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How not to get fired from The Apprentice (or any other) Boardroom!


 You’ve just lost the task by £2.39 and the cocky rival team is rewarded with a pampering massage and champagne meal in a five star retreat, whilst you have to chew over the defeat with your fellow losing teammates in a grim greasy cafe.

Your colleagues, who, only minutes earlier, had been praising each other for a job well done, are now falling apart as accusations of incompetence, laziness and selfishness are thrown around.

Then you are called back to the boardroom, knowing that you have a one in 5 chance of being sacked and no one is there to back you up.

What do you do? How do you make sure you are not the one to be fired.


‘You’re fired!’ – Lord Sugar in The Apprentice UK

The Apprentice has many attributes as a TV show, but undoubtedly the most compelling part of each episode is the climatic boardroom scene.

It calls on each candidate to show their powers of persuasion and communication in a highly stressful environment. There is no greater test of leadership.

So, here are our top 5 tips for how not to get fired by belligerent bosses boardrooms like Lord Sugar (UK), comb-over King Donald Trump (USA – would you really want to work for him, anyway?), Biodun Shobanjo (Nigeria), Tokyo Sexwale (South Africa), Reiner Calmund (Germany), Joao Doria Jr (Brazil), Kakha Bendukidze (Georgia) and others.

1) Be ruthless and pick off the straggler: The joke goes that when two of you are being chased by a bear in the woods, you don’t have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the other guy.

So be ruthless because this is business. This is not the same and not to be confused with being aggressive or underhand.  You can confront the issues without being confrontational and you can disagree without being disagreeable. Yet, as well as highlighting your own strengths, it pays to pick out the weaknesses of the other candidates most at risk. You wont be telling the boss any facts he or she doesn’t already know (they gets reports about that from the observers), but you will be showcasing your willingness and ability to fight when your neck is on the line, and this will tell the boss a lot about your character and ability to fight when the chips are down,  which is an invaluable quality in business.

2) Know your audience: If you’ve signed up for the show, at the very least you should have done your research on the person making the decision. What do they like? What do they respect? What principles did they build their own business empire on?

Whatever qualities you think the boss likes to see, find a way to present and frame your own strengths in that context. Lord Sugar, for instance, is a grumpy old so and so. He built his business with feisty tenacity from scratch, which means he loves the underdog and someone who is not afraid to graft and show a bit of passion.

Show this to him and chances are, you’ll get through.

3) Understand your own personal brand:  It’s always funny, almost cringe-worthy, when we see a candidate behaving outrageously in the boardroom, only to have the boss pull out his or her CV and read a pertinent passage from the Personal Statement: ‘I am calm under pressure’ says the candidate on paper, meanwhile during the task and now in the boardroom, he or she has been chaotic and dramatic.

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you leave the room. It is the essence of your character and the qualities (or lack of them) that you bring to the table, summed up in one concept. It is the same concept of brand that applies to companies. So, when you buy a Volvo, you think of safety and comfort; or when you buy an Apple Mac and you think technology with style; or when you order from Amazon, you think convenience and efficiency.

To survive in the boardroom, you need to be absolutely clear about your own personal brand so that you know what opinion or prejudices the boss already has of you.  If the impression you give off is that you tend to hang in the background and so may not be up to the task of leading a strong group, you need to counter that with positive and upfront behaviour and words in the boardroom. Or if the view is that you are not much of a team player, be sure to show some generosity to your colleagues to undermine that view.

To work out your personal brand, think of three strengths and three weaknesses (real weaknesses, not the false ones like I’m a perfectionist, which are indirect ways of praising yourself) that sum you up and then imagine that these words are hanging on a sign around your neck whenever you speak.

4) Own up: It’s not called The Apprentice for nothing. You are not the finished article and are expected to make mistakes. The question is do you acknowledge your fallibility and show a desire and ability to learn or do you act like it is everyone else’s fault and deny responsibility even when it is clearly yours? In particular, if you are the project team leader, always be prepared to take responsibility for what didn’t go right and show what you have learnt as a result. Responsibility is not the same as blame. It is usually pretty obvious, who actually messed up a particular thing, so if you can show the ability to assess what went wrong and what can make it right next time, you will be showing the leadership qualities that all bosses crave to see.

5) Listen & respond:  The most important thing to do in any situation that requires you to speak, is to listen. What is the boss saying (both on the surface and in his or her sub-text?) What are the other candidates saying and not saying? What do the bosses’ advisers contribute if they interject?  What do the statistics of the task say about how you performed? If you go in with a pre-prepared script that you are not willing to adapt as the situation demands, you will find yourself wrong-footed and shoved into the firing line, when you thought you were completely safe.

Listen to everything and try to feel and sense the prevailing mood so you can sail with the wind if it is heading the way you want, or manouevre through it, if it is blowing against you.

Most candidates fired from the Boardroom report that it was the single most stressful event of their professional lives and if they had it over, they would have said and done things differently. Yet the power to persuade under pressure demands the ability to do so in the moment when it counts. Try to make sure you can do it when it counts or better still, just stay out of boardrooms when the boss is in a mood!

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