An interesting piece shared via Twitter that caught my eye is this Economist article entitled, “The angel and the monster”. Essentially, the article explains that managers can learn a lot from Mother Teresa and Lady Gaga, bipolar opposites of the spectrum they may be.
While these two women couldn’t be more different than night and day, it is clear that they exuded charisma. The messages and approaches may be vastly differing, but these icons have inspired legions of followers. It reminded me of Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority, which included charismatic authority, which he defined as: “power legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers“.
To a certain extent, the charisma of each woman has been boosted by clarity of their messages, which complemented well with their images.
To start with, Mother Teresa can always be identified with the white robes with three blue stripes, which was what she wore everyday. This was complemented with the clear message of working for the poor, yet those who were devoted to her transcended social classes. Reading her words, it is clear that she spoke in a language that resonated to millions of people. Moreover, the message came with action. This was a nun that championed the causes of the marginalized by living with and caring for the poor, sick, and the dying.
On the other hand, here is Lady Gaga, who is probably a more interesting case study. Whatever constant reinvention Madonna introduced since the 1980s, Lady Gaga took it a step further—largely because she probably couldn’t be seen in the same outfit for more than an hour (I actually think it is bordering on perversion, but that is probably just me). Despite the constant costume changes (I don’t know how she keeps up with it), Lady Gaga’s message was clear. Yes, I’m weird and it’s perfectly fine—so it’s OK for you to be weird. Not only has she successfully branded herself, she has also created a community of “monsters” (what she calls her ardent supporters), buoyed by the strength of her messages.
So what can we learn from these two? Well-remembered leaders/icons have charisma. While it is an intrinsic quality among certain individuals, successful branding/imaging and even community building can be buoyed by clear messages that elicit strong reactions. Mother Teresa was identifiable because of her consistency; Lady Gaga was identifiable because (however ironic as this may sound) of constant change. At a time when there is so much clutter, people are looking for icons and causes to identify with—and this identification can happen at the instant a message resonates within oneself.
Yes, I never thought Lady Gaga can teach me more than one thing about communication.