Calm Down Lord Sugar…but seriously is this healthy role modelling?

The Apprentice has started and after its first two episodes it is already challenging us here at Calm HQ.

Every Reality TV series that has a great concept has a challenge; that being to live up to it’s original promise while not being exactly the same each year. If the format remains the same then other things need to change. In the case of The Apprentice it is the behaviour of the host, Lord Sugar, and the quality of the candidates they attract.

Over the years it has been easy to see the quality of candidates slipping. Many have so obviously been chosen for their clear character flaws than their aspirational business plans or their leadership skills. Throughout this gentle slide in quality the one bedrock of absolute quality was Lord Sugar but now he is changing as well.

In the second episode of this series Lord Sugar was seen to get so angry with the two teams for their failure at the task that he was not prepared to put his name to their product. He refused to declare either team a winner branding them both losers. During his dressing down he declared ““I feel so angry that not one of you geniuses came through and ran this thing properly.” He went on to declare them “demented dimwits.”

He has always had a certain flair for the one liners and, sarcastic though they may be they are delivered with a certain deadpan gentle humour. This time however it was the full Sugar hairdryer treatment. The volume went up, he said he was angry and he insulted them. Great TV I am sure but not the best role modelling for how leaders of industry behave.

In all my experience working in large organisations labelling people “dimwits” privately let alone in public is not a good way to get the best out of them.

The concept is a great one and could playto both the best and the worst of human competitiveness. The large prize on offer, and the series of tasks that puts candidates under pressure and tests their leadership skills is a great concept. When we are under stress our Fight, Flight or Freeze mechanism kicks in and starts to govern our behaviour.

The fighters either argue with or undermine the leader. Those that freeze find themselves unable to talk and those that run have nowhere to go and thus drift into the background hoping they will not get named as “useless.”

Stress is pervasive in our society these days and is a large part of the mental health challenge that many of us face every day. This series of the Apprentice is beginning to show some sides of it that are unhealthy. This week Jessica had a panic attack half way through leading the task. In my opinion the best thing for her mental health would have been to sack her. Instead she escaped leaving Natalie to meet Rhod Gilbert and declare “my time had come.”

Is keeping someone  who has had a panic attack and who looks so vulnerable on a high pressure TV programme really looking after them? I think not.

I am now watching this programme for the signs of mental health challenges and to observe the negative role modelling that is becoming prevalent.

The way Lord Sugar is now becoming aggressive along with the quality of candidates and their ability to sustain themselves under pressure leaves me increasingly uncomfortable with this television format.



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