I’m going to take a break today from writing about strategy, momentum, and performance.  That’s because I saw something today that got my attention – and perhaps goes a little deeper than just getting stuff done.

Most of you are familiar with Americon Idol, a show that entertains both through identifying talent and by finding people who are willing to embarrass themselves in front of millions.  In fact, the shows where the vastly under-talented sing before a panel of three paid-to-be-cynical judges often score very high in ratings.  It’s like watching a train wreck with no blood.

England has its own version of the show, Britain’s Got Talent, and Simon Cowell brings his caustic wit to that panel as well.  This past weekend, Susan Boyle, a 47-year-old single woman from northern England got her turn on the show.  From the moment she walks on stage, you assume it’s a classic American Idol set-up – that she will embarrass herself and perhaps show herself to be totally deluded about her talent.

Boy, was that panel (and packed house audience) in for a surprise.  If you haven’t seen this performance, I dare you not to click here and watch it.  Better than that, I dare you not to be moved by her talent.

Even more, perhaps we should be moved by the dynamics behind the interaction.  Susan doesn’t fit the American Idol/Britain’s Got Talent stereotype for stardom – young, beautiful hotties.  We can laugh at the astonished reactions of the panel.  But I admit I’m a little uncomfortable that my own pre-suppositions about Susan were far from complimentary as I watched her stride out onto the stage.  I was squirming and thinking to myself, “She can’t be serious…”

She was very serious.

What can we learn from this?

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.  This is the obvious point.  Beauty comes in many different packages.
  • As we lead, we need to restrain our temptation to judge.  This is true about our knee-jerk reactions to people, ideas, organizational models.  Would a second look lead us to see something better and deeper?
  • Is innocence actually strength in disguise? What strikes me about Susan Boyle is that she just loves singing.  She was confident but had no chip on her shoulder.  She seems very comfortable in her own skin even when others dismissed her.  In a world (and TV series) full of schemers, Susan just went out and did what she does every week in the church choir.  What would happen if we approached each other with a similar lack of pretense?

What else can we learn from this video? How does it apply to our roles as leaders in organizations?