Posted by Martin Nixon
15 January, 2016

In 1980, my first girlfriend lent me her copy of Hunky Dory and I’ve been a Bowie fanatic ever since.

I spent countless hours as a teenager avidly immersed in his music: from that very first album bought in Woolies (a personal copy of Hunky Dory, naturally), I moved on to Ziggy Stardust, Heroes and Scary Monsters, and from there to so many others. He became my hero, and as a result his music is never far from reach.

This blog post is certainly at risk of being a cliché, but when I was listening to the multitude of tributes following his unexpected death last week, it occurred to me that David Bowie was not just a global star and extraordinary artist, but a truly natural creative leader.

So what can we learn from his particular style? I’m sure this is barely scratching the surface but to begin with there are three characteristics that stand out for me.

Be open

‘She opened strange doors that we'd never close again’ (‘Scary Monsters’)

Bowie was by all accounts a control freak when it came to the quality of the end result, but was always happy to encourage others to perform their best and always ensured they took the credit. Take ‘Aladdin Sane’, for example, when Bowie encouraged session musician Mike Garson to deliver one of the most memorable piano solos of all time. The commercial success of his 1980s hits ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘China Girl’ was largely due to Niles Rodger’s unforgettable guitar riffs.

Fail well

‘Some are bound to fail’ (‘Some Are’)

Bowie had several momentous failures within his otherwise glittering career – not least some of his acting roles and, some might say, his collaboration on ‘Tin Machine’, which was a critical and commercial car crash. But despite these, he carried on regardless. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try to embrace failure within your team. When you or others fail, review why you did and change your methodology. It’s only through failing that we learn and become resilient in future.

Dare to be different

‘And the stars look very different today’ (‘Space Oddity’)

It’s no coincidence that Bowie’s commercial success was largely down to his renowned ability to reinvent himself in a highly creative manner, time and time again. Never be afraid of doing things differently and embrace change. Encourage diversity in your team and celebrate what makes those individuals different. Different opinions result in more variety and ultimately more creativity.

As I am writing this Rod Stewart has just described Bowie as ‘Undeniably, the fearless leader of the pack’. In my opinion those words apply to a lot more than his musical ability and showmanship. Rest in peace Mr Jones.