[Geek Pride welcomes guest blogger Lisa Prior, founder of Boston-based Prior Consulting LLC.]
Last season, during one memorable episode of The Voice, the reality TV show where contestants battle for spots on the teams of four pop stars, a pop-music hopeful sang his heart out.
Three of the four coaches went wild after the performance: country singer Blake Shelton, rocker Adam Levine, and soul artist Cee Lo Green all applauding madly for the grinning contestant. The audience shrieked with approval.
But Christina Aguilera, the fourth coach, remained seated. She sipped her drink and looked up from eyelids half-drooping with boredom.
"I keep it real," Aguilera said.
I am a leadership consultant who helps managers fine-tune their skills for coaching their people. I watched this episode after I had spent a long day facilitating a leadership program on feedback approaches for improving people's performance. I had just taken off my black pumps, stashed my brief case, and flipped on TiVo. Watching Aguilera's audacious move, it occurred to me that business leaders sometimes have a hard time "keeping it real" — they frequently wait until it is too late to give difficult feedback.
Apparently, even when the TV is on and I'm trying to relax, I can't turn off my day job.
Since that evening, trying to turn my new guilty pleasure into a marginally more productive use of time, I've been taking note of the underlying, psychological principles of managing people. So far, I have picked up on five lessons that can be learned from The Voice.
Who would have thought you could glean management tips from a reality TV show?
MANAGEMENT TIP 1: Do a "blind audition" when you are hiring.
On The Voice, each contestant walks onto the center stage where four judges sit. But they don't see the contestant; their backs are turned. The person sings. If the coaches like the vocalist's sound, they push a button, which causes their chair to turn around. Only then do the coaches actually see the contestant. The blind audition neutralizes cognitive biases — the unconscious mental processes that can guide our decision making such as stereotyping or the tendency to hire people similar to us or who look a certain way. The blind audition forces the TV coaches to make their decision on the key skill that matters — vocal ability.
In your own hiring of new employees, create an approach that strips away bias. For example, begin with a phone screening or ask a candidate to send a brief report that showcases their talents before the interview.
MANAGEMENT TIP 2: Be the coach, not the superstar.
Adam, Cee Lo, Christina, and Blake are superstars in their own right. They had to learn to make a significant mindset shift — they had to learn to be coaches who develop future stars. Their personal success now relies on the success of their protégés.
In your own role as a leader, recognize that it may be difficult to let go of tasks you enjoy. The skills and expertise that got you to this place might not help you get to the next one. Abandon the idea of being the superstar and embrace the chance to develop others. Learn to pass on your expertise to the next generation. Be generous with your excitement for other people's achievements.
MANAGEMENT TIP 3: Keep it real: Give feedback.
Christina's instinct to "keep it real" is sound advice for managers who want to develop their people. But her actual words were abrasive and vague. At the time, her phrase "keep it real" caused a backlash against her, just as poorly delivered feedback can backfire against you. Feedback is helpful when it is behavioral, constructive, and specific.
During Season 2, all four coaches had rejected one unforgettable contestant, Daniel Rosa, who looked like a forlorn teddy bear in need of a giant hug. He asked what he could do to improve, and the coaches gave him specific feedback about how to improve his confidence. He took the coaches' words to heart, auditioned anew for Season 3, and compelled Blake and Cee Lo to push their buttons. "The best thing for me," Rosa said, "was not to make a team last season. Just to hear what you guys had to say... thank you for making me feel so much more confident..."
In your role as a coach, give feedback on specific behaviors. Positive feedback takes a mere seconds to deliver and lets people know what they are doing well. Constructive feedback helps people improve and change.
MANAGEMENT TIP 4: Embrace differences in style.
During the Season 3 blind auditions, Rudy Parris, a grandfather with long, black hair and a leather jacket, poured out a rock tune in soulful notes, but with a slight country twang. He got Cee Lo and Blake to turn around. "Doing fusion," said Cee Lo, trying to recruit Parris to his team, "is like my kind of thing..." Not everyone fits neatly in boxes. Style differences strengthen a team by diversifying its repertoire of perspectives and approaches for dealing with today's complex work environment.
On your own team, include people with different experiences and ways of thinking. Help members develop self-awareness and learn to work with other styles.
MANAGEMENT TIP 5: Delegate "gigs" based on people's interests and provide support.
On The Voice, the coaches hone in on contestants' interests. They notice the female rocker who brings a fresh note to masculine songs, or the young man who brings a soft twist to a hard sound. And they bring in other advisors — like musical legends Michael Buble, Mary J. Blige and Lionel Ritchie — to help.
When you delegate work, you can increase the chances of success by matching people with their work interests, and by providing support, such as an advisor or an educational class. Delegating is an opportunity to develop people. It shows that you're able to let go and that you care about building the human capital of the company where you work. The benefits are threefold: you boost other people's careers, improve the efficiency of your team, and may even propel your own career by building a pool of successors who can move into your role, freeing you up for future opportunities.
Lisa Prior is the founder of Prior Consulting LLC, Boston-based firm founded in 2000 that specializes in helping leaders adapt, change and thrive in the globalized business environment. Visit her website at www.priorconsulting.com.