Politeía Digest

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The angel and the monster

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Mother Teresa and Lady Gaga are the latest icons of the leadership industry. Don’t laugh.

THERE are obvious differences, of course. Lady Gaga’s raw-meat dress would probably not have appealed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The pop star’s habit of changing from one bizarre costume to another several times a day, and maybe 20 times during a gig, might have struck the late nun as extravagant. Mother Teresa wore the same outfit every day: a white sari with three blue stripes, reflecting her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Lady Gaga, by contrast, is not big on chastity. (“Baby when it’s love if it’s not rough it isn’t fun,” she sings.)

Yet the differences between the two women may matter less than their similarities. Both are venerated. Mother Teresa built her Missionaries of Charity from nothing into a global operation with fingers in over 100 countries. Lady Gaga is forecast to earn over $100m in 2011 and may soon outstrip supergroups like U2. Both women are also role models for corporate leaders, according to two recent publications, “Mother Teresa, CEO”, a book by two executives, Ruma Bose and Lou Faust, and “Lady Gaga: Born This Way?”, a case study by Jamie Anderson and Jörg Reckhenrich of Antwerp Management School and Martin Kupp of the European School of Management and Technology.

It is not just that, early in their careers, they traded in long, barely-pronounceable names for catchy short ones: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu became Mother Teresa, Stefani Germanotta became Lady Gaga. As the two publications argue, both women succeeded by developing simple, clear brands, which coincidentally both identified with outsiders. Mother Teresa ministered to the poor and the sick: people “shunned by everyone”. Lady Gaga describes herself as “a freak, a maverick, a lost soul looking for peers”. She assures her fans that it is OK to be odd. This is a comforting message not only for gays but also for most teenagers.

Hard work helped both women excel. Mother Teresa rose every day at 4.40am for mass. Lady Gaga “will take Christmas Day off—and spend it with her parents—but otherwise she works non-stop.” Brilliant communication helped even more. Mother Teresa was a “PR machine” who, whether talking to a dying leper or a rich donor, “always left her imprint by communicating in a language the other person understood”. Lady Gaga is “one of the first pop stars to have truly built her career through the internet and social media.”

Lady Gaga has what Messrs Anderson, Kupp and Reckhenrich call “leadership projection” and a layman would call charisma. The authors think this is because she tells “three universal stories”. First, a personal story: who am I? (She stresses that she was the weird kid at school, but driven to be creative.) Second, a group narrative: who are we? (She calls her fans “my little monsters” and herself “Mama Monster”, and she communicates with them constantly via Facebook and Twitter.) And third, a collective mission: where are we going? (She promotes gay rights and celebrates self-expression; she tells her fans that together they can change the world.) Read more in The Economist.

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Written by Theophyle

June 8, 2011 at 8:20 am

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