The Apprentice 2010: Task 1 Performance Review

As 16 contestants compete for a $250,000 job contract, get the leadership lessons you can use to succeed

Despite the team’s frustration and the conflict between David and Clint, Octane continues to respect Gene’s role as project manager and remains focused on doing the work necessary to win the task. The next day, Gene finally lays down his ground rules: “If you take a task, own that task, and I’m going to ask fellow teammates to respect that person with the task. I will hear you, but when I say ‘go’, the discussion’s over.” The collective sentiment of his team: It’s about time. Even David stays in line for the rest of the task. Octane delivers a hip, non-traditional workspace with plenty of indoor plants, natural light through windows decorated with open picture frames, funky throw rugs and walls painted with an abstract geometric pattern.

In the meantime, Nicole Chiu, a 27-year-old attorney, quickly volunteers to serve as Fortitude’s project manager; the other women are happy to let her lead on the first task. Nicole quickly establishes a reputation in the minds of her team for being dismissive of the ideas and experience of her team members (most notably, 41-year-old real estate agent Tyana Alvarado);  unwilling to make decisions as project leader (her constant refrain: “What do YOU think we should do?”);  and all too willing to take credit for work and decisions delegated to subordinates if successful, but fully prepared to blame those same subordinates if the work and decisions are deemed failures. For example, after deliberately rejecting Tyana’s creative ideas during initial planning for their project, she then defers to her on furniture selection, props and other interior design decisions, not because she believes in Tyana’s ideas, but because she wants a convenient scapegoat in the event her team loses. Throughout, Nicole demonstrates either obliviousness or indifference toward the objective of the project, namely to design “an ultra-modern workspace,” repeatedly approving subordinates’ decisions when she knows they are wrong (for example, approving Tyana’s selection of a 1950s-era portrait of an anonymous, middle-aged white male executive as the dominant art piece for the space). Her plan: to take credit as project manager if her teammates ideas worked, and to scapegoat them if the ideas were rejected. Despite clear dissatisfaction with their leader, Fortitude works as a cohesive team and completes their task, delivering a workspace with an “executive luxury” theme they believed to be consistent with the Trump brand.

The Result: Trump was not impressed with either space, but clearly saw Octane’s space as the more hip, ultra-modern one. Gene earns his first victory as project manager. He deserves credit for recovering from a disastrously passive approach to team leadership to establish his authority and expectations, enabling him to deliver a strong finish as project manager.

Who I Would Have Fired: As always, I decide who to terminate before I watch the boardroom scenes (literally pausing my DVR) during which Trump makes his decision. This one was easy: Nicole deserved the axe. There’s nothing wrong with delegating decisions to subordinates if you honestly believe in their skills and judgment and are willing to stand by the results. But to delegate just so that you can blame your subordinate if the project fails is a reprehensible approach to leadership. Ethical leaders know that even if they delegate decisions, they remain accountable for the results. Leaders who openly and brazenly scapegoat their team members get what Nicole faced in the boardroom: a mutiny.

Interim Evaluations of the Black Candidates:Kelly and Liza did not distinguish themselves on this first task, but did demonstrate a willingness to work hard and do whatever it took to complete the task. Kelly, in particular, seemed to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude despite the tension created by hostility between her teammates.

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