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The Problem with Business Reality TV Shows

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With a new series of Dragons' Den and The Apprentice lined up, the concept of the business reality show is still going strong but are these shows having a positive effect on business management and leadership within the workplace?

When forming an opinion about these programmes, it is important to note that these shows actually do a lot of good in inspiring people to start up their own businesses or to try and turn their ideas into viable products. They have definitely helped in putting entrepreneurship on the map and this should be encouraged. Yet, despite these positives I believe shows like The Apprentice and Dragons' Den fall down in their portrayal of management, leadership and teamwork.

For example, take 'The Apprentice' where prospective candidates are split into teams and essentially pitted against each other. Although teamwork is encouraged, the programme focuses on any tension or drama as the team that fails the task usually ends up turning on each other as they try to shift the blame.

This behaviour continues in the boardroom and is no doubt encouraged by the show's producers who require this infighting for viewing figures, as without the required drama shows like The Apprentice would be of little entertainment value. This might make interesting viewing but it does not present business in the best light or provide businesses with a positive role model to follow.

My belief has always been that when a task is performed as a team any fallout or failures are attributed to the team as a whole and rather than naming and blaming, the team would be better served evaluating, assessing and establishing any changes that they could implement if the task was to be done again.

This is especially important in shows like The Young Apprentice where the infighting and blame can easily be detrimental to the confidence of young people starting out in business. Instead more guidance, perhaps in the form of a mentor, needs to be given to these candidates during the programme to help nurture their business talents.

Dragons' Den also depicts the 'dragons' as formidable characters that pick apart even the tightest of business plans. Under the pressure of the cameras the people presenting to the dragons begin to crumble and are assumed to be out of their depth. However, many who are turned down for investment go on to be huge successes following in the footsteps of Dragons' Den rejects Trunki, Tangle Teezer and James Nash's 'cup-a-wine' concept.

As part of my work as a mentor, I once worked with someone who held Gordon Ramsay up as an ideal for management and leadership. In his original shows he became famous for being overly aggressive towards his staff to achieve results and success. The individual I was working with associated this style of leadership with success and instructed all of his managers to emulate this leadership style, which unsurprisingly was not very popular. Of course this is just an entertainment show and in reality we have no idea how Ramsay actually manages his business on a day to day basis but nevertheless it is not providing a positive leadership style for entrepreneurs to follow.

The issue that I have with business reality shows in terms of leadership and management are perhaps most evident in the new generation of entrepreneurs. If someone was to start a business in their fifties, for example, then they would have experience of working under both good and bad managers to help them develop their own management and leadership style. However, someone starting a business in their teens has not been exposed to this kind of experience so they often look to reality television as the template for management and leadership styles.

What many people fail to realise is that it is perfectly possible to be successful in business without taking an aggressive stance and that business reality TV shows are sometimes guilty of sensationalising business situations. There are many alternative management styles available and you do not need to be scary to be an effective manager! Ultimately you need to develop your own leadership style and identity that people will respect and this in turn will make your staff want to get results for you.

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