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  • Chris Donohoe

3 Lessons in Organizational Effectiveness, Courtesy of Lady Gaga

Updated: Nov 29, 2017

Let’s be honest – we all love Lady Gaga and think she’s the best, but she’s not the person we typically turn to when searching for best practices in organizational effectiveness (OE). Famous for her over-the-top fashions and dance pop antics, Gaga isn’t known for sage OE advice. Yet surprisingly, her newest album Joanne offers a wealth of insight on the topic – especially the 11th song on the album – Angel Down – which provides candid commentary on the current state of leadership and some guiding principles that we can all apply to our work as OE practitioners. Here are the top three insights she provides:

Leadership is Lacking

Bad leadership is everywhere, and it’s a problem. In Angel Down, Gaga calls a spade a spade. She says, “it’s chaos” out there and then boldly asks, “where are our leaders?”. When we talk about leadership, we’re really talking about character – the mindsets and behaviors that benefit you, others, and society. In effective organizations, character is not only required from senior executives, but from managers and front-line employees as well. But what is character, and how can we cultivate it? For the answer, we’ve turned to research being produced by the education reform movement and academics like Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of Character Lab. Although their framework is designed for teachers and students in K-12 education, the principles are research-based, outcomes focused, and very much relevant to adult leadership.

Everyone Needs a Seat at the Table

The complexity of 21st Century decision-making necessitates that people from many different backgrounds and perspectives participate in the process. The truth is that no one person can possibly have all the information that is needed to make large-scale decisions in our current world. Gone are the days of closed-door discussions and back-door deals. Gaga puts it somewhat more artistically by asking, “doesn’t everyone belong in the arms of the sacred?” – emphasizing equality over hierarchy and reminding us that effective organizations and leaders will leverage networks, rather than approval chains, to make complex decisions.

Courage Counts

The most compelling message in the song centers on the idea of being courageous. Gaga explores this idea by asking two, back-to-back questions, “why do we pretend we’re wrong?” and “has our young courage faded?”. The first question challenges a behavior that many of us are guilty of: rather than boldly offering our input or holding our ground when challenged, there’s a tendency to downplay certainty in order to keep the peace. Yet this behavior comes at a cost; it reinforces the notion that someone else is more equipped to solve the task at hand than you are. Yet there’s often no need to second guess an idea – or pretend that you’re uncertain when you’re actually not – simply because someone else is challenging your line of thinking.

Gaga follows this first question with a second by asking, “has our young courage faded?” And here we have our mic-drop moment. It’s not so much about youth as it is about courage. Courage – especially when demonstrated by leaders – is a tremendous asset that can be harnessed to fuel innovation and enable organizations to reach their goals. Given the high degree of uncertainty and change that most industries face at the moment, courage is required from those tasked with making decisions and determining the future.

For those of us working in the people business, Gaga is a great reminder that human experience is at the core of what we do. And what better place to draw professional inspiration than from artists who are concerned with similar people-centric questions? Although I first considered Gaga to be an unexpected source of OE wisdom, I’m starting to think she’s just another person talking about people problems.