Learning from The Apprentice: 1: Desperate Dan’s Leadership Dilemma

In this 12 week blog I will be drawing some learning and talent lessons for the last series of The BBC business  talent competition. The Apprentice. This week I''ll be looking at Dan's leadership Dilemmafrom  Episode 1. I will be using clips, links and references to useful books and summarising key debates as way of helping members of CIPD and the public to use the show to reflect on some of their  organsation's and indeeed their  own and  learning and talent development issues. Its longer than a normal blog but its broken up into bite sized chunks, and spiced up  with nice links and resources.

Learning from The Apprentice: 1: Desperate Dan’s Leadership Dilemma; What it tells us about Leading and Managing. 

Most employers find it a challenge to engage and motivate employees. The MacLeod report 2008 for example on employee engagement shows that many employers were failing to do this and as a result not taking advantage of the excellent bottom line business benefits.


Macey (et al), 2009 book based upon US business , sees high levels of engagement as delivering higher shareholder value and return on profitability. In CIPD’s Shaping the Future report we see high employee engagement as a key aspect of how companies develop a sustainable high performance culture. We also see leadership as highly critical. Engagement is generally won and lost through several factors all interrelated but the attitude and stance of managers and corporate leaders is critical.



Engagement is important because it’s what makes people deliver high performance in their jobs. It also helps them to go beyond the boundaries of their job. The so called "extra mile". That way when you have to call upon peoples extra effort and commitment as manager you will usually get it, unless like Dan you just don’t get it!.

Dan’s task was to lead people in a really awful task under time pressure and fatigue where only special leadership would motivate . Dan’s leadership was especially awful. He adopted a hectoring, bullying style of leading and managing which meant that his sausage making team were sizzling with resentment. His finger-pointing, sweary style looked both threatening and ludicrous. It was almost a caricature. (see the clip below)



Dan’s JFDI philosophy led to his harassed team feeling unable to ask for help or guidance from him or even anyone in their team.(he told them to stop talking and make sausages). So, Dan’s basic error was not to manage or lead but to harangue. It’s a failing of novice managers in many settings. Let's be honest he is not alone. We’ve all worked under haranguers. Many of them are poorly skilled or insecure. Don’t ask, don’t suggest, don’t question JFDI., and if you don’t jump to it I’ll shout and swear and threaten you with the sack. Common sense and common decency tells us that’s not the way but it happens. Look around and see the pointy men and women in your midst and in service and out there in shops, hotels, airports, factories, football dugouts. They are everywhere. I had one in a an electrical warehouse as a student who bullied me off stock checking on to another task emptying lorries, which led to problems he then blamed on me for neglecting my previous role!

Interestingly this bullying style is often miss-labelled as a "sergeant major" style or a military form of leadership. Yet the military left this style behind years ago. Modern soldiers are knowledge workers who handle expensive equipment and undertake multiple roles. They also need increasingly to engage with the public and win "hearts and minds" among local populations. To do that they need to be motivated and enthused at a deep emotional level. Officers and NCO’s therefore need to engage outside and alongside the formal command structures. Formal discipline and the exercise of rank and authority are of course integral to the armed forces but used only when necessary. Most people observing a corps of soldiers or a group of well drilled sailors on a ship would conclude that they were acting through engagement and motivation towards a common purpose not just following orders.

Now, there’s a continued debate almost a tiresome one about whether we should talk about leadership or management. We should of course be addressing both. But when people put too much emphasis on leadership as a" vision thing", some of the key tasks of leadership operational tasking get neglected. too much focus on leadership has effectively debilitated management.

That’s the view of Julian Birkinshaw a leading management thinker at London Business School, whose excellent book Re-inventing Management asks us to re-position the debate towards management. Birkinshaw believe that one of the contributing factors to the credit crunch and the modern day malaise of management is that we have don’t really task managers properly to implement. Many senior executives in finance for example had no clue about managing the basic business of banking, with their heads to much in the strategy clouds and their noses in the bonus trough.



Tom Davenport and Stephen Harding two Towers Watson consultants have addressed the execution role of managers in their book "Manager Redefined" They argue that whilst we are taught to separate the transactional areas of manager role from the transformational. The transactional areas such as dealing with production, making sure people are allocated properly to their tasks and ensuring they are properly trained and equipped, supported and monitored is sometimes looked down on. The higher level transformational stuff which is all about vision, change and purpose is often seen as more worthy. in reality they both need to be done together. They suggest that mangers role is about four key dimensions. Executing tasks, developing people, delivering their employment deal and energising change. if we neglect some or other then things won’t get done effectively or sustainably.


Henry Mintzberg, the iconoclastic debunker of half baked approaches to management also believe that there is too much emphasis on leadership. Managing, believes Mintzberg, is very different from leading. To study which skills are essential to good management, Mintzberg spent an entire day shadowing 29 managers from different kinds of organisations and sectors. Banking, retail, filmmaking, government, nonprofits and healthcare, he watched mangers in all of these settings. he looked at managers who worked in the executive suites as well as on the production line or the front counter.. He learned that although managers differ considerably in their activities, the skills they need are surprisingly similar. They need to work on three planes: the informational plane,(harnessing and interpreting information) the people plane (managing people and their performance), and the action plane (implementing plans and executing strategies). Fusing these together makes a good and effective manager. In truth there are more approaches to management than have been days in the life of the planet but they all boil down to the job of co-ordinating the effort of others.


So for Dan’s sake we should focus on what we are asking managers to do. Basically we ask managers to co-ordinate and supervise the delivery of tasks. CIPD’s approach to developing leadership is that it is the role of managers to lead and leaders to manage. What Dan and my dreadful GM in the electrical warehouse did was to assume that leadership is about being tough and demanding and using power. They had no other playbook. People react through fear and reward they assumed. They don’t pay attention to the need to get people on board, to understand the incoming information and help people through change. Learning these old and quite tired lessons would save us from a lot of desperate management.

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  • I am still astounded by seeing many examples of Dans style in the workplace.  Even more so by the way it is often defended through "personality styles" and "pressure of work/ role" or "thats just the way s/he is". At times, challenging both leadership and management styles can be fraught with difficulty (and potenially can be career dibilitating for those who take a step forward and offer feedback to those whose own view of their abilities & style is incongruent  and unrecognisable to others).