If you’ve been watching American Idol you got to see a train wreck when in my opinion – and remember, it’s just my opinion – the most talented singer of all the contestants, Pia Toscano, was eliminated by virtue of receiving the fewest votes of the remaining nine contestants. The audience was shocked, the other contestants were shocked and the judges were shocked. Interscope Records signed Pia to a recording contract within 24 hours of her departure from the show.

The train wreck actually started before Pia got the boot, when Iggy Pop performed on the show. It really wasn’t a performance, it was more like a freak show. He skipped, gyrated and writhed around the stage wearing nothing but a pair of jeans mouthing the words to a song entitled Real Wild Child. Iggy was wild but at 63 years of age he’s hardly a child. He looked more like Pop Iggy than Iggy Pop.

American Idol has always been promoted as a singing competition. But what signal is sent when they put someone like Iggy Pop on stage? This is what American Idol is all about – this is what you should aspire to be if you are a contestant. It may be a subliminal message but it is a powerful message.

OK, so what’s all this got to do with leadership? Let’s say an organization promotes a certain kind of culture. In keeping with the American Idol theme let’s say it’s a singing culture. The employees all buy in and really start singing. Then the leadership goes out and hires an Iggy and puts him in a high profile position. What signal does this send? All this singing culture stuff is just talk. The singing stops. Worse yet employees start acting like Iggy. Hey, if that’s what it takes to get ahead around here I can be a real wild child.

People might listen to what you say but they will definitely watch what you do. And what you do always wins out over what you say. If you tolerate a certain type of behavior you are actually rewarding that type of behavior. And behavior rewarded is behavior repeated.

That’s what you can learn about leadership from American Idol. And that’s what American Idol needs to learn about leadership.

You’ll find more at www.purposeunlimited.com. You may reprint this article in your own print or electronic newsletter, but please include the following: “Reprinted from the Purpose Unlimited E-Letter: For a free subscription, go to www.PurposeUnlimited.com. Copyright © 2011 Jim Whitt Purpose Unlimited.”

Author's Bio: 

Jim Whitt may be the only management consultant you’ll ever meet who has a degree in animal science and actually made his living as a working cowboy. His nontraditional career path also includes a dozen years in sales and marketing with two Fortune 500 companies. His unusual background has given him a unique perspective about human behavior that has enabled him to develop a very nontraditional approach to personal and organizational development.

That approach to can be summed up in one sentence: Without a purpose our only motivation is reward and punishment. Jim helps organizations develop purpose-driven cultures where people come to work not just for a paycheck but because they believe in the company’s purpose and want to fulfill their purpose as individuals. The discovery of his purpose in 1988 launched his career as a consultant, speaker and author and led to the founding of Purpose Unlimited.

Jim has been described as a professional provoker and it’s not an inaccurate description. He provokes individuals and organizations out of their comfort zones then provides them with proven processes to help them on the path to maximizing their potential.

Jim’s provoking isn’t limited to consulting. He is an entertaining speaker who delivers his purpose-provoking message with a healthy dose of humor. Jim has written hundreds of articles on leadership, motivation and change is the author of Riding for the Brand: The Power of Purposeful Leadership and The Transformational Power of Purpose: Finding and Fulfilling Your Purpose in Life.