Lady Gaga is an investor in Backplane, a social network that unites people around communities of interest. Backplane has some other interesting backers: Menlo Ventures, Google Ventures, and FoundersFund. But she is more than a person trying to stash money somewhere hoping for a return. Lady Gaga has actually created a social network on Backplane for her fans. That right there is unusual, although not unheard of. But unlike celebs like Ashton Kutcher, who also invest in startups, Lady Gaga uses her network to engage with her fans, and often to exert leadership on social issues.
How do you exert leadership? It takes courage. Remember when Gaga appeared on TV wearing a dress made of meat? Now she's exposing her own flesh. Last week, after confessing to a lifelong battle with eating disorders, she responded to accusations that she was "getting fat" by using her network to launch Body Revolution 2013, a campaign for greater understanding of eating disorders.
She started by posting a photo of herself in her underwear, clearly not professionally done. The goal of this? To role model for her fans the need to own their bodies and get over it—the body image issue that has plagued women all over.
She encouraged her fans to respond, and thousands did: by posting their own photos, and by expressing empathy, inspiration and motivation. Singlehandedly and in a matter of days, she brought the issue of eating disorders back into the forefront of the public consciousness, took a swipe at Gawker, and empowered other women.
Why is that leadership? Because throughout her career, she has done the same thing over and over again: pushing the boundaries. That's what leaders do. They inspire others to push their own boundaries, whether it is to create better products, ensure better quality, or produce greater profits. Whatever the leader does, the company or the users, or the fan base emulate.
Everyone is potentially a leader. But if your leadership is unconscious and thoughtless, your followers will reflect that. Surely all parents remember the first time they heard a "naughty" word out of a toddler's mouth and realized it was something they said at home? Or the first time a 3-year-old goes to mommy's dressing table to try on lipstick?
People spend their lives following leaders and trying on behaviors. If you are a parent, entrepreneur, or executive, you need to be consciously aware of what you are role modeling, and what kind of leadership you're exerting. Are you motivating your people, inspiring them, or empowering them? Or are you demonstrating, through your own half-hearted commitment to your vision, or your own fear, that they also ought to be fearful?
In taking on the issue of her eating disorders so boldly, Lady Gaga got me, a "woman of a certain age" to join the Little Monsters network and contemplate taking a photo of my (best covered) body to post on the site to inspire other women. That, indeed, is leadership.
[Image: Flickr user J_P_D]