Learning Leadership from… Michael Jackson???

For the first time in two decades I have the rhythm of “Billie Jean” stuck in my head.

Michael Jackson This Is It PosterThe last time I would have described myself as a Michael Jackson fan I was 10 years old. And by “fan” I mean I remember at 10 years old trying to imitate his moonwalk and tapping my foot to the beat of his famous music videos. I never purchased an album or saw him in concert.

But I’ve never been against him either. I simply recognized he was a talented, but very odd, genius. I didn’t pay much attention to the headlines or court cases. I knew I’d never understand him or know the private details of his life, and I didn’t feel the need to know.

True to my lack of attention to the MJ headlines, I didn’t even know there was a movie out about him until my friend Julie recorded a video on our Say It Face To Face site sharing how her opinion of him had dramatically changed from watching the film, “This Is It.”

Now, I had heard Julie rant in the past about what a freak she thought Michael Jackson was and that she presumed him guilty and basically had written him off as a terrible person. So when she told me I had to see this movie, I listened.

It’s been about an hour since the credits closed and I stopped hearing his voice. But the rhythm of his music and the lessons I learned keep beating in my head.

And I bet I can hear what’s in your head right now too…

“Lessons? Are you kidding? What lessons could you learn from watching Michael Jackson sing and dance?”

Well, let me tell ya… I sat in that theater and was blown away.

One lesson I couldn’t help but recognize was that of leadership. Michael was an incredible leader amongst his entire team of dancers and production crew.

The mood he brought was uplifting. He encouraged and inspired his team.


He was dedicated and determined to create an amazing experience for his fans. As the video cameras captured moments of him working with his team, we could see his attention to detail and his drive for perfection — and his love for the music.

But every word he said was kind and gracious. Even if he was correcting or suggesting a different approach, he spoke with sincere respect.

As he treated his team of dancers, production crew and other staff with respect, everyone respected him. He called them his family.

He showed love, pure honest love for his staff, friends, fans and the world.

Sadly his thin frame hinted at the hardships and physical tolls of his life. I couldn’t stop thinking about how healthy every other dancer was. Each dancer’s body was in perfect form, clearly well nourished and rested. But Michael looked frail.

Michael Jackson This Is It photo

While the other dancers exerted enormous energy as they worked to move in sync with Michael, Michael danced effortlessly, his steps were organic, a natural part of his movement.

He was perfect and brilliant to watch. His body may not have been as healthy as it once was, Michael was 50 years old after all. But his connection to his music was just as powerful. He danced as fluently as one breathes.

m-j-singsMichael’s voice was strong and sweet. Even as he held back, preserving his voice for the concerts ahead, his voice was rich and powerful. I can’t even imagine how incredible the concerts would have been with Michael performing at 100%. It is tragic that we will never see his “final curtain call.”

As he led his background dancers through awe-inspiring performances and encouraged his musicians and vocalists to shine, Michael reminded me of an aging teacher, passing on his tricks and his trade to younger, healthier students. He had pure joy sharing his passion and it was simply beautiful to watch.

Knowing as we do that he would pass away days later, it was deeply saddening to see these final rehearsals. Filing out of the theater, I felt like I was leaving a funeral.

Michael was a genius, tormented as most geniuses are. He experienced emotions and senses on a different level than the rest of us. He lived a life we can’t begin to comprehend. We didn’t understand him while he was alive and we won’t understand him now that he is gone.

He made mistakes. He behaved oddly and inappropriately. At times, it seems as though he had poor judgment and hurt himself and others with his actions. Some will continue to accuse him of deplorable acts. Perhaps you rage against him with fear that he hurt children. I don’t judge you for that anger. Even the thought of someone hurting a child enrages me.

But in my mind there are many evil men in the world but and I don’t think that Michael Jackson is one of them. I do think he was an eccentric, misunderstood artist who sometimes had difficulty fitting within the norm of society.

But I recognize that through a few video cameras following him around during rehearsals, I have learned profound lessons of leadership, respect and love.

The world has lost perhaps the most talented artist of our generation. As I sat in that theater, I didn’t want the movie to end. I didn’t want his music to end.

It is almost unfathomable that there will never be a new Michael Jackson song, that he will never perform again.

I am so grateful that those cameras were rolling and that through “This Is It” we can be inspired one more time by the gifts of Michael Jackson.

Just to let you know, no PR firm asked us to post, nor sent us free tickets. We bought our own tickets and are posting because we want to share our thoughts. Please share your thoughts too!

We do recognize that this might be a very emotional, controversial post for some. Please keep your comments respectful of one another and free of profanity or slander. Our thoughts in this post reflect our opinions on the movie and we are not commenting on any legal issues concerning Michael Jackson.

Written by Susan, co-founder of 5 Minutes for Mom
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  1. says

    I found your post very powerful because it is exactly the same feeling I had while watching the movie.

    I was a definite fan back in his Thriller days and had his posters up on my wall and always enjoyed his music and performances. I can’t even imagine how it is to live your life so sheltered from “normal” life and not having “normal” friendships and relationships with people, not knowing if they are only wanting to be near you because you are famous.

    Like you, I was definitely amazed at the grace and respect he showed to others. And, watching how he wanted to give his all and for those around him to give their all so that his fans could have the best experience, you felt the love he had for his fans and for those around him.

    Like you, I felt a deep sense of loss for not being able to see him enjoy the fruits of his labor. And to watch all of those around him and their hard work and what could have been – so many what ifs.

    My children now have an appreciation for his music and dancing and I feel that it has come full circle. There is now a new generation that will continue his legacy through their music and dancing that was so influenced by him.

    I am neither defending nor excusing anything in his personal life because only he can do that. However, I do appreciate the person he was as a performer and a leader. He truly showed what can be accomplished when you give encouragement and positivity in your actions as a leader. Sometimes all it takes is showing a bit of gratitude towards others.

  2. blondy says

    I share exactly the same sentiments with you.after watching the movie I had a different view of MJ.I enjoyed the way he interacted with his colleague more than his singing and dancing[his voice was impeccable and you wouldnt believe he was dancing with 20 yr old guys] cos it gave me some insight into jackson the man.I feel every ceo/leader should watch the movie to see how they can motivate and bring out the best in their workers.he definitely was the greatest entertainer of our time.

  3. says

    I’ll take your word for it.

    I grew up with Michael Jackson. I had Jackson 5 records and watched the cartoon show. I remember him going solo and enjoyed his music. I also remember the controversy and could never quite get over the feeling that something was off there.

    There are still too many unanswered questions, that are really none of my business, to let me enjoy being his fan again. I do believe he acted inappropriately with children. I don’t know if he acted illegally with them. There is enough doubt there for me to feel comfortable.

    These types of feelings have also stopped me from seeing any Woody Allen movie since he went public with Soon-Yi or any Roman Polanski films.

  4. says

    I can see this. I wasn’t “in” to his music but as a fellow musician it is easy that he is a musical genius and an UH-MAY-ZEENG performer.

    My attitude about him has changed. And not because he died but because we’ve seen more exposure to his actual life instead of the weird public things he did.

    I think it changed at his funeral.

    What did it?

    His daughter.

    He could have spent MILLIONS in PR firms to improve his image that wouldn’t have even touched the repair to his image that came about by those 30 seconds by his daughter.

    I think that history will remember him much more kindly then they did when he was alive.

  5. says

    P.S. I am making no statements about what he did or didn’t do. (Bare minimum there was weirdess going on that certainly seemed…odd) I am speaking mainly that I was much more able to see him as a human with good traits after all of this.

  6. says

    I used to listen to his albums as a kid on my Fisher Price record player and I would dance around and belt them out. I loved Billie Jean…and I also loved the song he did when he was a kid, Ben. I really want to see, This Is It, but I am not sure if I will get a chance to in the theaters. They will release it to video at some point, right? I hope so.

  7. says

    “But every word he said was kind and gracious. Even if he was correcting or suggesting a different approach, he spoke with sincere respect. ”

    Yes, yes, yes, yes…a million times…YES!

    The absolute perfect post. I love it. Thank you!

  8. maria says

    Very well said Susan. I feel the same way. I have seen the movie 7 times and plan to see it several times more before i can purchase the DVD. I come away from ther theater having learning something new each time about how great a perfomrmer and a human being Michael was. I listen to his music in the car and at work all the time. I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness every day. IT is refrehing to read good positive comments about a much misunderstood genius. Love to all.

  9. says

    What an amazing article about a very talented artist. I agree that he was a genius. I haven’t seen that show yet, but I did grow up listening to his music just like most children of the eighties. He was an icon and will be forever missed.

  10. says

    Susan, thanks for writing such a beautiful and thoughtful post about a controversial musical genius. I left the movie with many of the same feelings you had. Thanks for sharing your honest views.

  11. Maria Grazia says

    What a touching article, Susan! He was a genius, but most of all he was a great human being. If you want to know the real Michael, please visits the silencedtruth.com, in particular Charitable Activities. Thank you.

  12. Maureen says

    I just saw the movie yesterday and while I was watching I was thinking the movie would be something my young boys would like just because of the great music and dancing. There were no swear words, it was so refreshing. Only thing is they have the pretty intense Thriller scene so I think I’ll have to wait for DVD so I can skip over that part when the boys watch the movie.

    I grew up with MJ’s music and really like the earlier stuff (not so much the more recent stuff) and while I’m not a fan of MJ as a person, I really enjoyed the music. It was nice to see something involving him that wasn’t so focused on the bizarre and just on the music and his artistry.

  13. says

    I definitely was impressed with how he handled people in the show as well. Typically you hear about the prima donna star who relishes the opportunity to make someone feel small and Michael certainly didn’t do that. I thought another person who did a great job with leadership was the director, Kenny Ortega. I felt like he really communicated with and handled Michael well.
    In the end I feel that Mike is certainly a leader in some respects but has allowed some poor judgment to tarnish his legacy. Acts such as sharing a room with young children and hanging his own child over a balcony aren’t wise moves and take away from Michael’s greatness. Interesting post for sure.

  14. Eilleen says

    I saw the movie on opening night and I was also amazed at how gentle he was – with everyone. It was sweet watching him teach those dancers – like watching a loving father teach his children.

    I felt the film ended abruptly. One minute he was there – the next he wasn’t. Much like his life. It left me sitting in my seat stunned. It felt like goodbye.


  15. Ligaya says

    Thanks for your post on his leadership. I think readers here are fair & not one-sided. It’s one thing if people believing MJ’s a pedophile did their homework & checked the other side – MJ’s an innocent victim of extortion. I bet almost no one has. Anyone decent will check @ least 1 source below in ea. of the allegations.

    Jordie Chandler allegation which was settled:

    1. “Was Michael Jackson Framed? The Untold Story,” Mary A. Fischer, GQ, October 1994, http://www.buttonmonkey.com/misc/maryfischer.html; 2. “Bury the Never Ending Myth of Jackson as Child Molester,” Earl Ofari Hutchison, July 8, 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/earl-ofari-hutchinson/bury-the-never-ending-myt_b_228307.html;
    3. Redemption by Geraldine Hughes, legal secretary for Barry Rothman, Dr. Chandler’s lawyer, who witnessed the set-up.


    1. Michael Jackson Conspiracy, Aphrodite Jones (also author of book adapted to movie Boys Don’t Cry).
    2. Michael Jackson: The Untold Story of Neverland (DVD) by Larry Nimmer (some excerpts on YouTube).
    3. On Michael Jackson by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for NY Times Margo Jefferson.

  16. says

    I have always been a MJ fan and I agree with you, he wasn’t considered the “norm” in society but sometimes thats what makes a great person.
    I don’t believe he did the things he was accused of either.

  17. says

    Interesting take. I’m behind on my reading and I finally got back around to this one. Wondered what lessons you could get from Michael Jackson. :)

  18. Cheryl Gross says

    I took 2 of my friends to see This Is It on the first night it came out. As we sat and watched, and tears welled up in my eyes. He so deserved this comeback. He wanted his lovely children to watch their dad as he performed the songs he wrote. He would never get that chance. When it got to Earth Song, I put my head on my friend, Cody’s shoulder, and I cried. “How could this lovely man not be performing again.” Then I realized for the first time, that he was REALLY gone, and I cried harder. Michael was a lovely man. There is a website that tells the complete truth. It is http://www.mjtruthnow.com, it was designed so show how Michael was treated by the media. I will truly miss Michael. Even though I have never met him before, he still has a special place in my heart. We love you, Michael, and miss you terribly.

  19. cawobeth says

    This film also brings to light Michael’s genuine compassion for children, animals and humanity. His humanitarianism has been so understated.
    As far as being an extraordinary & honest multi-media artist, who felt responsible as a successful artist to “give Back”, yes he’s quite unique and has proven to be a great power of example and leader as a charitable artist.
    As far as weird, as many have claimed, I think not.
    This video best describes his strength – – –

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