It’s hard to believe Michael Jackson is gone. It’s all we heard about this week. His songs are played on the radio, his biography is told on news programs and he’s being emulated in karaoke bars around the world.
I grew up with Michael Jackson. That is to say–I didn’t know him but we are about the same age. I was always aware of his influence on culture. Many followed his style and millions listen to him on their playlist. As a student of leadership I began to ask the question: does his great influence make him a great leader? After all, he was called the King of Pop.
The answer is yes and no. Just because you influence lots of people doesn’t mean you are a skilled leader. After all, the weather influences lots of people. However, Michael Jackson was a leader in this sense. He redefined what pop music and music videos look like. He took them both to a new level. He wasn’t just the best-selling artist of his day, he reframed the industry. In that very real sense–he was a leader. He used his gift in an unusual way that made the world sit up, take notice and want to imitate him. Music is different now. He was a little bit like…
* Franklin Roosevelt and the U.S. presidency. He enlarged the expectations of government.
* Carl Stotz and baseball. He invented the little league and made baseball a kid’s sport.
* Michael Jordan and basketball. He redefined what a power forward can do.
* Dr. King and civil rights. He transformed the way American’s fight for human rights.
Michael Jackson, as quirky as he came across, was very intentional about his style and influence. Reports tells us he often did strange things just so the press would pick up on the story. One time he even said to a reporter: “You must use the word ‘bizzare.'”His style of dancing, parenting, and even living were a performance; he was unable to get off the stage…even when he longed to do so.
I asked my daughter, Bethany, why she was so emotional about his death last week. She said it was the respect she had for his gift. Tens of millions of people will watch his funeral, because of his influence on their lives. He changed the way many live. I guess he was a leader after all.
I believe, however, the King of Pop has now met the King of Kings. It sort of gives you perspective on influence and who really has it in the end.