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The Blame Game

May 1, 2004
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/70366

The Apprentice and its "host," Donald Trump, have been surprise hits of the current TV season. Here at Entrepreneur, part of each Friday morning is spent e-mailing and discussing the previous evening's episode. Several business professors have actually required their students to watch the program. Some newspaper columnists discuss the wisdom of The Donald. Everyone wonders about his hair.

Not everyone, though, thinks Trump is an ideal role model. Several business reporters are quick to point out that not all of Trump's businesses are successful. Others complain that what we saw on the screen didn't accurately reflect what actually happened in real life. (To those people, I say, Get over it, it's TV!)

As addicted as I am to watching the show, I, too, have a gripe with Trump. For the uninitiated, near the end of each show (which should have a winner by the time you read this), the project leader of the losing team goes into the boardroom to face Trump and two of his associates. The project leader must bring two of his or her teammates into the lion's den, knowing one of the three will get fired. During these boardroom interrogations, Trump asks the project leader what went wrong, who's at fault and who should get fired. Obviously, no one volunteers for the hook. But it is here that bad business practices are broadcast across America. For isn't the definition of a leader someone who takes responsibility for what happens on his or her watch? As an entrepreneur, don't you want your department heads, supervisors and other employees to own up to the failures of their tasks? How would you react if, when questioning an employee about something that had gone wrong, they said "It wasn't my fault; it was his (or hers)?"

I know Entrepreneur's owner, Peter Shea, expects more than that from his management team. And I much prefer to hear "We screwed up, and I take full responsibility" from my staff. That's not to say I don't want to hear the truth or the full story, but I don't like buck-passing, and neither should you.

As real-life entrepreneurs operating on tight budgets, you know how valuable every member of your team is. And you know the worth of teamwork. I recently read an article that says Trump believes paranoia is one of the keys to success. Be that as it may, I don't believe that breeding paranoia is the sign of a leader or a good boss.

At some point, this "jobless recovery" is going to start creating actual jobs. And then your employees might be in play. We all know it's harder for entrepreneurs to attract and keep good employees when bigger businesses beckon with fatter benefits and salaries. So it behooves you to create an atmosphere where people want to work. Where your staff looks forward to getting out of bed in the morning. Where employees don't have to look over their shoulders to see if someone is gunning for them. Yes, you need to discipline (and maybe even fire) employees who mess up, but you also need to craft a business where people join hands instead of point fingers.