What Leaders Can Learn from Michael Jackson

Wed, Jul 01, 2009

Organizational TanglesI was stunned when I heard about Michael Jackson's untimely death last week. As a huge Thriller fan,  I remember watching Jackson and being captivated by his music, his dancing, and his beat. He really was a musical genius. I never paid too much to the tabloid headlines swirling around his life. However, in the last few days, given the constant news coverage about Michael Jackson and his life on Larry King Live, 20/20, and other news shows, I got to thinking what leaders might be able to learn from Michael Jackson's life, and how it ties in to organizational tangles. One category of tangles that I often encounter in my work as an executive coach are what I call individual or internal tangles.

I often work with leaders who are tangled up in unproductive patterns of thinking. Some leaders have self-defeating thinking patterns. As we work together, it becomes clear that they are stuck in moving forward because deep down inside they assume that they cannot. Based on what I have heard and read about Michael Jackson's life, it appears that he was haunted by demons that impacted his personal life. When organizational leaders, like Jackson, are tangled up in themselves, it reverberates and impacts others.

Sometimes, leaders on their way up the corporate ladder are so stuck in self-defeating thinking, others have a difficult time seeing their full magnificence. Recent stories about Jackson lauded his musical talents, while at the same time hinting at the challenges his internal demons posed to himself and his later  career. I have worked with a number of very talented leaders who limited their own career growth by not getting out of their own way.

Leaders, plagued by internal tangles, like Michael Jackson, also don't reach their full potential. As a leadership coach who visualizes the potential of all my clients, this is particularly sad. Who knows what Michael Jackson could have become in his later life. Perhaps he could have been more of a mentor to younger singers. Perhaps he would have broken throughyet unseen barriers in music and dance.

Finally, leaders who do not have the opportunity to learn and understand both their strengths and areas of development early in their career are often blindsided later on by what some of my clients call flat spots. Like a ball that cannot roll without a smooth curve, leaders who are not given the opportunity to create compensating strategies early on also don't reach their potential. Deepak Chopra writes that Michael Jackson maintained an innocent childlike quality, and along with a quality of woundedness, was reluctant to grow up. Of course Michael Jackson became world famous at 5, and was thrust into the spotlight. Having a normal childhood is difficult under any circumstances. Michael didn't have a chance at that opportunity. Still, had he had the mentoring and development early on, his star might have shone even brighter.

So bottom line, what can leaders learn from Michael Jackson? Get an honest assessment of your leadership strengths and area of development early on. Work on mazimizing your strengths and compensating for weaknesses. And finally, if you are stuck, seek the help of a highly trained, experienced, executive coach. It is nearly impossible for us to see our own internal tangles. Until leaders unravel their own internal tangles, their potential and star power are limited.

Please contact info@rubenconsulting.com for a complimentary consultation.

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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