Bono's Surrender: Leader (Part II)



Although Surrender is not a book in the leadership genre, or with a set of “how to” lessons, it very well could be. Bono is likely the most impactful rock star of his 40-year era. How did he have such as impact and what can others learn from his experience?

Take Responsibility

Take ownership of failure. He takes full blame for the iTunes fiasco when everyone received U2 music whether they wanted to or not. He describes how he persuaded Tim Cooke, CEO, Apple, to go along with the idea. It bombed.



People will betray you—that’s part of human nature. He describes a deal where the other side changed some key terms at the last minute, essentially squeezing the band for more money when they appeared to have no other option than to proceed. Bono notes, “It wouldn’t be the last time in business a face would change from angel to devil, and it would be the last time we would not let money push us around.” [97]



No climb to success is an uninterrupted string of victories. Failure is inevitable. As Bono eloquently puts it, “Failure is when you give your enemies the confirmation they were right all along to have you on their shit list.” [101] The antidote for U2 was simply to persist. Bono describes, “If failure was around us, it still couldn’t quite have us. Somehow we kept the faith. Or maybe the faith kept us. Faith was propelling us all through this.” [101] 


Staying Power

Bono reflects: “It’s hard to explain now because, of course, nothing is inevitable. It’s easy to fall into a narrative that suggests destiny had you in its hand, but there was no such narrative. But if you have staying power, and we did, there’s always a chance a new thought might arrive…” [102] Just as business leaders should wonder what’s next when they are at the top, Bono was uneasy with all the awards and accolades. “Was it because I had the killjoy suspicion that at our most successful we were at our most vulnerable?” [230]



Bono clearly thinks big, attempting to mobilize countries around the world in order to tackle global concerns. Is he an entrepreneur? Bono explains: “It was the eighteenth-century economist Richard Cantillon, born in County Kerry, who first introduced the modern idea of the “entrepreneur” and suggested it’s someone who takes risks on what they don’t know with what they do know. (Or something like that.) I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur. When I’m feeling uppity I think of myself as an “actualist,” a term I made up….until I found it in the dictionary. An idealist who’s also a pragmatist.” [482]


A Single Cause

One interesting lesson is how to bring together various people and organizations for a single cause. This is no easy feat. Bono recounts a meeting with Harry Belafonte: “The search for common ground starts with a search for higher ground. Even with your opponents. Especially with your opponents. A lightbulb moment for me and a conviction that’s informed my life as a campaigner ever since. The simple but profound idea that you don’t have to agree on everything if the one thing you do agree on is important enough.” [393] Very well said, though hard to do.



We all know the power of listening and understanding others, which is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Bono describes how Nelson Mandela “…taught me to listen. This, it turns out, takes a serious spiritual resolve from someone like me, with a big mouth and a big foot that’s often in it.” [452]



Bono and the band have recognized that they are stronger when they collaborate together. Bono, as the voice of U2, would be the one with the easiest exit. But he realizes the contribution of each band member. It seems that there is enough latitude within the band to allow, for example, Bono to pursue big-scale projects, but then get together to make music. As Bono notes, “I’m someone with an inordinate desire for company and specifically for collaboration.” [269]