The Apprentice week 10: Five lessons from the final five

The Apprentice 2015
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What is Lord Sugar looking for in his next Apprentice? Communication coach Robin Kermode from Zone2 thinks he'll be looking for five essential qualities: self-belief, a friendly likeability, entrepreneurial creativity, good leadership skills and, above all, a tenacity to go the extra mile.

The Apprentice is fascinating TV because, unlike most reality shows, it is not simply a likeability contest. Candidates have to come across as a ruthless, self-confident ‘winner’ and at the same time, as a generous team player. They have to manage this difficult balancing act knowing they’re solely at the mercy of Lord Sugar’s pointing finger!

In TV shows that depend on a public vote, the final contestants are usually chosen for their friendly charm, because most of us don't like people who scream and shout about themselves from the rooftops.

But over the years in The Apprentice, we have seen some of the cockiest, most aggressive, self-adulating young people who the general public would have voted off the dance floor or out of the jungle on day one.

But maybe The Apprentice isn’t looking for the qualities we admire in real life? Perhaps it’s looking for the qualities it believes are most admired in business: an indestructible, self-confident and an unswerving belief that failure isn’t an option. Of course, not all businesses are like this, but reality TV shows like to paint things in black and white.

In last week’s healthy snack battle, Brett, leader of the team that created vegetable crisps, failed to manage Richard and his branding strategy and subsequently fell short when pitching to Virgin Active. It’s clear that he didn’t tick the five qualities that are needed to get hired! 

One of the most important qualities of a leader is to listen. As a group, the final five are so intent on winning that they rarely seem to listen.

So let’s evaluate why Brett got the boot and how this year’s final five candidates are faring?

1. Self-belief: As you'd expect, they all think they’re brilliant. We go from social media entrepreneur Vana (“I own everything I do”), to Italian stallion Joseph (“I knew I was going to be successful”), right through to marketing man Richard (“I have to stop myself from saying I’m going to win - but I know I am going to win!”)

2. Likeability: Karren Brady, Lord Sugar’s business advisor, accurately said of Richard “I don't know if it’s charm or smarm – but it works”. Ex-navy girl Charleine thought he was “a bit Marmite at first, but then he became a bit like jam – too sweet and sugary”. Corporate man Gary was so nice he was described as being “un-not likeable!”

3. Entrepreneurial creativity: Although corporate Gary might look the least likely to top this poll, Karren said of him “I think there’s an entrepreneur dying to get out”. Charleine started up her own successful beauty salon and Joseph runs his own plumbing business, having left school at 15 and learnt the trade. Richard, who has dyslexia, wrote his dissertation at university on the link between dyslexia, creativity and entrepreneurship (“I got a first” – Of course you did Richard!).

4. Leadership skills: One of the most important qualities of a leader is to listen. As a group, the final five are so intent on winning that they rarely seem to listen. Gary is probably the best (having been well taught by Tesco’s management training programme), while Vana resorted to holding up her hand to the face of a team member to shut them up so she could speak.

It was lack of leadership that cost Brett a spot in the final five, as he failed to give direction to his other two team mates. It’s clear that this quality is highly valued by Lord Sugar and a necessary to succeed in the show.

5. Tenacity: I think the most revealing comment from Lord Sugar was “I’ve seen quite a few Richards and Garys but I haven’t seen many Charleines. His other business advisor, Claude Littner described her as “relentless”. Her trademark handshake, followed by her catchphrase “Do we have a deal?” might just give her the edge.

If it was down to a public vote, would they go for self made Joseph, the only one of the Final Five to have actually been an apprentice, or for plucky Charleine who joined the navy and fought tragedy in her personal life?

The public loves an underdog who shows an indomitable fighting spirit. And so, I suspect, does Lord Sugar. The big difference is that public voters don’t have to live (and work) with their apprentice long after the cameras have stopped rolling.

About Robin Kermode


Robin Kermode is a popular keynote speaker and one of Europe’s leading communication coaches. He is the founder of Zone2, a professional training and coaching consultancy.

He is the author of Speak So Your Audience Will Listen - a practical guide for anyone who has to speak to another human being:


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