Leadership lessons from Seal and ‘The Voice’…really!

April 26, 2012

I have a confession to make.  I am loving ‘The Voice’, Channel 9’s new reality TV show.  Feels good, got that off my chest.  I could pin the blame on my 13-year-old daughter, but have to take full responsibility for this one.  I thought I would watch a few minutes and was instantly hooked! Just when you thought that whole category was done and dusted (really Australian idol, Australia’s Got talent, X factor etc.) along comes ‘The Voice’ and changes the whole format, winning new audiences.

If you haven’t watched it already, 4 judges, Seal, Joel Madden, Delta Goodrem and Keith Urban sit in chairs with their back to the stage.  It’s a blind audition with singers being judged purely on their voice and if a judge / coach likes what they hear, they hit a red button that turns their chair around.  But what makes it compelling viewing is (apart from the quality of the singers) if more than one judge turns around, they have to persuade the contestant to join their team.  There is a shift in the power balance and you see both leadership and the art of influence in operation.  In one of the first episodes, Seal and Delta Godrem both went head to head to try and secure one of the contestants, Chris Sebastian.

Seal told Chris, ‘If you come on my team, I’m interested in one thing and one thing only, making you great’. Delta in response said ‘I understand your spirit and I understand this country. This is my country.  I love Australia.  We can make this happen together, and that will be a very easy ride for us”.

To which Seal retorted  “That is a very good pitch she’s making, but there’s one thing that doesn’t sit with me, she keeps using the word easy.  It’s not going to be easy brother”.

Chris thought about it for a moment and went with Seal and later he explained why saying  ‘When she said it will be easy with me – she lost me – the last thing I wanted people to think was I had taken the easy way out’.

There are classic communications lessons we could all draw from this.  Seal made his pitch all about the singer. Who can resist the opportunity to have someone coach you to greatness?  It’s irrestible and that’s why artists come on to shows like this, to be discovered.  Delta promised an easy ride thinking that would appeal.  Compare the promise of an easy ride versus the promise of greatness?  Which would you pick?  Seal also understood where this particular contestant was coming from, he wanted to carve out his own identity and not ride on the coat tails of his famous older brother Guy Sebastian.  So Seal immediately picked up on the word easy ride, understanding that this would be the last thing Chris would want. Also when Seal said it won’t be an easy ride, he knew this would not turn Chris off as he was also speaking to a universal truth. Everyone knows it’s hard to make it in the music business.

To persuade as a communicator, it has to be all about your audience, what they want not what you think they want. As Seal and Delta’s responses indicate there is a world of difference between what we might think someone wants versus what they actually want.  You have to understand your audience, and walk in their shoes to succeed, to influence and persuade.

I am loving watching and learning from Seal (and the other coaches), and now have a legitimate (cough, cough) academic reason to continue to couch surf and watch The Voice weekly.  And you have been warned, its highly addictive.

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