I don’t go in much for competition TV programming. I’ve never watched American Idol and I’ve not caught more than a glimpse of Dancing with the Stars. My one foray in has been the blind auditions of NBC’s The Voice.
Don’t ask me what happens once the teams are selected. I don’t know. I don’t watch after the blind auditions are over. I am simply drawn to the idea that performers have an opportunity to be judged by their voice and only their voice. It’s not until a judge turns his or her chair that he or she gets to see if the singer has charisma, stage presence, and conventional or off-beat looks.
This year’s impressive lineup of judges is Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, both veterans on the show in its seventh season, and first-timers Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams. While I enjoy the overall chemistry among the coaches and the competition between Levine and Shelton is entertaining, if I could sing a lick I’d want to be coached by Pharrell. Hands down.
After a contestant belts her heart out and two or three of the coaches turn their chairs to vie for her participation on their team, they make their case for why they’d be the best choice. Time and again it’s funny and inspiring. Plus, viewers who have just heard the backstory and dream of each singer get a chance to speculate on who they think is the best fit for that person.
I repeatedly find myself saying, “Pharrell. Pick Pharrell.” It’s the professional coach in me. Because Pharrell says things to the effect of this – and I’m paraphrasing: If you pick Adam he’ll unquestionably lift you up, but if you pick me I will help you lift yourself up.
Powerful. And he’s consistent.
Admittedly I was already drawn to the guy for writing lyrics like “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.” And for getting so emotional when, while Oprah was interviewing him, he watched a montage of people around the globe expressing themselves to “Happy.” In that same conversation he explained the process of writing that song and how it was his ninth try for the folks at Disney. When he got it right, he knew he’d hit on something.
What is emerging in his coaching style is a strain of that old adage about giving a man fish vs. teaching him how to fish. The latter is sustaining, builds character and empowers the man to lift himself up.
That’s Coaching 101, but too often we instead lead with ego. This is just an impression from a few hours of TV, but I don’t feel like Pharrell is attached to winning the competition so much as letting the singers on his team shine and emerge as whole artists.
Ah, that makes me happy.
This approach could (should?) apply so much more to all of us in roles like managing, parenting, mentoring, and teaching. Imagine that.
Yes, Pharrell. Make observations about my voice, cadence, pitch, etc., but put the onus on me to do the work so that my dreams and my gifts coalesce and I feel so powerful I could run through a brick wall. Sit back and smile and nod when I soar. Lean forward and suggest shifts when something doesn’t work or could be better. Tell me I’m a dynamo so that I am compelled to live up to the label. Be scathingly honest with a soft edge when I am not living up to my potential.
Again, I’m not a singer, but take all of that and apply it metaphorically to my creative pursuits. Be in my corner. Be invested in me, not for any reward except the satisfaction of seeing me shine.
That’s coaching, baby.
This all makes me feel challenged in my own coaching to check myself and be sure to keep ego out of the coach-client relationship. It’s bound to seep in sometimes; we’re all human. But it’s so heady when we step outside of that. When I see former clients become what they’re supposed to, when they raise themselves to that peak level, I often get butterflies for them.
All this from watching some competition TV. Not bad.
Part of being my best self as a coach and writer is to lift myself up, to take inspiration from whatever does it for me and make it mean something. That’s an ongoing process.
I don’t know a falsetto from a vibrato, but The Voice inspires me to fine-tune my voice.