Thursday, February 22, 2007

Leadership Lessons From "American Idol"

Watching American Idol can be addictive--just ask the 35-40 million who tune in faithfully each week to watch some very talented singers compete for the most coveted title in the entertainment industry. But watching this mega-popular reality show has also been very instructive and motivational. Last night, something Simon said triggered this thought:
You can learn a lot about leadership from American Idol.

First, character counts. The contestants who resonate with American Idol fans the most are those whose backstory contains faith and perseverance. Taylor Hicks, who toiled in bar bands for years and finally drove from Alabama to Las Vegas to audition on a dare from one of his buddies. Kellie Pickler, whose father is still in prison. Or this season's best talent, Lakisha Jones, a single mom who just wants a better life for her 4-year old daughter. In any leadership position, your character is what establishes your opportunity for success. Management guru Peter Drucker once said, "The proof of the sincerity and seriousness of an organization is uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character."

Second, keep it real. Out of all the hundreds of thousands of people that have auditioned through the past six seasons of American Idol, the 60 finalists may not have been the most talented singers--but they were the most refreshing. Last night, Simon told one of the women who absolutely tore UP a version of Aretha's Since You Been Gone, "Melinda, I have seen people walk out here with little talent and a lot of arrogance...and you are the opposite." That girl will be star, even if she doesn't win this season's American Idol competition, because she's humble and genuine and drop dead talented. From a leadership standpoint, don't take yourself seriously--take your job seriously.

Third, pick the right song. Nothing undermines a leader more quickly than pretending to be something he's not. Every season, we hear Randy, Paula, and Simon advise and admonish the American Idol contestants to choose music that fits their style and range. Take Katherine McPhee--if she had delivered that knockout performance of "(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow" earlier in the competition, she probably would have won it all. However, she tried to be sassy and edgy and it didn't work--meanwhile, Taylor Hicks consistently picked songs that he knew he could deliver with style and creativity. In leadership, picking the right song (or rather, choosing the management style that he can perform consistently and successfully) makes all the difference.

Who knew that a reality competition to find the next big singing sensation could provide such pithy and profound advice for the 21st Century Leader. Here's hoping you'll be a Leadership Idol for your organization!

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