The Apprentice: Series 5: Week 3

So we reached week 3 of The Apprentice here in the UK last night.  The task was to design a new piece of gym equipment that could be retailed under £30.  It was quite a challenge for both teams to come up with something different from what was already out in the market.

The piece I wanted to focus on in this blog post was the leadership of the teams.  There were two very different styles of leadership demonstrated in this task.  James the team leader of Empire (the predominantly male team) adopted quite a light touch approach to leading and trusted his people.  Debra the team leader of Ignite (the predominantly female team) adopted much more of an autocratic style.

At the end of the day, Ignite were the team that won the task.  On one hand this might have been down to good leadership or it might have been down to the team members.  What was more interesting to observe was the behaviours.  On the winning team, the team leader because of the style adopted demonstrated a number of behaviours


There was a huge amount of indecision and procrastination going on about what the product should be and it appeared that the team leader was procrastinating and avoiding decisions.

Ignoring non verbal communication

On more than one instance the team leader was completely oblivious to body language and expressions that gave clear clues of discontent in the team.

Control freak

It was crystal clear that as team leader, Debra needed to be in control of everything, micro managing others and appearing to completely ignore what others had to offer.  A great example of this was dictating to one of the team members how to take a photograph of the product.

Undermining others

A good example was the way that she continually put down the person making the pitch.  Rather than saying something constructive to improve the pitch, the focus seemed to be in undermining Lorraine.

On the losing team, Sir Alan Sugar told James that he came within a whisker of being fired.  Ultimately what appeared to save him was the comment from Margaret who was observing the teams that he was not reasonably okay as a manager.  While it would be easy to say that as team leader he should be fired, there were some things he did well.


In complete contrast to Debra, he did not try to micro managing people and gave them space to execute.


There was good and bad on this point in my view.  The bad was that he did not get involved in the product design.  The good was that even though he was less than impressed by the product, he made the call to say nothing and avoid de-motivating the team.

At the end of the day, his passion, fighting spirit and emotion in the boardroom, along with the chink of light on his management capability were what probably saved him.

Each of the leadership styles had merit. From my own perspective I would question whether the style adopted by Debra on this task, whilst producing a winning result, would work long term if working in Sir Alan’s organisation.

What’s your take?

You can watch The Apprentice on BBC One at 9pm every Wednesday or on the BBCiplayer.

About the Author Duncan Brodie

Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.

Leave a Comment:

Janice Robertson says 9 April 2009

I think Sir Alan saw through Debra’s controlling management style when he made the comment at the end of the boardroom that the reason her team won was due to Lorraine’s pitch and the efforts one of the guy on the team. Debra looked crushed!

I think James team were on to a good product with the Bingo Wings tricep machine however James allowed it to become more complicated with the result that it just looked cheap and flimsy.

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