Aug 30

What You Can Learn About Leadership From Lady Gaga

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

Lady Gaga as a role model for corporate leaders? Doesn’t that sound strange? Typically, executives believe that there is nothing to learn from artists as they are too far away from the business world. However, three management academics, Jamie Anderson and Joerg Reckhenrich of Antwerp Management School (Belgium) and Martin Kupp of the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin (Germany), the authors of a case study titled “Lady Gaga: Born this way?”, beg to differ.

Before diving deeper into the findings of the case study, let us get clearer about the term “leadership”. There are hundreds of definitions of leadership. Let me share with you my two favourite ones. Peter Drucker, probably the greatest management thinker of our times, sums up leadership as follows: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” And the definition of John Maxwell, the American leadership guru, is: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Lady Gaga surely fits under the above definitions. In 2010, she had been rated by TIME magazine as one of the world’s most influential people of the year. She is one of the best-selling music artists worldwide. The 25 year old American is expected to generate sales revenue of about 100 million  US-$ in 2011.

Lady Gaga is a huge social media star. She was the first ever person to reach 10 million followers on Twitter. She has 41 million fans on Facebook, and she reached already the landmark of 1 billion views on You Tube.

Lady Gaga has what Anderson, Reckhenrich and Kupp call “leadership projection”. This concept is an integrative approach of communication, behaviour and aspiration that provides a leader with wide recognition across an industry or sphere of public life. Leadership projection is very much about followership – after all, a true leader only exists if he or she can excite loyalty in others.

So how does Lady Gaga generate such huge followings?

Sociologist and Harvard professor Howard Gardner states that in order to gain buy-in from an audience, leaders use three universal story lines – and so does Lady Gaga:

1. Who am I ( a personal story) – How life experience has shaped my individuality and character

Lady Gaga stresses that she was the weird kid at school, but driven to be creative. She describes herself as a maverick, and a lost soul looking for peers.

2. Who are we (a group narrative) – common values and behaviours of a group

The controversial pop star calls her fans “my little monsters” and herself  ”Mama Monster”. She tells them it is o.k. to be odd, a message to which her fans, a lot of whom are teenagers, can relate to. A case of authentic like-mindedness.

3. Where are we going (a collective mission) – explains what is new and creates a sense of excitement about direction

The artist promotes gay and lesbian rights and celebrates self-expression. She tells her fans that together they can change the world.

According to Reckhenrich, Lady Gaga has perfectly learned the art of connecting with her fans on different social media platforms which he calls “platforms for mass intimacy”.

Her ability to build emotional commitment in those she leads is increasingly valuable in today’s business world, the authors of the case study believe.

Her ability to build emotional commitment in those she leads is increasingly valuable in today’s business world, the authors of the case study believe. According to a recent article in “The Economist” that dealt with Lady Gaga as a leadership icon, Egon Zehnder, a European executive recruitment firm is now working with the authors of the case study to figure out how to identify whether candidates for top company jobs have the ability to “project leadership” the way Lady Gaga does.

In today’s world where employees are craving more and more for meaning and purpose at the workplace, it is important that leaders use storytelling and projection to take their audience with them on their organizational journey.

A good example of the corporate world in this context is Steve Jobs, the iconic and visionary CEO of Apple whom he made the world’s most valuable brand. Jobs had the courage and vulnerability to put his own personal story out there. He had dropped out from college, was fired by the company that he founded and was later re-hired.

Jobs had always dreamed of changing the world, a dream many people can relate to. That dream fueled the development of Apple’s highly innovate, design-driven and market-changing products.

Like Lady Gaga, Jobs chose for his communication an outsider position. He said: “Here is to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Famous is the story where Jobs attempted to lure then-Pepsi CEO John Sculley to lead Apple. “Do you want to sell sugar water all of your life or do you want to change the world?” is the line he used to convince the reluctant Sculley to become Apple’s CEO (a position which Sculley held from 1983-1993). Jobs vision is to change the world and people believe him.

Lady Gaga as well as Steve Jobs have earned themselves a huge and devoted following. Their highly effective storytelling and communication techniques were crucial to that. So, next time when you speak to your team, spend some thoughts beforehand to answer the above stated three universal questions and make sure you connect with your team on an emotional basis. After all, we know that “emotion creates motion”. And that’s what we want: moving together with our people towards a joint vision.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 at 01:27 and is filed under Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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