Sunday, June 19, 2011

Andrei The angel and the monster

In this misguided The Economist article, they attempt to equate the similarities between Mother Theresa and Lady Gaga in the sense of leadership. They start off with a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the obvious differences. This took them one paragraph. Then they made their comparisons over the similarities. And no sooner had they started than they tripped up.

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.

Hmmm, methinks they are taking much liberty with the adjective “venerated”. One built a charity organisation for others; the other made a lot of money for herself. Not sure this is much of a similarity.

They then continue to say that both are role models for corporate leaders as both have books written about them. Again, no substance whatsoever to any perceived similarity unless one sees branding in name shortening as something significant.

Then I get a little bit ‘unwell’:

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.

Oh dear, now they are comparing Lady Gaga to Mother Theresa in this way? I missed the crossover here. Next comparison is hard work:

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.
Well (a) join the club, and (b) pretty sure Mother Theresa didn’t have the options and resources available to Lady Gaga in order to progress her objectives (and Lady Gaga’s objectives are..?)

Now to communication:

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.

Again the comparison is a long stretch…in fact not even that. I see no similarities in the methods. Apparently:

Lady Gaga has the “ability to build emotional commitment” in those she leads, says Mr Reckhenrich. This ability is increasingly valuable in today’s business world, he believes..
Yeah, not sure those in the business community are looking towards Lady Gaga for this particular inspiration….

And now the true colours become apparent in this off-topic comment:

Mother Teresa had her critics, too. Christopher Hitchens, a polemical atheist, called her “Hell’s Angel”. In his book, “The Missionary Position”, he berated her for spreading an extreme form of Catholicism and for accepting money from dodgy people such as “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the late dictator of Haiti.

They then waffle into an conflicting point about how neither are good for today’s managers

There is only so much a manager can learn from Genghis Khan—it is no longer practical to impale competitors on spikes. Likewise, sceptics may doubt that the secrets of Lady Gaga’s success, or Mother Teresa’s, can usefully be applied to, say, a company that makes ball-bearings.
...before an attempt at some saving grace when they point out that what they really mean is that charisma matters. So charisma is the secret to success in today’s leadership. Still not sure why they chose to compare Mother Theresa and Lady Gaga to illustrate this point as they failed spectacularly. It’s not as if they had plenty of other options to close from.

I agree charisma has a positive impact for today’s business leaders, but trying to illustrate this with some comparison between a pop star and the beatified Mother Theresa is truly bizarre. The Economist is normally of a higher standard. I can only assume the writer – Schumpeter – and his sub-editor were on drugs at the time. This is truly an off-colour article from this publication.

3 comment(s):

macdoctor said...

It was a deliberate nonsense comparison designed to make an otherwise boring article on leadership more interesting and contraversial. There are, of course, no similarities at all between the selfless, humble Mother Teresa and the self-obsessed, attention-seeking Lady Gaga, but that doesn't stop some self-obsessed, attention-seeking journalist from trying to make spurious connections in order to sell a magazine.

ZenTiger said...

Nice fisk. And as you say, one would expect better from the Economist.

Andrei said...

Well they do have a few things in common I guess,
they are both women .....

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