I know American Idol is the second highest rated (behind Survivor) competition/elimination-based reality television show. However, what does that have to do with leadership training? According to Tom Fox, there are four leadership lessons that Federal Government managers can learn from watching American Idol. You have to admit the idea is somewhat intriguing to think that you can get leadership tips from Randy, Jennifer, and Steven. Let's face it; leadership training is not rocket science or limited to a classroom.
I have a professor friend who designed a business course around The Apprentice. Not that big a stretch but I am still not sure about American Idol. We learned a lot from Omarosa and she has her own place in Wikipedia.
Let's get back to Idol. Below are Fox's four points designed to help Federal managers give performance feedback to employees using Idol as an example.
1. Make your motivations clear. The Idol judges normally begin by telling each contestant "You know I like you, right, dawg?" or something similar, before launching into their critique. This is supposed to relax the contestant allowing them to focus on the feedback designed to help improve their performance.
Managers need to start their feedback session with something positive before focusing on the areas where they want the employee to improve. So far, so good, I guess. Although, I am not sure this is something new or unique to Idol.
2. Focus on facts first, not feelings. Telling the singers they were "too pitchy," while annoying is objective and is something the contestant can focus on improving.
This is a good point but I don't think Idol is the best example to follow. Sticking to objective, fact-based feedback is the hardest thing for a manager to do. It is also hard for the Idol judges. Other than "too pitchy,” or "outside your vocal range," the majority of the judges comments are subjective i.e., "that song doesn't do it for me," "not your best, dude", or "sorry I just don't get it." If you don't get chances are the employee won't get it either.
3. Bring the box of tissues. There are a lot of tears, disappointment, and emotion on American Idol. Be prepared to help people regain their composure. Take a break before pressing on.
For the most part the Idol judges are sensitive to the contestants and know they are working hard. However, occasionally someone isn't or breaks down when the feedback or pressure gets too great. I don't think the judges do anything intentionally to solicit tears and for the most part they try and diffuse the emotion. This is a lesson we all can learn.
4. Close with clarity. You need to close with a concrete set of next steps. Too often, the Idol judges fail in this area.
This is a valid point and just as the Idol judges struggle with this so do most managers. My suggestion is that if you start with clear, focused, objective feedback the ending with concrete action steps will be much easier.
Finally, if reality (experience) is the best teacher does that include reality TV? You be the judge.