Know (and Be) Yourself

When the hit TV show, “American Idol” crowned its 2006 winner last night, millions of viewers suddenly embraced a somewhat awkward contestant named Taylor Hicks. The premature gray haired 30-something from Birmingham, Ala., had not only survived the competition, but he had won after 63 million votes being cast.

What few have been willing to admit, however, is how Hicks represented something alien from the image that the hit show had created through its five-year run.

Here was a relative country boy, older than most contestants brandishing about, letting out rebel yells and one line chants called, “The Soul Patrol.” Judges liked him, although Simon Cowell looked incredulous at times about Hicks’ ability to advance. Late night comedians had a field day when it looked as though Hicks was going to make the final round.

But what made this unlikely winner stand out from the competition? Hicks did nothing more than be himself. He sang songs that he knew, felt comfortable doing and when he stumbled, he simply admitted to it and kept on going. Hicks’ self deprecating style soon endeared him to fans everywhere, and his following ultimately made the difference in winning the contest.

What do figures such as Taylor Hicks and visible business leaders have in common? Well, for starters, scrutiny. Hicks withstood weeks of heady competition and fishbowl review on national television. Viewers watched for any potential strength or flaw that could affect his standing. Questions such as, “can this guy really be the next American Idol?” passed through more than one conversation, blog or other shared communication.

In the end, Hicks and his Soul Patrol emerged victorious, while the rest of us remained mere mortals.

The familiar saying that first you have to know yourself to be a winning leader has never been truer. But there’s a subtle shift going on. Know yourself is only half the battle. The other more critical half is be yourself. At all times and especially when others are watching.