Is Bono a great leader of our time?

I was recently at a management conference and attended a session on timeless leadership.  A question that was posed was this.  “Who are the great leaders of our time?”

The definition of “our time” was a little ambiguous, because some of the leaders called up from the floor stretched back as far as 150 years.  Perhaps reflective of the WASP, Christian, over 50s audience, the list included Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Harry Truman with the most recent being Nelson Mandela. 

It’s a fair galaxy of stars and there’s no doubting their impact on history.  I was however more interested in the reaction to my offering – Bono.  It elicited a few sniggers and even a guffaw, as though I was joking.  I wasn’t.  But it did make me question my rationale.

Here are a few thoughts I’ve come up with to the question could and should Bono be considered a great leader of our time.

For some of the ageing audience in that room, the notion that a “rock star” could be a great leader must have seemed preposterous.  In another blog I’ve observed there is a paucity of modern leadership truly worthy of respect. 

Bono was at the forefront of the global trend of the invasive international pop star.  It’s fitting that the first truly global pop event with a philanthropic message, Live Aid, was also the stage where U2 broke from emerging band to phenomenon.  Within a few short years they were the biggest band on the planet.

Pop music is the soundtrack to young life (as evidenced by the creeping nostalgia for 80s music amongst my Generation X peers) and Bono and U2 were amongst the biggest, if not the biggest peddlers of product.  Music and rhythm has cut-through that can demolish a million speeches and advertising slogans (or sermons for that matter).  And Bono was one of the pied pipers.

Little wonder then that he retains a high level of influence in the hearts and minds of the MTV generation.

Perhaps the second thing that raised eyebrows in the audience at was the sense amongst the elder participants that Bono is flawed.  Perhaps their perception is that he has lived a life of excess and that the rock and roll lifestyle cancels Bono from the status of “great leader”.

I’m not privy to all of Bono’s personal predilections, but it seems to me that rumours of great excess when it comes to Bono are somewhat exaggerated.  He is married to his childhood sweetheart and apart from the very rare and unsubstantiated tabloid scuttlebutt it appears he has remained faithful to his family.  He doesn’t have the whiff of drug use prevalent amongst his peers either. 

What might be in operation here is that Bono has lived his life in the glare of an unprecedented and competitive media frenzy.  Many of the great leaders of the past had their flaws, some of them major, but they lived their lives outside the salacious scrutiny of today’s media environment. 

How would those other leaders, or even we for that matter, stack up if subjected to the same, particularly the unsubstantiated, level of comment and broadcast? 

There’s a fine line between genius and madness, and some of the greatest leaders have, often be necessity, lived life very close to the edge.  Perhaps they’d not have been great leaders otherwise?

(Part II is going to have to follow I think).

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One Response to Is Bono a great leader of our time?

  1. Pingback: Is Bono a great leader of our time? Part II « Co-mission

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