Jimmy Iovine is a genius. A growing pile of ironing bearing a striking resemblance to the leaning tower of Pisa was threatening to take over the laundry room, indicating the time had come to dust off the ironing board. I loathe ironing. Unlike my mother who finds it a relaxing activity, I suffer it as one of the 10 plagues of womanhood and often wish I had the financial means to fob it off to somebody else. After settling Ottie on the couch – someone had to have a decent night if not me – I dragged the ironing board in front of the tv and found “American Idol”, figuring it would be mindless enough entertainment to see me through half a dozen shirts.
Usually the contestants are paired with some coaches, other artists or producers, to help them rehearse and arrange songs. This season the CEO of Interscope Records is the appointed Pygmalion, Jimmy Iovine the genius. Frankly, I find it incredibly hard to care or connect with the ego driven kids with the pretty voices who end up on the stage of American Idol, which is why I don’t watch the show. But I was quickly holding the iron in mid-air as Jimmy, a world-famous producer with a knack for not only discovering talent but for nurturing it the old-fashioned way, talked to each of the contestant. The advice he was giving was of the best kind: quantifiable, easy to understand, feasible. To a would be rocker planning to sing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” he said “You should sing it as if you just performed in front of 20,000 people and this is your first encore before you do the monster hit”. In a single sentence, he was able to establish the tone and the subtlety of the performance he was asking for – a performance that would slightly quiet the crowd before getting them into a frenzy with the big hit.
He also displayed an understanding of the individual, of what this kid needed and, above all, he was giving him the parameters within which to let him roam free. And he did that, over and over, with each contestant.
That is called mentoring. An art too often nonexistent in corporations or small businesses alike. There was a time when the only way to learn a business or a trade or an art was at the feet of an elder who was already established in his or her field (mostly his). Mentoring was not so much a business tool but a necessity. Nowadays we expect college degrees or experience somewhere else to have done the trick and deliver fully formed employees. Or, worse, we don’t have the time or don’t find the time to dedicate to those who, for 8 hours a day, depend on our counsel and direction – which should be quantifiable, easy to understand and to execute.
It’s hard to show up at a place of work in the absence of somebody who is willing and able not so much to solve your problems but to nudge you towards the paths and the tools for you to figure it out. And who can teach you – to make a cake, to draw a business plan, to mediate a sticky situation, to be a better you.
There are people you will do anything for out of fear and those you will out of respect and because they will always give something back – in other words, our mentors. Jimmy Iovine was a good reminder on Tuesday night to keep on showing up at work and be the best mentor I can be. As to the ironing, only half of it got done, during the commercial breaks. Who knew Steven Tyler could be so funny?