Right after General Joe Dunford, the U.S. Forces Commander in Afghanistan, and right before the Dalai Lama, rock singer and U2 front man, Bono, took eighth place in Fortune’s Magazine ‘The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.’
What lessons can a part-time political activist and a rock star dish out to a business leader?
The most successful leaders are versatile enough to play different roles as they emerge.
Leadership itself is an ever-changing position—at one point you may be leading and training a team, and the next time you may be overseeing product development or transitioning your team through a tough time.
Inflexibility has no place in successful leadership and the truth is, no job is too small for a leader.
Bono plays different roles as a political activist, the leader of his band, and not to mention his leadership obligations to his own family. From fighting poverty in Africa, advocating for debt cancellation in poor countries, rising awareness in conflict countries to fighting AIDS, his work as a leader spans different roles.
Most importantly, Bono’s involvement in different initiatives is tied to a single vision of global social justice; his leadership is not scattered; rather it is focused on a primary vision.
According to Bono:
In many interviews, U2 band mates reveal how they debate extensively about their music products. Even though Bono is the leader and one would expect that he make the final decisions pertaining to the band, he does not.
All band members and their longtime manager Paul McGuiness are involved in making decisions. One major area of contention the band faced is how to distribute their music in the age of the internet. Each member had strong opinions on this issue. If Bono used a heavy-handed approach, the band would probably have broken up.
If one member opposes a decision, the band will likely not go ahead with it. Bono admits that the approach where consensus is absolutely necessary is not the easiest. But valuing everyone’s input has been tremendously effective in keeping the band together for over two decades now.
As a leader, it is important to evaluate your vision and the needs of your audience on an ongoing basis. If what you are trying to sell or propose does not resonate with your audience, you will likely not stay in business for too long.
Look at it this way: There is a reason why Coca-Cola has such a wide consumer base. The brand understands the importance of telling their vision through a story in order to connect with their customers. In other words, customers do not just buy the Coca Cola drinks; they buy the company’s vision and story.
The same goes for Bono and his band—he has found a way to align his vision for social justice and to present this through music that people appreciate.
A large majority of U2’s fan base are young adults who are equally keen on issues of social justice, environmental preservation, poverty alleviation and conscious capitalism. This audience is fiercely loyal to the band; it not only buys the music but also the powerful vision that the music propagates.
According to Bono, “Music can change the world because it can change people.”
The U2 team is one of the most long-lived bands, having been together for over two decades. They are literary a family and that sense of community has fostered a spirit of loyalty.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Sun, Bono admitted, “I hold on to people very tightly who I think can get me through.” He was referring to his band mates and wife.
Leaders who win are those who foster a climate of camaraderie and togetherness within their team. Teams that are fraught with unnecessary competition, politicking, and division are too busy undercutting each other instead of helping to build a successful company.
Perhaps the greatest lesson Bono imparts is the value of building a strong team that will support your vision as a leader. Fostering an ethic of consensus and encouraging a sense of community allows your team to take ownership for the success of the business while looking up to you for guidance.
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