Mar 12, 2012

The Introvert in the Boardroom

I'm not a fan of Donald Trump, but The Celebrity Apprentice does make for fairly entertaining television. If you haven't seen the show, it's fairly straightforward. Two teams of celebrities compete in business challenges and at the end, the losing team is judged by Trump and one person (and sometimes more) gets fired.  While watching last night's episode, I was particularly intrigued by what happened in the boardroom when the team of celebrity men were judged by Trump. They failed in a task to promote a new car from Buick. The most interesting part about this failure is who is on the men's team: Michael Andretti. Andretti is a member of one of the most famous racing families in America. He drove Indy Cars for a living and is now owner of the Andretti racing team. Trump was amazed that the men could lose with Andretti on their team.

Throughout the show, however, one thing about Andretti became clear. Michael Andretti is an introvert. I don't say this out of shame because I'm an introvert. Watching what happened at the end of the show was almost painful. Trump expected Andretti step up and take charge. Trump thought it was a perfect task for him to be at the forefront to sell this car. Andretti, however, saw a challenge that involved selling a car and making a presentation and quickly handed the leadership role to someone who does that. Conflict erupted in the boardroom as Trump questioned Andretti about not taking a task tailor made for him since it was about a car. Poor Andretti tried to defend himself and remind Trump that he's just a driver and used to be behind a helmet. At the end of the episode (spoiler alert), Andretti found himself fired for not wanting to speak up and sell a car. From my perspective, he was eliminated for his desire as an introvert to not the outgoing salesmen that the challenge needed.

I've been reading Susan Cain's new book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking and I couldn't help but notice how the struggle between introvert and extrovert taking place on the Apprentice mirrored exactly what Cain describes in the first section of her book. I do think that Andretti could have lead this challenge, but he also did come on stage during the presentation and was a part of the Q&A time at the end. He was involved and present in the selling of the car, but did not want to be the one doing it. It didn't fit his personality. Introverts can be successful, but frequently in America success is defined by the person who talks the most, in other words extroverts who step and take charge. In the apprentice boardroom, the extroverted Trump makes the rules and only the extrovert can succeed by these rules. We need to recognize that the most vocal person is not always the right person. Sometimes it's the quiet, calculated move from the introvert that can lead to success. Trump only listens to the people who are loud enough to talk over him in the boardroom. Unfortunately he didn't listen to Andretti who was trying to say that he is not a car salesmen or even a car expert, he is a driver who sits by himself in a car for hours on end. In the end, it was hard to see introvert kicked out primarily for being an introvert.
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