Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was saddened by the death of David Bowie last week. I think that it was especially poignant for we fifty somethings, who were there when he first appeared, showing us that there were new possibilities in our lives that we hadn’t even considered. I would suggest that the breadth of his thinking was essential to the liberalisation that preceded the unprecedented rate of growth of the last 40 years.
So I mean to take nothing away from the tributes and comments that we have shared this past week or so when I point out another thing which I find unusual about his life, which is the secrecy of his illness. I don’t think he lived in the glare of fame in his later years but nor was he anonymous, any more than John Lennon, another latter day New Yorker. To have kept such a tragic secret required not just the co-operation of his family but also of medical professionals and a host of intermediaries, delivering test results and the range of care services that patients require.
So how is that achieved? A degree of courage from the “secret-keepers”, who have the human instinct to share the secret to reduce the burden, is essential, tempered by their ability to share between themselves. Respect of a great man could be sufficient for those with less connection to him and a high degree of self-discipline. But I think that the temptation to release the tension of holding a big bad fact to oneself requires more than that. I think it can only be done with love.
A deeply felt care and consideration for another produces good results for both giver and receiver, which is why organisations with attractive leaders (not necessarily charismatic) succeed. Creating a vision for the business and a set of values comes, I believe, from a desire to encapsulate the qualities of the organisation that are personified by the leader, with the hope that the organisation will survive the leader’s demise. Most of you will have been through such an exercise at least once in your career. And I suspect that, like me, you have questioned their effectiveness. If you believe in what your organisation is doing, and want it to survive beyond its current incarnation then maybe now is a good time to re-affirm its vison or create it, out of respect for a man who was truly loved and whose demise will ensure that he lives on. What a vision HE had. What a star man.