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Age Article: WHY MANAGERS SHOULD BE LIKE MADONNA

Article in "The Age", Friday March 16th 2007

Following the superstar's determined example can help you find success, writes James Adonis.


The Vatican has condemned Madonna, MTV has banned her and the media has vilified her.  But we can learn a lot from this superstar on how to be an engaging manager.

Having sold more than 200 million albums, Madonna is the highest-earning female recording artist.  Her 2006 Confessions Tour was the most successful concert tour by a female artist. More than two decades since she began, Madonna is still topping the charts, with her most recent album, Confessions on a Dancefloor, making it to the top in 41 countries.

Granted, it is difficult for an individual manager to achieve such inspirational success.

But what about your organisation?  Broadcast your achievements, promote your history, and communicate your goals.  Employees are more engaged when they work for a company of which they are proud.  If they are talking to their friends and family about their inspiring workplace, it will make it easier to attract quality candidates.

A study by consultancy RightCoutts revealed the unsurprising news that highly engaged workplaces are better at attracting job seekers. 

Why?  Because success breeds success.

Madonna's mother died of cancer when Madonna was just five.  She later was in an at times abusive marriage with Sean Penn, and the criticism she has received for her work has not deterred her.  She has survived each setback and emerged victorious.

So, how do you respond to setbacks? 

In the workplace, these can include a restructure, a retrenchment, a demotion, or a project failure.

If your reaction is to get negative, not only does this affect your staff, but also your own energy.  Negativity breeds negativity.  Before you know it, you are a walking time bomb. Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, once said: "Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."

In 1978, Madonna left her home town of Detroit and moved to New York City with $US35.  It was the first time she had left Detroit, the first time she had been on a plan and the first time she had ridden in a taxi.  To this day, she says it was biggest risk of her life.

How many risks are you taking in your business?  Are you playing it safe?

One of the world"s most respected sales gurus, Brian Tracy, says: "The biggest risk you can take in life is to not take risks."  Take gambles such as hiring someone because of their attitude rather than their skills and experience.  Allow employees to make decisions and to have ownership over their work.  Implement ideas for their own sake just in case on pays off.

A Chartered Management Institute study found that 20 per cent of managers feel they could have progressed more quickly if they had taken more risks.

When Madonna wanted people to be sexually liberated, she released Erotica.  When she wanted people to question their spirituality, she released Like a Prayer.  Madonna has created the trends that others follow.  The 1980s were characterised by teenage girls who wanted to look like her.

As a manager, do you walk your talk?

In your office, is it "do as I say" instead of "do as I do"?  By being a role model and practising what you preach, you make it easier for you employees to buy in to your vision -- and to follow you.

An expert in building and retaining a committed team, Madonna used Donna DeLory and Niki Haris as backing vocalists an dancers for her Who's That Girl Tour in 1987, and continued to use them, and other supporting dancers and musicians, for later tours.

Have you built your team with such cohesiveness that it is now more of a family?  And do you develop your team sothat it grows, even if people eventually leave?

As a result of her mentoring, Madonnas dancers, Donna and Nicky, now have successful recording careers of their own.

In the knowledge that you can achieve your goals faster when part of a team, Madonna has built a career that has really on big collaboration with producers, choreographers, musicians, publicists, designers and so on.  Even creatively, she has recorded songs with Prince, Massive Attack, and Britney Spears.

With whom do you need to work to become more successful?

Which relationships do you need to build and foster to help you achieve your objectives?

In much the same way that a president has internal collaborators such as speech writers, and external collaborators, such as prime ministers of allied countries, you too, need to form a network of internal and external relationships to help you get to where you want to go, faster.

Madonna was one of the first major celebrities to support publicly the fight against AIDS.  In 2005 she performed at the Tsunami Aid Concert, and she has built an orphanage in Malawi, in addition to many other philanthropic centuries.

Generation Y employees especially prefer to work for organizations with a high degree of social responsibility.  By being environmentally friendly, by supporting charities and communities, by embracing diversity, and looking after your employees, you will have a head start. According to a US study by the National Consumers League, only 20 per cent of consumers give company's top marks for social responsibility, with 47 per cent of respondents saying they use the Internet to find out whether a company is socially responsible.


Bill Gates, one of the most philanthropic people of our time, recently said: "Is the rich world aware of how 4 billion of the 6 billion live?  If we were aware, we would want to help out, we'd want to get involved."

A string of movie flops left Madonna undeterred for two decades.  She continued relentlessly to try her hand at acting until she succeeded in the leading role in Evita, for which she won a Golden Globe Award for best actress.

How quickly do you give up?

Not just on a project, but on people in your team, organizations you work for, and so on?  Take Colonel Sanders.  More than 1000 restaurants rejected his secret chicken recipe before one accepted him.  Winston Churchill famously said one of the most profound expressions of our time:  "Never, never, never give up."

The case for a dedicated and committed mentality is strong.  Leading researchers Watson Wyatt discovered that organizations with high levels of commitment outperformed companies with low commitment by 47 per cent.

Madonna is the master of reinvention - probably a major contributor to her success.  Looking back at her career, every year there is at least one change in style, music, or message.  By doing so, she has kept her image fresh and relevant, unlike most of her 1980s competitors, who are all but forgotten.

Are you hanging on to old management practices just because that's the way things have always been done around here?

Reinvigorate your processes, review your procedures, and redesign your office.  A stale work environment drains your company of positive energy, fuels boredom, and foments complacency.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says: "The lifeblood of our business is our R& D spend. We have to... let people do something they didn't think they could do the day before."

It all comes down to this.  People actually want to work for Madonna.  And that's what employee engagement is all about. When you have a team that wants to come to work, that wants to do more than required, and wants to keep working for your organisation, you will experience the pinnacle of management success.

Madonna says it best in her song, Cherish, with a message that beautifully translates to employee engagement and retention.


Cherish the thought,

Of always having you here by my side...

Cherish the joy,

You keep bringing it into my life...

Cherish your strength,

You got the power to make me feel good...

Perish the thought,

Of ever leaving, I never would!

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LIVING AND WORKING IN MELBOURNE ...  [31/01/2007]

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2006 FAIR PAY DECISION  [04/12/2006]

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2006 RAIA NATIONAL ARCHITECTURE ...  [31/10/2006]

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2006 NSW ARCHITECTURE AWARD WINN...  [04/07/2006]

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WORKING HOLIDAY MAKER VISA CHANG...  [19/06/2006]

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ESTIMATES OF THE COST OF LIVING ...  [29/01/2006]

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ESTIMATES OF THE COST OF LIVING ...  [29/01/2006]

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TEMPORARY RESIDENTS ACCESS TO SU...  [08/01/2006]

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GROUP VARIATION FOR BTP INDEPEND...  [19/12/2005]

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