You’re Fired!! What Donald Trump Can Teach Us

When you hear The Donald’s name you may think of real estate investment, self-promotion, presidential discussions, and of course, The Apprentice. Do any of those topics seem like something you could learn from as a student? It may surprise you to realize that Donald Trump can teach all of us something about education – instructors and students alike – because he advocates real-world experience and learning from life’s lessons. What he’s written and produced on television, while sometimes entertaining in nature, provides sage advice that can assist you in your academic journey, which is a process of taking responsibility, collaborating with others and developing a strong mindset.

Be a Team Player

The Apprentice reality television show (including The Celebrity Apprentice) utilizes a team concept and each week the teams have assigned projects to complete. The losing team must face the boardroom and after deliberations, arguments, and heated exchanges – someone is fired. Many instructors like me have discussed these episodes in our business classes to illustrate the benefits and challenges of team dynamics.

Everette Gardner, Professor of Decision and Information Sciences and Director of Bauer College Honors program, takes this one step further through a teamwork based project that all students must participate in and complete. Gardner points out that while this is a teamwork model and also involves project management components, he refers to it as “education,” and describes the process students must follow: “They have seven weeks to understand the industry they’re thrown into, grasp the problem, and find a solution. It’s a pressure cooker.”

There are two foundational reasons behind the use of an Apprentice-inspired teamwork project for Gardner’s students. The first reason has to do with the importance of implementing activities that support learning because those activities represent students’ grades. The other reason, and probably the most important, has to do with the skillsets that students will acquire. Gardner notes that “many of them hope to convert their performances into job offers or use the experience to upgrade their resumes,” and that “real business problems allow students to apply the abstractions and problem solving skills acquired in business classes to show what they can do – harnessed to a team.”

Gardner concludes that “these project classes have a powerful impact on students.” Many instructors implement team projects as a learning activity, so what does Gardner do that is so different? The projects are modeled after the television show because the teams work together for several weeks and they are described as involving “professional-level” work. The projects conclude with a presentation and while “there are no cameras rolling when they make their final presentations, but the team grade announces whether they made the cut or got fired.” I wonder if he has students face him in the class when he announces their grade. I’ve used an Apprentice-based project as an in-class activity and the thought of hearing me say the words “you’re fired” was very motivating for students.

Perhaps the next time your instructor assigns you to a group project or learning team task you could review the following episode from Season One. This will allow you and your team members to gain insight about teamwork effectiveness, along with challenges that occur while trying to participate in and/or lead a team. Maybe you’ll inspire your instructor to establish it as an Apprentice-style task.

Take Responsibility

Christopher A. Hirschler, assistant professor of health studies at Monmouth University, wrote an interesting post on the Inside Higher Ed blog titled Lesson from Donald Trump. The focus of the post was on students’ presentations and who should take responsibility (instructor, students, or both) when those presentations are not successfully delivered. Hirschler explains that presentations are important because “they provide students with an opportunity to take ownership of an issue and improve their public speaking ability – a valuable, employment-related skill.” This is a very important point – learning skills developed in class that you can apply to your career.

Hirschler then turns his attention to poorly executed presentations and how lessons learned from watching The Apprentice may apply to students. He poses these questions:

“¢    ”What should happen if a student provides erroneous, irrelevant, and unimportant information, fails to provide credible references, and is unable to provide answers to basic questions?

“¢    Who should be “˜fired’ – the student who delivered an unacceptable presentation, the professor who had no advance knowledge of the presentation’s content and allowed it to proceed during class, or both?” (A member of the losing team is always fired during the conclusion of each Apprentice show)

As both an online and on-ground instructor I understand the perspective provided and the issues addressed, and to me the answer about responsibility is clear. I never turn students loose on an assignment without providing thorough instructions, subject matter parameters, and a copy of the grading rubric. More importantly, I spend time in the classroom discussing the assignment and I encourage students to ask questions before they get started.

Hirschler concludes by stating that “although there may be no panacea for subpar student presentations, the lesson I learned from “˜The Apprentice’ – that I am at least partially accountable for the quality of student’s presentations – has improved the classes I teach and the quality of my relationships with students.” The episode that Hirschler is referring to involves a boardroom showdown that resulted in The Donald firing two team members – the team leader and a team member who failed to properly execute a presentation. This is a lesson in learning – that you and your instructor are co-creators in this process. I have a responsibility to provide you with the information, tools, and guidelines necessary for you to succeed and in turn, you are responsible to putting those resources to work.

Develop A Winning Mindset

Donald Trump authored Becoming a Champion and it provides advice that every student could benefit from, including this excerpt: “One of the worst fears we can have is the fear to attempt something. That can leave you feeling bereft for no particular reason except that maybe you will have missed your purpose. There is always the possibility of failure, but there is a greater chance of success if you actually try to do something versus doing nothing.” I have always encouraged students to develop a positive mindset because that changes their focus from working for a grade to reaching for their full potential. Do you consider the potential you have to overcome any situation or does it seem like an elusive quality you are struggling to obtain?

Building upon what The Donald has written I would add that it is easy to feel motivated when everything seems to be going your way. When there are events that cause you to feel that the world around you is changing and somehow everything seems uncertain, then the ability to develop determination and perseverance may be more challenging. If there are particular issues within your class where you feel as if you are not making progress, or you believe that you do not have control over your grades, your sense of frustration may be greater. You can either allow yourself to remain in the same thought process and reach a sticking point or you can find a way to pick yourself up and make that progress happen. Talk to your instructor, look for resources, and be proactively involved in your work.

Often a change in attitude can affect your disposition, which in turn will affect your determination. A sense of determination is influenced by an awareness of your capabilities. When you take stock of your strengths you will discover what you have to build upon and this influences what you believe about yourself. In my post Why a Positive Attitude Matters for Online Students I’ve also suggested that if you want to create a positive belief about yourself and attitude about learning, look for sources of inspiration and motivation, stay focused on your goals, and visualize completing everything you have set out to accomplish. These are essential elements that will help you become successful in meeting your goals. As Donald Trump said, “You have to think anyway, so why not think big?”

The lessons I’ve learned from Donald Trump, through his books and television series, is that you can be stronger in any aspect of your work (school work or career) when you accept personal responsibility, learn to function well and interact with others, and have an attitude that you can succeed, regardless of temporary obstacles or defeat. I hope this inspires you as well.

What could you learn about teamwork or developing a strong mindset from Donald Trump or The Apprentice? Share your ideas via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

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