What would Bono do? Les­sons in lead­er­ship and ac­tivism from the world’s most suc­cess­ful band, U2.

Star Tribune - - OPINION EXCHANGE - Michael J. Fanuele is a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant who most re­cently served as chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Gen­eral Mills. He’s writ­ing a book about in­spi­ra­tion.

came to U.S. Bank Sta­dium on Fri­day, and if you were one of the more than 50,000 peo­ple who wit­nessed the band belt its way through “The Joshua Tree,” you saw a lit­tle more than a rous­ing rock ’n’ roll show; you saw lead­er­ship, one band’s power to move the world.

U2 wraps up each show of its cur­rent world tour with stun­ning por­traits of the most con­se­quen­tial women in his­tory, or as Bono de­fi­antly says, “her­story.” Flash­ing in 7.6k res­o­lu­tion on the largest high­def screen the world has ever seen are the faces of So­journer Truth, Rosa Parks and Hil­lary Clin­ton. Th­ese are some of the nearly hun­dred women to whom Bono pays trib­ute, call­ing them “women who stood up or sat down for their rights, who in­sisted and per­sisted, who light the way.”

This is clas­sic fare for U2, a band that has al­ways brought some church re­vival to its rock ’n’ roll, preach­ing while play­ing. AIDS, poverty, po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence — th­ese are the scourges against which U2 ral­lies its fans. And if you’ve been to this ser­vice, you know how rous­ing it can be.

When I first saw U2 per­form a decade ago, Bono asked us each to work for justice from the “bridges of Selma to the peaks of Kil­i­man­jaro” as ev­ery African na­tion’s flag un­furled in the arena and The Edge plucked the first bars of the band’s next an­them. At that moment, I en­listed — though I had no idea what I would ac­tu­ally do. I could write a check to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. I could em­brace the near­est stranger. I felt com­pelled to do some­thing, any­thing. I was moved. At that moment, with those peo­ple, I be­lieved we could make the world a bet­ter place.

U2 isn’t only a circus of soft feel­ings, how­ever. Its mem­bers have ac­tu­ally ac­com­plished a great deal of good, rais­ing aware­ness and money (by some es­ti­mates half a bil­lion dol­lars) for myr­iad char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions. They’ve used their celebrity to lobby gov­ern­ments, to di­rect the world’s at­ten­tion to Africa, rav­aged

by dis­ease, war and poverty. Bono is the only rock star ever nom­i­nated for the No­bel Peace Prize, a nom­i­na­tion he re­ceived three times. Even Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush couldn’t re­sist Bono’s en­treaties. The two worked to­gether to bring record lev­els of for­eign aid to Africa. “Bono floored me,” Bush said, “with his knowl­edge, his en­ergy and his faith.” That’s Bono: floor­ing world lead­ers and mo­bi­liz­ing their peo­ple.

So how does Bono do it? What is the magic of this su­per­nat­u­ral shaman? What spirit does he wield that pos­sesses pop­u­la­tions and politi­cians, not only help­ing hearts blos­som, but chang­ing the very be­hav­ior of com­mu­ni­ties and gov­ern­ments?

Well, it’s in­spi­ra­tion — and no band does it bet­ter than U2. In fact, U2 pro­vides les­sons in in­spi­ra­tion for all who as­pire to move a crowd, from po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives to teach­ers and coaches and par­ents. How do they do it? How does U2 move masses? In ad­di­tion to the raw power of some ir­re­sistible tunes, U2 em­ploys three “notes of in­spi­ra­tion” that sway au­di­ences:

• First, U2 sets grand am­bi­tions. Its mem­bers didn’t want to be a rock band. They wanted to be the great­est rock band in the world, and when they achieved that sta­tus, they wanted to be some­thing even big­ger: to be an in­stru­ment for so­cial justice. They want to end the trans­mis­sion of HIV from moth­ers to ba­bies. They want to elim­i­nate malaria. They want to erad­i­cate racism and stamp out gen­der in­equal­ity. Th­ese are not mod­est goals; in fact, they’re slightly pre­pos­ter­ous. But per­haps it’s the very au­dac­ity of th­ese am­bi­tions that in­spires con­vic­tion. It’s hard to gen­er­ate an emo­tional re­sponse when talk­ing to the sen­si­ble parts of a per­son. Al Gore had a plan to re­duce car­bon emis­sions. He lost. Barack Obama promised to lower the very tides of the oceans. He won. Peo­ple are moved to do big things, and so as lead­ers, don’t fear the grand and the au­da­cious and the slightly ridicu­lous. Th­ese are the goals that stretch our imag­i­na­tions.

• Next, U2 is ob­sessed with ac­tion. Pray. Dance. Sing. Do­nate. Buy. Write. Protest. U2 is a band of verbs. Like Nike, its first pri­or­ity is what it wants peo­ple to do, not what it wants peo­ple to be­lieve. It’s a les­son be­hav­ioral psy­chol­o­gists have been prac­tic­ing for decades: change be­hav­ior and be­liefs fol­low; the re­verse is too dif­fi­cult. Re­li­gions have known this even longer, en­cour­ag­ing fast­ing and tithing and mis­sion­ary work. As Bono him­self said, “God doesn’t want prayers; he wants alms.” Lead­ers should learn from this: Don’t waste your time try­ing to get your team to buy into your agenda or un­der­stand your vi­sion; in­stead, be dead-clear about what you want them to do. Ac­cord­ing to Daniel McGinn in his book “Psyched Up: How the Science of Men­tal Prepa­ra­tion Can Help You Suc­ceed,” this “di­rec­tion giv­ing” lan­guage is ev­ery bit as mo­ti­vat­ing as the grander, gauzier stuff.

•Fi­nally, U2 in­spires be­cause it is au­then­tic. A leader can’t hope to move an au­di­ence if that au­di­ence sniffs a phony. As a band that grew up through the Trou­bles, hear­ing bombs ex­plode on Dublin streets and los­ing friends to sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, U2 has the moral per­mis­sion to preach, as it did in Paris as the first per­form­ers af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tack at the Bat­a­clan. “We’re a life cult,” Bono said that week, mak­ing it clear the band was com­ing back to the city as the an­tiISIS. It was com­ing to do the hard work of heal­ing a com­mu­nity, turn­ing fear and hate into courage and love.

Bono is a cre­ation, of course, a rock ’n’ roll avatar con­structed by a teenage Paul Hew­son. And yet, “he” is so com­fort­able in his Bono skin, self­pos­sessed and cer­tain, sun­glasses al­ways on. Lead­ers can learn from that con­fi­dent ex­pres­sion of char­ac­ter. Know your­self, for sure, but ex­press your­self as a one-of-a-kind en­tity, a char­ac­ter with pas­sions and quirks all your own. In that dis­play of par­tic­u­lar per­son­al­ity comes the au­then­tic­ity nec­es­sary for in­spi­ra­tion.

Am­bi­tion. Ac­tion. Au­then­tic­ity. Th­ese are the crit­i­cal el­e­ments of in­spi­ra­tion that U2 man­i­fests so pow­er­fully. They’re on glo­ri­ous dis­play when Bono en­ters an arena, but they can be dis­played by each of us, ev­ery day, in the con­fer­ence rooms and class­rooms where the hard work of build­ing a bet­ter world gets done. As Bono re­marked, “You put on the leather pants and the pants start telling you what to do.”

JERRY HOLT • Star Tri­bune

U2’s Bono, cen­ter, The Edge, left, Larry Mullen Jr., on drums, and Adam Clay­ton played mu­sic from their 1987 al­bum “The Joshua Tree” on Fri­day at U.S. Bank Sta­dium in Min­ne­ap­o­lis. No­body does in­spi­ra­tion bet­ter.

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