The Michael Jackson Career Lesson

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Jul 09

Like millions of others, Kate and I were shocked at the sudden death of Michael Jackson. Even though we were on vacation, we were riveted to the web and television to see and read about the news.

When all the dust settles, two facts will be apparent about his death. First, he was an amazing talent for singing, showmanship, and music. One can argue the best of all time or not, but one cannot argue with the record sales, concert sales and and the building of a true brand.

Second, it is entirely clear that Michael Jackson’s personal life was a disaster. The causes for it are open to question and I don’t have the answers as to why his personal life ended up the way it did. I can speculate that he never had the ability to grow up and learn about how to evaluate and trust advisors and their advice. I can speculate that he never had the ability to manage his own affairs. One can argue he was a good father, but the truth is he died early, most likely from drugs. Drugs and fatherhood are a poor combination.

Clearly, a career — even a wildly successful career — is not enough. We need to be successful people or nothing is worth the career in the end.

That’s the career lesson from Michael Jackson: we need to build skills and competencies to be successful people. Michael didn’t have the ability to do that and it cost him his life.

What are the skills and competencies we need to build? I’ll offer a few:

  • Build strong networks. This includes fabulous relationships with our spouse or partner, our children and our friends. Strong networks provide strong support for who you are as a person. Michael Jackson was friends with a diverse group of people, from Dianna Ross to Brooke Shields. Clearly they cared for him. Either they did not offer good advice (and the people who worked for Michael were not willing to offer “truth to power”) or he was not willing to accept the advice. People need both the advice and the judgment to act on the advice from their networks.
  • Skill in managing money. The number of celebrities who have gone bankrupt after making millions is legend. If we can’t manage our money, there is no security in our work.
  • Skill in developing trusted advisers. You can’t run a fortune without help. Nor is any person an island unto themselves. We need advisers to help us in our career, our relationships and sometimes our finances. This means we need to have advisers we can trust to offer advice where we need it and when we don’t have the skill set. If you can’t figure out if an adviser is giving good advice or not, you’ll end up taken advantage of in your life.
  • Skill in understanding the actions of people. We need the ability to clearly evaluate whether the child is manipulating us for candy or the executive across the table really has the best interests of our career in mind. We need to understand how people can help us and how we can help them.
  • We need the passion for who we are, not just our career. Self-love is the most important love, without the narcissism. We need to have our own love of ourselves overflowing our cup so we can have the energy and skills to help others. Helping others without that strong foundation simply builds our own insecurity.

In this ugly recession, it is understandable that people are concerned, or frightened, over their career, their work and their jobs. We get overly focused on the next position, whether or not we will get a raise or even if the company will survive.

But without building the other skills outside of our career to become a successful person, all that worry will be for naught.

Last night, after getting home from our vacation, Kate and I watched a lot of YouTube to see Michael Jackson perform. We easily forget the talent that he had until it was all brought back to us. And when Michael sang Billie Jean and did his patented moonwalk dance for the first time, Kate and I did the moonwalk as well,  celebrating the career he had.

The moonwalk was joyful — and incredibly saddening. A great talent truly wasted.

What skills do you need to learn to become a successful person?