Madonna first leapt to my consciousness as a savvy business person back in the 1980s when on a late night talk show, the host denigrated an outlandish move by her by saying, “but isn’t that just a way to get publicity?” And the young Madonna just smiled slyly.
The host, the entire audience and I “got it”. Look past the Greenwich Village black leather get-up. There’s a mogul inside plotting to take over the world.
And 30 years later, in 2013, she was named by Forbes as the top-earning celebrity in the world at over USD125mil of revenue. Whereas other veteran stars have struggles, her light burns as bright as ever.
Beyond her musical talent – which few people claim it is what sets her apart – what are the key factors of her endurance? Why is Madonna seemingly eternal, even in the face of massive changes in the music industry, in terms of fan tastes, culture and the passing of generations? And what can you learn from her to assure your enduring and adaptive leadership?
1. Prepare so that detail becomes memory
Madonna is no prima donna. She doesn’t swish into a stadium 30 minutes before a concert and wing it. It was noted that before every performance of her last world tour, she would run through the complete show, beginning to end, so that her muscle memory and what’s called “proprioception” (that ability to operate on seeming “autopilot”) would take over.
This allows her to “play” on stage, to be more responsive and interactive with the audience – that is what makes her live performance so special.
Practice (and visualisation) makes perfect. And it frees you up to be extemporaneous.
2. Get fit
Madonna, whose highly athletic dancing can mesmerise a stadium, is nearly 60. You can use technology to fix someone’s tonality in the studio, but you can’t fake fitness.
And when a robust personality is core to your brand, it’s going to take discipline and sweat in the gym – and more than one trainer.
When you study most leaders, they are in the gym every morning, or at least married to a rigorous workout programme. And Madonna is known to work out daily.
More than that, she has been very public about maintaining her lean strength by eating whole, organic foods, eliminating processed foods, practising mindfulness mediation and cultivating long-term intimate bonds with family and friends. All of these activities add up to the perfect neurochemical for youthfulness and longevity.
3. Stand (strongly) for what’s important to you
Madonna has been a long-term, fearless and vocal advocate for many causes. For example, when most people were hesitant to speak out on AIDS, Madonna stood upfront.
Leadership is not a “trick” or a series of “techniques”. Ultimately, it comes from your core.
She famously said:
“I stand for freedom of expression, doing what you believe in, and going after your dreams.”
And every song, speech, interview and comment she has made has backed that up.
Madonna’s consistent, unapologetic and fearless advocacy for the dignity of all people is her unique selling proposition.
Beyond that, she defends her core values vociferously and is not afraid to wrestle with the powers that be.
Over the years, she has been denounced by the Vatican, politicians and parenting groups. Her fans don’t care, and neither does she.
“Better to live one year as a tiger,” she said, “than a hundred as a sheep.” With this, she has managed to stay in the spotlight for 30 years as a tiger.
4. Experiment with style
Just because your values don’t change doesn’t mean your hairstyle or shoes don’t!
Part of Madonna’s genius has been to deliver her consistent message of bold self-expression through different packaging. And that packaging often exactly represented her response to a culture that tries to box her in, define her or trivialise her voice.
When they tried to demean the early Madonna as a has-been big-hair pop act, she electrified the music world with Like A Virgin.
When her financial success caused so many to dismiss her as just another rock star, she redefined sacred music with Ray of Light, inspired by her work with Kabbalah, an ancient belief that reveals how the universe and life work.
“I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art.”
By living it authentically, she has inspired many to have the courage to do the same.
Constant reinvention keeps you and your personal brand alive. Madonna is not afraid to be outlandish and she never confuses her current stylistic expression with her core values as a person.
She’s versatile and keeps herself relevant to each generation. Each time, she remakes her image to fit in with the current trend while still maintaining her ‘Madonna-ness’.