Tuesday, June 30, 2009

GLARE OF THE SPOTLIGHT, Part 1 - Michael Jackson's Misguided Focus

Boy, it's been all tough news since my last post. I don't mean the steady stream of celebrity deaths, such as Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. While I mourn all of these good souls, I have been taken by the parade of poseurs who were exposed in the unforgiving incandescence of media scrutiny: yes, I am thinking of Michael Jackson, but also Mark Sanford, and John and Kate Gosselin.
Michael Jackson once had it all. That was most evident in the outpouring of tributes that came when he died way past his prime. In his day, he was dazzling and truly unbelievable. I went into my basement and found a long-lost treasure: a VHS recording of NBC's 25th anniversary celebration of Motown, which aired in 1982. I fast-forwarded to Mr. Jackson first set with his scene-stealing performance with his brothers, The Jackson 5. Then, after shooing his siblings off-stage, he delivered his electrifying rendition of "Billie Jean." This was the night he introduced the moonwalk, and live musical performance was never quite the same. Adding to James Brown's legacy, Jackson showed that clothes,dancing and stagecraft could all add to a musical showcase. Singing melody and lyrics was no longer enough.

But this all started to fall apart for him after five short years. His next album, "
Bad," sold a puny seven million (!) copies compared to the stratospheric "Thriller." Mr. Jackson was already drawing unfavorable comparisons to, of all people, himself. His music wasn't as strong, critics and fans said. His title video also portended a new problem. His appearance was becoming stranger, as he was morphing into either Diana Ross or sister Janet, depending on your interpretation.

Furthermore, he was developing a messianic image. In his "
Beat It" video from "Thriller," Mr. Jackson amusingly sang of the wisdom of running from a fight. In "Bad," he was more the hero, simultaneously striking a prominent, godlike pose while sporting a more feminine appearance. This portrayal would grow inversely to the power and relevance of his music, as poorly selling albums sported cover art of Mr. Jackson as though he were the Colossus of Rhodes.

As time went on, he grew more sad than "bad." As his look became more bizarre, so did his behavior. Building an amusement park. Collecting odd artifacts, such as the skeleton of John Merrick, "the Elephant Man." Sporting a pet monkey. Over time, he was known more for his mannerisms and his self-mutilation than for his music.

The events of the past week show that Mr. Jackson could have maintained his career even without producing new music if he had only managed his public image more carefully. I listened to his songs on the radio over the last few days (I couldn't HELP but hear it!), and largely, I found them to be electrifying, brilliant, unique and more diversified than I had remembered. "Rock With You" was danceable, the "Thriller" single was fun, "The Way You Make Me Feel," was sexy, but "The Man in the Mirror" was passionately inspiring. There are some artists who offer such a wide range of output, but not so many. Mr. Jackson was a major artist.

If only he had emphasized that. If only he had performed his classic music more often than he presented a grotesque persona to the public. Perhaps his public image would have been more positive and kinder to this gentle soul.

As the cliche goes, perception is reality. We must remember this as we shape our public images. Companies need to be known as valued members of a community, not merely as polluters or the shedders and shredders of jobs. Products need to offer utility and value, not expense or a lack of safety. And we as individuals need to be known at least a bit more for our contributions and not our eccentricities. Michael Jackson and the people around him lost sight of that, and in that process, the public lost sight of his true value.

NEXT UP: Mark Sanford Talks the Talk, but Walks the Walk to Argentina

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Singular Mr. Ziglar -- An Appreciation

Zig Ziglar

I went to see Zig Ziglar yesterday in Philadelphia. I attended a "Get Motivated" seminar, which featured a number of famous speakers, including Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Collin Powell, and even home-boys Charlie Manuel and Cole Hamels of the Phillies and Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles. But even with this impressive lineup, I attended mostly to see Mr. Ziglar.
To those of us in professional speaking, Zig Ziglar is a giant. He is what Walt Disney is to animation, William Paley is to broadcasting, and Henry Ford is to autos. He almost singlehandedly made speaking and motivation an industry. At 82, the man is truly a legend.
When the emcee introduced Mr. Ziglar, you could see that he is still handsome, dapper as always in his suite and bow tie. I was surprised to see stagehands set up two chairs. I was surprised further when his daughter began speaking on his behalf. (Apparently, in deference to Mr. Ziglar, she never introduced herself, keeping the focus on him.) She went on to explain that due to a fall a few months ago, he has "positional vertigo," meaning that he was unsteady. He is also suffering from short-term memory loss, so he would not give a presentation with the energy and precision we all expect from him. But, she emphasized, he wants to be transparent about these changes as he continues to present his current message, appropriately titled "Embrace the Struggle." So she guided her father through an interview.
He opened by saying that he was the tenth of 12 children, and that he was a better student OUT of school than he was while he was IN school. He still reads three hours each day. He says that he reads the Bible and the newspaper everyday "because we need to know what both sides are up to" -- a comment received with warm and appreciative applause. He also proclaimed his love for America, "the greatest country that ever was," and noted the military people who were in the audience.
Zig Ziglar remains true to his words,
and he delivered them yesterday with
an innate sincerity.
Yet, an uncomfortable side to Mr. Ziglar's health surfaced, as he began to repeat himself enthusiastically. He went on to praise life in America four more times, with an enthusiasm and sincerity that emphasized his obliviousness to his redundancy. He talked about the importance of "home court advantage," and how he continues to court "that redhead of mine" (i.e., his wife of 62 years), and told that story three or four more times. He repeated that he was the tenth of 12 children. He praised the military in the audience a few more times. His daughter would firmly and respectfully remind him that, yes, he had covered that, and moved him to the next topic.
His presentation was augmented with video of past performances. In those clips, he talked about the relative importance of money. Yes, money could buy him a big house, but it couldn't buy him a home. It could buy him a companion, but not a friend. A bed, but not a good night's sleep.
Another clip covered his praise of religion, an ongoing theme over his career (he has always been, unabashedly, a Christian). In the video, he asserted, with some vague attribution, that people who "go to church regularly" have less depression, higher incomes and better sex.
While Mr. Ziglar's frailty could have been depressing, an affirmation of the man emerged from it. In his vulnerable time on the stage, he never lost his dignity. His daughter and the audience were always respectful. He was never chided nor derided in any way.
Most important, he was always on message, intuitively and reflexively. In my years in healthcare, I have learned from geriatric
physicians that as you age, you become more like your true self. (For example, as Ronald Reagan descended into Alzheimer's disease, he reportedly remained pleasant and affable, even when he didn't know the people around him.) If that is true, then Zig Ziglar remains true to his words, and he delivered them yesterday with an innate sincerity: Goals are important; a purposeful life is the one worth living. You can get whatever you want when you give enough people what THEY want. That is is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine you altitude. And gratitude is "the healthiest of all human emotions."
And so while I can't claim to have seen Zig Ziglar in his prime, at least that Zig is available to me through recordings of all sorts. I can say that I saw him truly, without pretense or adornment. It is apparent that he meant every word he has ever said, and he repeats them still for any audience lucky enough to hear them.
Thanks, Zig. There's never been anyone quite like you. Enjoy your time with your audiences. And as you have often said, I will see you at the top.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kobe Shoots... and a Year Later, He Scores!

Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers were humiliated a year ago by the Boston Celtics, and he vowed to come back from that devastating loss. He came back, and he came up BIG when he led his team to a 15th NBA Championship last night in Orlando. He was a man possessed. His eyes, his mouth, said it all. He was focused, and as he drove to the basket, he was driven. And he was committed to driving out the claim that he couldn't win a championship without his former team mate Shaquille O'Neal.
And so after he was banished to also-ran status by Boston last June with a 39-point delta, he determined to return. After helping the American "Redeem Team" win an Olympic gold medal in China last summer, he declared, "My next goal is winning the NBA championship."

So the win is just part of the story. Kobe's fulfillment of his goal to reach the NBA finals again is just as significant. As I have written over the last year, Kobe succeeded in classic fashion. He prepared for this championship through proactive preparation, working with coach Phil Jackson to continually improve his individual play and his team play. He constructed the plan and executed it superbly, step by step, finally reaching his specific goal.
For those who think that their goals are too far in the future or simply unattainable, I point to Kobe Bryant as an example of picking his goal and pursuing it relentlessly. And the city of Los Angeles celebrates with him.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kudos to Broadcasters; Let's Learn from Them!

Hey, did you notice that today is the FCC-dictated switch from analog TV to digital? You didn't? If not, you can't blame the major broadcasters. They bent over backwards for YEARS to make sure that viewers knew that their older sets wouldn't receive the new digital signals. (By the way, this is to open parts of the electromagnetic spectrum for emergency use -- a good thing.) Look at what they did:
  • Announced the coming switchover as public service announcements so that no one should have been caught unaware
  • Advised viewers of where to get converters
  • Conducted tests to help viewers determine if they would be affected by the switchover ("Hey, this is what your picture looks like now."
    "Here is your picture on digital." THROW SWITCH
    "If you can't see me, then you're s.o.l after June 12.")

The broadcasters' efforts are a lesson in good community relations. They stated the problems up front, showed the results, and advised on where to find the solutions. What does your organization do when you face a change that will affect your stakeholders?
Are you proactive? Or reactive?
Do you point to the solutions?
Do you show the consequences of the event in question?

Think about all this whenever you are facing such events as product changes, price increases or layoffs. We should all do as well as the broadcasters just showed us.

Monday, June 1, 2009

SHOUT! It's No Time to Be Immodest

Bill Lampton likes my book, “The Six P’s of Change!”

Bill, who is a Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on communication, a broadcaster, teacher, and academic administrator. He has been interviewed in countless publications. Bill reviewed my book on Amazon and said the following:

  • “I rate this book highly…”
  • “The author's background qualifies him to advise us… [H]e shares what he has recommended to high-level employers.”
  • “The writing style surpasses what you will encounter in most business books…”
  • “Can you remember another business book that opens with a discussion of a World Series game?”
  • Rocchi is on target in describing this volume as a handbook. Each chapter ends with an ‘Intermission from Your Transition.’ These brief written exercises help the reader transform ideas into action.”
  • “As a leader, you will serve your company well by using this valuable handbook as a training guideline for your company's next planning session.”

I could go on forever. (Believe me, I'd LOVE to!) And why am I telling you all about this praise I received?
Because I can. And I should. And you can and you should say such things about yourself.
Times are rough. GM went bankrupt earlier today. The country is in a recession, if you haven’t already heard. Jobless claims have decreased, but unemployment is still quite high, the highest we’ve seen it in a long time. If you want to rise above this din, you must make your own noise, and social media are the way to do it.
So when Bill’s sent me word of his wonderfully positive review, I emailed it to friends. And I Twittered it to my procchi tweets with a link. And I put it on LinkedIn and Plaxo. Because I can. And I should. If not, how else would you know? After all, I am the self-proclaimed agent of change. I must live up to this image I’ve created and this philosophy I espouse.
We are the Jetsons, my friends. We are lucky to live in an era when we have the means to broadcast our messages to the world. It wasn't so long ago only broadcast TV could do that, and what were the odds of your being able to buy time there? So we must take advantage of this rare opportunity to push our names not up into the stratospheres but into the upper reaches of search engines.
So shout it from the social media.
Fire away at your targets.
That’s why you’re reading this, and it’s most likely the reason you are writing about yourself. Go ahead, do it. You can, and you should.
And remember that
Bill Lampton likes my book!