Nancy F. Koehn, a historian, at the Harvard Business School, and author, celebrated Bono’s 50th birthday by celebrating the Irish musician and campaigner for his great skills as a leader.
She said “Bono, like Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, has not let himself become isolated in an elite atmosphere. He has used his touring and travels as classrooms to help him understand the hopes, dreams and tribulations of his fellow citizens, whom he often calls his brothers and sisters. And he has used this knowledge to light his way, his music and his leadership.”
Koehn looked back at his achievements over the last five decades. “It is worth briefly taking stock of his journey thus far--a journey of purpose, impact, passion, and humor. It is a path with lessons for leaders from all walks of life,” she said.
An unusual choice perhaps as an ideal world leader, Koehn first looked at all the things which Bono is not. “He has never been the CEO of a major company. He has never held public office or scored a big campaign contribution. He did not graduate from an elite university. He did not make most of his considerable wealth in the global equity or debt marks,” said Koehn.
And yet this rock star from Dublin has “influence that extends from the 100,000-seat stadiums that U2 plays to the White House, Vatican, and Downing Street to debt forgiveness and medical aid to Africa.”
The son of a postal worker, his mother died when he was only 14. How is it that Bono became a man who could “convince Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Jesse Helms to increase America's aid to Africa more than fourfold, from around $2 billion in 2000 to $8 billion in 2009?” she said.
Koehn seems to believe that at the centre of Bono’s power and influence is the band, U2. She said, “The story of U2's success is one of commerce as much as art. At its center is the creation and stewardship of a very powerful brand.”
She also commented on the business model that U2 have developed, one consisting of the four musicians and their every present manager, Paul McGuinness. Koehn commended the model as one which is formed on “experimentation, ongoing reinvention, and a consistent willingness to challenge industry standards.”
“The U2 team, including musicians, management, administrative staff and others, is a vibrant, highly productive organization focused on producing relevant, world-class offerings,” said Koehn. Their 2005 “Vertigo” tour grossed $389 million.
It is through their hugely successful band that Bono has gained access to the world’s movers and shakers.
“One of the most compelling aspects of Bono's leadership is how he has chosen to use the authority that has accompanied business success. He has decided, over and over again, to put his artistic, political, strategic, and spiritual muscle to work to alleviate suffering in the world's poorest countries,” she said.
It’s not by accident that Bono has such success in all his endeavors both music and campaigning. He follows very important rule for such as a businessman and as a leader.
Firstly he keeps himself educated. Koehn said, “Many of the experts, including the developmental economist Jeffrey Sachs, have commented on how thoroughly the singer-turned activist does his homework.”
Secondly Bono is the head of organizations such as One campaign and RED which advance his mission.
Pointing out the huge success of his organizations she said “As of late 2009, the Global Fund had helped support antiretroviral treatment for 2.5 million people; helped provide 105 million HIV counseling and testing sessions; and helped finance 4.5 million instances of basic care and support services for orphans and vulnerable children.”
His humanitarian work and his music are not mutually exclusive. His activism is part of U2 now.
Koehn ended her column by pointing out how other leaders might follow in Bono’s footsteps.
She said “First, all successful organizational leaders--from presidents to police chiefs to CEOs--wield power, often in excess of that granted them by their office. How such individuals decide, explicitly or not, to use this control is a question of grave importance for the world today”
“Second, as Bono seems to understand, these issues demand a new kind of leadership, one based not in aging hierarchies and status systems but in humility, an ardent desire to learn and a respect for the individuals that organizations serve.
“Third, individual leaders have to keep getting right with themselves about their own path and impact.
“Finally, effective leadership today demands a willingness to stay open, not only to one's own enterprise but also to the teeming global village around it.”