Blake Shelton, Usher, Shakira and Adam Levine in 2013 demonstrate servant leadership as they unselfishly build grow and nurture their teams to perform their best. As a result, contestants are the star of the show, not the celebrity judges common in similar shows.
Compare and contrast The Voice, with American Idol, this last season. I did not watch every episode and performance, but it is undeniable that the only similarity was that both shows had a host.
Contrast: The Voice vs. American Idol
American Idol has judges with a binary decision to make – in or out, go or no-go, accepted or rejected. The Voice has coaches with a clear participative role to build, develop and lead each member of a team.
In every episode of The Voice, the audience is engaged to witness the beauty of this collaborative development. And, it shows clearly through outstanding group and cross-team performances only possible by building on what individuals bring to the team in both talent and in serving others’ in and through their own growth. It is special, magical and spiritual.
On The American Idol, the judges’ formula is to mock, ridicule and sometimes even condemn performers who bear their heart in expressing their soul. It is through this approach that the show sensationalizes and engages the audience primarily with the judges (not the talent of the performers) for television ratings.
The Voice: A Platform for Servant Leadership
The Voice has turned out to be a profound platform to demonstrate the human side of servant leadership. One could argue that it is the individual personas that are the coaches. One might suggest that it is the producer’s formula for the show’s platform.
I like to think (perhaps wishfully) it is the response of television executives realizing that the old sensationalism is not working anymore. Or, perhaps it is the public realizing that watching reality shows cheapens life by dumbing down individual’s expectations.
The Voice has the formula for demonstrating Servant Leadership in a big public way. With every episode, we see how bringing out the best in people makes you a a better leader. The coaches don’t just show up to “judge” the performances, they participate during the week, bring in expert consultants and provide guidance, unconditionally as part of each person’s development.
They are involved. Does that sound familiar?
If you haven’t seen it entire show is on NBC.com The Voice Website. I have my own favorite performances. You will have your favorites. Even before the show added “the steal” the format of blind auditions, battle rounds, and knockout rounds leading up to the public vote for a winner was all about being positive, not negative.
One thing is for sure – on The Voice, servant leadership ensures that nobody loses. And, when nobody loses, you have more winners producing great outcomes. All leaders want more great outcomes.
Leadership Lessons from the Voice
As I watch The Voice, I observe key leadership lessons. As you ponder Servant Leadership consider these lessons from The Voice from my list.
Be Authentic. Being authentic is always better than being fake. The coaches on the Voice have done it and know what they are talking about from experience as performers. Contestants and team members can achieve more when led by someone who has done it before, or can roll up their sleeves and do it with them.
Show Emotion. When performances were moving, coaches shed tears, get goose bumps. Real leaders do not fear being exposed and vulnerable. Blake on many occasion shed a tear during a moving personal song. Shakira regularly broke out in goose bumps as the artist touched her heart with a performance.
Be a Teacher. Coaches on The Voice teach their teams to stretch, do more and achieve more by sharing knowledge and experience. Leaders are not gate-keepers or knowledge hoarders judging and determining the fate of people, they are the ones enabling their future by teaching them to be the master of their own fate.
Support the Brand. Leadership’s brand is the team’s talent, and only playfully on the coach’s celebrity. The brand is never individual, selfish, grandstanding or bickering. Viewers and your team know the brand, and look to leaders to set an example to support it. The coaches on The Voice are there to unanimously build the show’s brand with both behavior in the chair, and contributing on stage.
Applaud Competitor Achievement. Leaders know they will not win every time, and to recognize another’s achievement is both humble and noble. Most important, it recognizes the role of the other “team” in driving one’s own innovation excellence. The coaches on The Voice never behave as a sore loser; they are always complementary to the greatness of talent on another’s team.
Build People Up When Advice is Tough to Take. Never tear people down, disparage or sensationalize to elevate one’s own position. When a contestant on The Voice has a weak performance, Blake, Shakira Usher or Adam all have something uplifting to say. Even when eliminating a contestant from the show, they provide hope by asking them to come back with another year’s experience the following year.
Develop The Whole Person. Watching Usher use a mirror to show one contestant hiding their emotion how great they really are was creative and deep. Shakira broke into physical exercise with her contestant to drive breakthrough excellence, Blake is heartfelt in his honesty about what he sees, and Adam fights for his people, no matter the genre. The result: inside and outside development of people and EQ and IQ of the whole self.
Be Tough and Direct. Usher this past season asked one pair on his team if they “thought it was funny” when they were not focusing. Both were losing invested time – and as a leader, Usher called it out, directly and with toughness that reflected the serious nature of the practice session.
Take Winners and Winners over Winners and Losers. On American Idol, there are winners and losers. On The Voice, there are winners and winners. Sure there is the ultimate winner, but The Voice is about teaching and coaching people, and enabling them to excel. Not just the contestants, but also the audience and viewers that are ready for something like servant leadership. That makes winners and more winners. Everyone remembers your leadership even if they don’t win the final prize, provided you have enabled them to do their best.
The Voice shares some profound lessons, including the notion that everyone has the talent to be great at something, if they have the right mentor. The Voice makes you believe there is a mentor out there for everyone, even you. The Voice teaches you not to exploit bad performances, mistakes or failures, but to show compassion, hug the person, encourage and ask and motivate them to come back again.
A Personal Team Story
A few years ago as a CMO for a private equity (PE) turnaround, my team set a record for achieving 13 Lantern Awards for excellence. The Lantern Awards are awarded by the Houston Chapter of the Business Marketing Association (BMA). My entire team attended the awards dinner that night, in 2007.
Some members of my team had worked with me at other companies past. Others were not so excited to have me come in as the CMO for the turnaround – perhaps in fear of the changes necessary and worry that it might affect them.
This night was their night to win, but my opportunity to lead. I asked every team member at the black tie dinner that night to accept one of the award that reflected their contribution. The people that feared me as the “turnaround guy” were in disbelief that unlike the CMO before me, I didn’t want the stage.
The truth is that I had little to do with the actual work that won the awards – the team did the real work. I was only their leader who knew his role to serve and enable them to be great. It was a great night, and these awards are in the lobby of the company (the #1 Exclusive E&P technology company for subsurface exploration technology). They sit equally important next to other innovation and technology achievement awards – as a steadfast reminder what teams can do to develop talent and produce results.
As you think about your own leadership, are you modeling the American Idol approach of sensational judge shenanigans. Are you getting diminishing returns, declining ratings, and missed expectations?
Is the effort to showcase you, or enable the power and potential of the team to produce exceptional results? Do you accept the awards for greatness, or give the stage to your team?
Or, are you breaking bad, creating and evangelizing new human business habits and practicing servant leadership of the type the coaches on The Voice demonstrate?
Image Credit: Photo of the judges and The Voice logo from NBC.com/the-voice, observed 29May 2013.