How to Get the Most Out of Your “Apprentices”

I don’t have a TV set, but I have seen several episodes of “The Apprentice.” And that was enough for me to form some opinions. Here’s what I think: Bill, the guy Trump picked, was the hands-down winner in the leadership category. He wasn’t the brightest or most talented of the group, but he was smart enough to understand his role.

In every challenge he led, his first action was to make a fast decision about which direction the team should take. Once that idea had been communicated, he spent half of his time persuading his people to believe in it and the other half double-checking to make sure they were working hard and smart to get it done.

Bill is a great example of the kind of person who becomes a successful start-up entrepreneur. He recognized an opportunity, quickly came up with a way to take advantage of it, sold a vision, and then pushed his people to achieve it. Kwame was the ultimate corporate diplomat. His talent and experience showed best when things went awry and he stepped in to calm tattered feelings and get people working again. But, usually, the reason things got messed up in the first place was his lack of leadership.

Kwame was so intent on being non-controversial and so reluctant to “micromanage” that his teams were always breaking up into splinter groups operating in a state of passive-aggressive chaos (including lying, cheating, and fighting). Troy was the best salesman. Dumb. Charismatic. And effective. This guy could sell snow to an Eskimo. But don’t let him run the operation. Omarosa was the ideal corporate politician. She apparently believes that businesses are political environments where everything is about who you are and how much power you wield. She did everything she could to break through the many glass ceilings she kept bumping into — everything but work hard and focus on the goal.

Every decent-sized business has its Kwames, its Troys, and its Omarosas. But executives like Bill are few and far between. If you want your business to operate at maximum efficiency, here’s what I recommend:

1. Work with your Kwames to make them understand that business is about bringing your customers better, cheaper products, and not about making the process of doing that smoother. Give your Kwames specific goals and let them know that they will be measured not by how easily they approach the task at hand but by how well they achieve it.

2. Make sure your Troys are working as salespeople. Give them the support they need to sell the heck out of your products, but keep an eye on them. If you don’t watch their numbers and what they are saying, they might get you into trouble.

3. Fire your Omarosas. You can’t change people who view success in business in terms of politics. However competent they are, they will not work hard to achieve your goals and will cause all kinds of trouble for their fellow employees.

4. Cherish and promote your Bills. Employees who are willing to take on responsibility and accomplish large goals are rare and valuable. Identify them as quickly as you can and then devote whatever resources they need to support them. Give them responsibility and the authority to exercise that responsibility effectively. Check on them. Coach them. Encourage them. And, occasionally, give them constructive criticism.