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What I learned about leadership from watching The Voice

Ok, I have to admit it, not only do I watch the reality t.v. show The Voice, I really, really enjoy it! I used to be embarrassed to admit that but after my counseling sessions, I no longer have that embarrassment factor. For those of you not familiar, (which I bet is no one!) The Voice is a show on NBC that has a cast of want to be singers vying for a recording deal. Along the way, there are 4 teams formed that are led by (mostly) famous folks in the music industry. They lead their teams each week through various vocal performances that a U.S. audience votes for. The contestants with the lowest vote(s) each week are systematically eliminated until there is only one left – kind of like Survivor for singers, or American Idol – except it has people with talent on it.

TheVoiceTitleCardWhat I am fascinated about though is the dynamic of the celebrity music coaches and their various leadership/coaching styles they use to try and be the one that has the winning contestant on their team. Here is what I have observed about the coaches (leaders) and the impact of their style(s):

Christina Aguilera – tends to focus too much on herself and not on her team. When coaching her team through their vocal preparation she focus a lot on what she would do and why that is the only way to sing/deliver a particular song. During the actual singing competition, she tends to focus on herself and steal the moment away from her team member(s). She also tends to pick team members based on their “looks” and potential visual appeal to the audience/viewers vs. picking those that can actually sing the best. Not surprising, this spotlight stealing, self-centered leadership approach has been unsuccessful. By selecting team members for reasons unrelated to their singing ability, she typically has had the weaker teams with members eliminated early on in the competition. Aguilera has yet to have one of her team members win The Voice and last season didn’t even have anyone in the finals.

Shakira – is new this year – replacing Aguilera. As a new coach (leader) she tended to get overwhelmed by the more experienced coaches earlier in the show and lost out on getting team members she wanted because of this. She is starting to establish her niche and like Levine (see below), cares about her team as people as well as performers. She is very strong technically in her understanding of music and how to portray it, but I find she struggles to transfer that knowledge to her team members in the form of useful information. I compare Shakira to a new manager that has the passion and motivation to succeed, but ultimately requires more experience and polish before they will truly be successful. I don’t suspect she will have a team member win The Voice this year, but I could see it happening next season based on her style and ability to focus on talent and skills.

Cee Lo Green – CeeLo’s style reminds me of that boss you had that was a pretty cool guy to hang out with. He didn’t hassle you too much, or ask too much of you. He was great to shoot the crap with and have a beverage with, but he wasn’t the type of leader who was going to challenge you, or provide you with any type of constructive career advice or help propel you to the next level in your career. CeeLo tends to employ a whimsical approach to selecting his team members – i.e. no obvious reason other than personality. His teams tends to get along well and CeeLo always has fun working with them, but, like Aguilera, one of his team members has never won The Voice. His most successful team members (that have lasted the longest on the show) seem to be self-motivated individuals that already possess a high degree of skill and ability and are self-starters – so they don’t really require all that much from him as a coach anyway.

Usher – is a new coach this season (replacing Green). I would classify his style as “Aguilera light.” Usher is very over the top in his coaching style and tends to “put on a performance” vs. actually “coaching” his team members. He too has tended to pick some team members based on visual appearance vs. actual singing ability and his coaching comments and feedback tend to focus on things not related to their singing ability. He too, like Aguilera, tends to draw a lot of attention to himself after his team members perform and tends to make it more about him. While the competition is still underway, my early impressions are that out of the four teams, his group is the weakest and he will not have the winning singer come from his team.

Adam Levine – is fairly outspoken and very passionate about the music that is sung and how it is interpreted by the various artists. He focuses a lot of his coaching on making sure his team members understand the music and its history – he is quite adept at helping them make that connection to make them better singers (just like a good leader helps his/her employees make a connection to their work and how it fits into the overall organization.) Levine genuinely cares about his team as performers and people. He tends to lose focus a bit and often his coaching/feedback becomes rambling and irrelevant as he tries to say too much – this communication breakdown causes confusion for some of his team members and his message is sometimes lost. Levine has won The Voice once and I believe the winner of this season may come from his team too. He tends to focus on skills, ability and passion for what they do as his team selection criteria.

Blake Shelton – utilizes a (strategically) laid back approach with his team. He tends to use a lot of self-deprecating humour to bring the focus back to his singers and away from himself. He is very adept at selecting the right songs for his team to sing – he has shown great skill and ability in picking songs that play to their strengths, but also make them stretch and gives them an opportunity to shine. Shelton tends to spend more time understanding his team members personally than the other coaches and he utilizes that knowledge to enhance their performances and make connections to the music. Shelton is also very adept at providing candid feedback to his team but also balances this with timely praise. When there is time for public recognition on the stage, he always makes sure the spotlight is on his team not himself. Shelton (who is a huge figure in the country music industry) really does his best to downplay his celebrity status and makes the moment about his team – not him. Not surprisingly, Shelton has won The Voice twice and if I were making a prediction, he has a strong chance to win it this year too.

Based on these observations and musings, The Voice draws many parallels to the work environment – who would have thought that! The best leaders:

1. Are strong coaches; and
2. Adjust their style to the individual
3. Make it about their team, not themselves
4. Encourage two-way dialogue
5. Downplay their “status” as a leader/coach
6. Are good at identifying talent and recognizing them for the skills and abilities for the job at hand

Not exactly rocket science stuff, but a fun comparison for a Friday blog post!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

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4 Responses

  1. I enjoy that you take an everyday situation and apply it to leadership. Thanks for sharing and keep spreading ideas!

  2. Funny enough I was thinking the same thing that if I was someone competing on the Voice I would hope I could make Team Adam or Team Blake. They seems to identify with the strengths and opportunities for their team members making them go outside their comfort zone without even realizing they are doing it. Very intuitive Mr. Boulton 🙂

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