What Leaders Need to Learn from American Idol

Posted 04.22.2011

Amidol-jlo If you been reading this blog for awhile, you know that this is the time of year when my corporate friend, Jennifer, and I handicap and kibitz about American Idol in emails we send each other. We both agree that the show is way better than we expected it to be in the post Simon Cowell era. It's actually less stressful and more entertaining to watch without all of the genuflecting toward Simon. That's probably one reason why the ratings are as strong as they've ever been. 

So, that's one thing right off the bat that leaders need to learn from American Idol. Hardly anyone is irreplaceable. If you put the right team (who knew Steven Tyler and J Lo could be so entertaining?) and processes in place, your organization can keep rocking forward even if you lose a key player.

Amidol-group Another big thing that leaders need to learn from Idol this year is that people perform better when they're allowed to play to their strengths. Unlike previous seasons when each week had narrow musical themes that forced the contestants to perform outside their comfort zones, the weekly themes this year have usually been broad enough to drive a truck through. For the most part, the contestants who are left know what their strengths are and sing to them. The hard rock guy, James, the jazz driven Casey (who I think might be the love child of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinakis) and country crooner Scotty are all playing in their power alleys. Once she got past singing Blondie's Call Me, Haley seemed to find her bluesy groove and Jakob is consistently channeling his inner Luther Vandross. The contestant I'm most concerned for now is young Lauren who's really talented but seemed to peak during the auditions and Hollywood Week. She was loose and having fun back then but now seems like she's got a little voice inside her head reminding her she's singing on American Idol and she better not screw it up. She's holding back as a result.  Leaders need to quiet their inner critic and show up fully confident when they're on stage.

And that last point leads us to Ryan Seacrest. Am I the only one who thinks he's handling his role on the show better than he ever has? He seems more confident, relaxed and really dialed in. Could it be because he's not so fixated on winning the games of one upsmanship that he got sucked into playing with Simon over the past couple of years? The leadership lesson here is don't get so fixated on your nemesis that it throws you off your game.

So, one thing I learned when I wrote a post called Feedback Do's and Dont's from American Idol a couple of years ago was that lots of people have strongly held opinions about this show.  So, let 'em rip in the comments. I'd love to hear any hidden leadership lessons you're picking up from the show but pure fan boy or fan girl comments are cool too. Have fun with it!