‘Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche’, for those young enough not to know, was the title of a satirical guide to “All that is truly masculine” published in 1982 by Bruce Feirstein. It captured a time of thrusting young bucks doing business deals on oversized mobile phones while eating steaks and, no doubt, sexually harassing their female secretaries. It’s one of those phrases that seeped into popular culture, summing up something that was felt, if not actually said.
Funnily enough I am reminded of it every time The Apprentice pops up for its annual scheduling. Its return, this week, saw another bunch of hopeful entrepreneurs tearing lumps out of each other while trying to claw their way to the top, trying to prove that they are the best person to work with by being the kind of person no-one would ever want to work with.
Sugar sets up the gladiatorial stage allowing The Apprentice candidates to fall into the trap of ignoring the ‘team player’ side of themselves and playing up the ‘I will invade a small country if it gets me into the next round’ side of things instead. While I appreciate that 10 weeks of watching people collaborate while attempting to achieve consensus may not be TV gold, it would be a far more realistic way of demonstrating how to get things done, but then when has realism ever figured in the show?!
I find it interesting that managers would ever ignore the benefits of encouraging collaboration and team working, of using the best idea no matter where (or who) it came from, of trying to create a team where everyone had a place and felt valued. To put it bluntly, managers are not as important as what they seek to achieve.
They will achieve more through a coaching style, helping to understand the individuals they are working with and playing to the strengths within their teams. There is no place for encouraging blame, punishment and scapegoating within the modern workplace, it creates a culture of fear and paralysis.
The days of real men not eating quiche are thankfully long ago, but some of that macho attitude lives on, and not just in men. We still see it on The Apprentice, and in many workplaces, where managers may lack confidence, experience or insight and revert to an authoritarian style, or where organisational cultures and norms are grounded around a macho, thrusting culture where the loudest voice wins the day.
After catching 10 minutes this week, I realised that my days of watching The Apprentice are long gone. It’s not been relevant for many years and no amount of twists and gimmicks can make up for the toxicity at its heart. Given the way the candidates are encouraged to behave, I hope the BBC has a hefty budget for the post show aftercare.