I often watch the Apprentice TV series hosted by Donald Trump. In a recent season, Donald recruited a cast of 18 celebrities, competing against one another on various business tasks. Each week the winning team leader is awarded a sizable check to donate to their favorite charity.
A very interesting thing happened in one episode. In fact, from my perspective, what happened on this show was ground breaking in terms of the business culture. Two teams of four competed in selling carriage rides through New York’s Central Park. While on occasion, a business expert involved in the focus of a given competition will select the winning team based on qualitative measures, Donald’s typical criteria for winning is—the team that brings in the most money.
One team, we’ll call Team A, has been plagued by bitter infighting, largely due to the personality of one of its members. This member is a strong producer and gets results for his team, but he is also very arrogant, nasty, and rude to his fellow team members. In fact, two members have already opted out. One quit the show; the other asked to join Team B.
At the end of this particular episode, a bitter squabble began in the boardroom between members of Team A. Before reviewing the results of the competition, Mr. Trump commented if Team A lost this task, it would make his job of firing someone relatively easy. Ironically, when the results were reviewed, it turned out that Team A had in fact won again! They left the boardroom and Mr. Trump had to make the difficult decision as to whom to fire on Team B.
The Team B leader had stated early in the meeting that his team had functioned seamlessly and that he was very happy with their results. Not only had they made a good deal of sales, they truly enjoyed working with one another.
Mr. Trump asked the leader, “While everyone worked well on this team, who do you feel was not quite as effective as the rest.” The leader considered the question, and then responded, “Well Mr. Trump, everyone on this team gave it there all so I can’t answer that question.”
Visibly uncomfortable, Mr. Trump then asked the leader if he’d be willing to resign since he was the leader of the “losing” team. He responded with something to this effect, “No. I truly enjoy this experience and feel inspired, not only by the opportunity to support great causes but also by the opportunity to work with my fellow team members.”
Mr. Trump then decided to do something he’d never done in the history of the show. He didn’t fire anyone! He made a statement to the effect that he would be charitable toward this team since this particular season is about charity.
Here we are facing one of the world’s wealthiest men, who has up until now defined success almost exclusively in terms of “the bottom line.” Only two weeks earlier one of the players on the chopping block claimed to enjoy competing in her world of sports where everyone was giving their best, but could not function in a world where people were competing by trying to bring others down. Before firing her he said, “I like your world better than this one. This world is not very good at times. Go back to doing what you love and we love watching you do so well.” Then concluded with, “You’re fired.”
What lessons can we glean from these profound interchanges?
As facilitators and group leaders, we often work with businesses, helping them to expand their thinking. We help them to consider not only the tasks at hand, but also the processes and relationships involved in accomplishing these tasks.
When the vast majority of us have been schooled to understand that business is about the bottom line and that the bottom line is only about money, it’s easy to mistake the symptoms of a problem for its source. In other words, the problem of a backbiting sales staff failing to meet quotas may not be so much about poor sales performance as a deficit in teamwork.
It’s time we deliberately consider a bigger bottom line that embraces individual, collective, and planetary strength necessary for long term sustainability. I believe that the recent actions taken on national TV by Donald Trump, one of the world’s most notorious icons of the business world is a sign that perhaps this world is beginning to awaken to a more expansive worldview, one that encompasses a bigger bottom line.
We’d like to open a dialogue around this question of embracing a bigger bottom line in business. To begin, here are some questions for you to consider.
What value is there in making more money, solving a problem, getting something done when by the time it’s over, the people who make it happen don’t ever want to see one another again?
If these individuals must continue to work in the same company, what kind of position is this company in to tackle future complex problems and projects?
What value is there in making increasing revenues, market share, etc. when the process used to get there exploit resources, material and human, to the point that we are collectively diminished?
What elements would you like to see included in a more holistic bottom line for the corporate engine that powers modern culture? Please share your questions, feedback, or experience in the comments section below.