audrey was the correct choice.

John is not an anomaly; female executives have to deal with guys like

him every day, guys who appoint themselves "PM of the office"

regardless of who's actually in charge, and expect to get away with

it. Audrey let John push every single one of her buttons, and as

annoying as he was, she should have put a stop to it .. but

didn't, or couldn't. And if that's the case, she's not executive

material.

The repeated firing of the project manager isn't a knee-jerk reaction

on Trump's part, although it might have seemed like one. On the

contrary, it's probably a considered decision to put the focus of the

show back on executive qualifications, instead of personality

disorders and gimmicks.

By making the PMs take more responsibility for leadership .. a key

part of the job description .. Trump is letting the show take more

responsibility for itself as a job interview. He still wants to

make "yooge" TV, but after the second season was roundly criticized

for taking its eye off the ball, Trump might also want to make the

show respectable .. about merits, not stunts. It isn't about

whether Trump always fires the PM; it's about whether he always fires

the most deserving Apprentice.

And if he's taking that job seriously, PM Trump isn't fired either.

Sarah D. Bunting is the co-creator and co-editor-in-chief of

Television Without Pity.com. She lives in Brooklyn.

.. 2005 MSNBC Interactive

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