Before Tuesday night’s American Idol premiere, I knew precisely 3 things about Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice):
1) She used to be the in Spice Girls.
2) She’s married to David Beckham.
3) She’s a clueless and cold-hearted clothes hanger with no personality.
I have no idea where I got that last one from because I have never paid the woman one iota of attention, but there it is, in my brain anyway. Or there it was until Tuesday night when she appeared as a guest judge on my favorite guilty pleasure TV show.
And then a funny thing happened … I found I kind of liked Posh. She was endearing (if so skinny that I want to force feed her sandwiches) and she was enjoyable to watch.
Which got me thinking about this time last year, when Kara DioGuardia joined the Idol panel. What a difference! For some reason, Kara grated on my last nerve from the first moment I saw her. I soon learned I wasn’t alone – one well-known Idol video blogger took to flashing a monkey banging symbols on-screen every time he spoke of her. Poor Kara!
So what was the difference?
To me there was one glaring difference between the way the two women integrated themselves (or didn’t) into a new environment. Something we all have to do regularly during our careers.
Posh’s secret didn’t actually gel with me until this afternoon when I was finishing up a resume for a senior executive client. My client’s specialty is change management, and when she completed our information-gathering questionnaire, she talked about how she successfully led major changes without alienating old-time employees. She said “I honor the existing culture before I attempt to change it.”
And that’s when I realized the difference between the two new American Idol judges: Victoria Beckham honored the existing dynamic while Kara seemed oblivious to it.
I think this is so important for any of us to remember. Especially when we start a new job or freelance project, or begin working with a new client. You win people over by honoring what exists as you find your place.
What does that mean specifically?
I broke it down into three specific actions I observed although you may think of others.
A lack of aggression
Victoria waited until it was her turn to speak and then kept her opinions relatively uncontroversial. Kara seemed to insert herself quite aggressively into situations from her very first day and actually got into a yelling match with one wanna-be pop star on one of her earliest appearances.
When starting a new job or freelance project, it’s wise to keep ideas and opinions to yourself for a while. There is nothing more annoying to long-time employees than hearing your unsolicited ideas on day one, because that sounds very much like criticism. If asked for suggestions, by all means give them. But otherwise, watch, listen and observe. Some of your ideas might not seem so great after you learn more about the situation – and the ones that are great? Well, you can figure out a way to introduce those once you know more about the culture.
Respect for the place others have in the scheme of things
Victoria also respected the different personas each member of the panel had created and seemed relaxed and non-competitive. She didn’t try to out-nasty Simon Cowell, or out-drawl Randy Jackson. By contrast, in her first appearances, Kara seemed to veer between acting like Simon or mimicking Paula.
It’s natural to be nervous in a new environment, but don’t be so eager to impress that you find yourself usurping the roles others have held for a long time. You will find your place in good time.
At least when it comes to human relationships. Victoria didn’t brag or make the whole thing about herself. She’s actually a very successful businesswoman and has built a strong brand quite apart from her husband. But she never mentioned any of that in criticizing the singers. By contrast Kara seems to mention her own background as a professional songwriter at every turn.
Just guessing, but I assume Kara did that because she felt nervous and wanted to make sure the other judges and the viewers respected her. But demanding respect never works. You earn respect through your actions and the results you deliver. Never boast about past successes – your new co-workers don’t care. They are only interested in what they see for themselves and they will respect you more for your humility.
So, Posh Spice, it turns out, is not a clueless and cold-hearted clothes hanger with no personality – and also, I learned something, proving to my nay-saying friends and family that American Idol isn’t a complete waste of my time 🙂