Make-Or-Break Leadership Lessons From The Apprentice

Make-Or-Break Leadership Lessons From The Apprentice

African Americans took pride in Jackson's Harvard M.B.A. pedigree and gracious, earnest professionalism.

Kwame and Omarosa — no last names required. Every African American professional knows the Harvard M.B.A. Wall Street investment adviser and the up-from-the-projects former White House appointee who were among the competitors on The Apprentice, NBC-TV’s hit reality show. Beginning in January, the show followed the exploits of 16 young entrepreneurs and professionals as they engaged in a “13-week job interview” to get a one-year, $250,000 job with The Trump Organization, and an apprenticeship with the show’s executive producer and company chairman Donald Trump. Each week, the group, divided into two teams, competed on a business task assigned by Trump — selling fine art to renovating and leasing apartments — designed to test the talents and business savvy of each candidate. The winners moved on to the next task. The losers faced Trump and his lieutenants in the infamous boardroom. And as every fan of the show knows: “Somebody’s gonna get fired.”

At press time, the winner of the competition had not been selected. BLACK ENTERPRISE subscribers will receive this issue as the program’s April 15 live finale airs. If Kwame Jackson is still in contention, as he was at this writing (Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth participated in nine tasks before falling to Trump’s ax), you can bet that the show’s final episode will become must-see TV for African Americans. Jackson and Stallworth represented a study in the duality faced by black professionals in a still white-male-dominated corporate America. African Americans who took pride in Jackson’s Harvard M.B.A. pedigree and gracious, earnest professionalism, became increasingly frustrated by his apparent inability to do more than be an affable teammate, and to actually put up a “W” on the scoreboard. (Through Episode 10 of the show, Jackson was the only survivor who hadn’t tasted victory as a project leader.) And black professionals — particularly African American women — who were initially encouraged by Stallworth’s assertive brand of professionalism, later became appalled by her transformation into the most negative stereotype of the combative, passive-aggressive, black female co-worker.

Unlike mindless reality shows in which contestants munch on worms or compete to marry a fake millionaire, The Apprentice is a show you can actually learn from. For the last three months, I was among the millions of viewers who tuned in every week to The Apprentice. My job: to identify key business and career success strategies illustrated by Trump and the 16 young professionals vying to be his apprentice on the first hit TV show focusing on competition and collaboration in the world of business. (See our weekly analysis of The Apprentice at Here are just four of the valuable lessons you can apply to your own business and career.

Lesson 1: Good Ideas Are Not Enough — Follow Through With a Plan

In business, as in chess, the person who thinks the furthest ahead has the most control over the outcome. As Law 29 of The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers (Viking Press; $24.95) states: “The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all