Since coming onto the scene in 1982 (yes, 1982!), Madonna Louise Ciccone [aka Madonna] has achieved accomplishments unrivaled by any other artists in the music industry…EVER. She has sold over 200 million albums, conducted the highest grossing concert tour by a female artist, has become the top earning female singer in the world with a net worth in the hundreds of millions, holds the record for top 10 hits, and this is just to name a few of her many industry leading achievements, culminating in her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just a few months ago.

To be sure, all of this success has not been achieved by “taking the easy way”. Madonna has stirred controversy after controversy with her use of sexuality, religion, fashion and has reinvented herself time and again in order to remain relevant to the then-current (and even the now-current) global music audience. For over 25 years, Madonna has captured the attention, adoration and wallets of fans across the globe.

As with other of life’s learning opportunities, there is a great deal that leaders can learn from Madonna and her incredible ways. For leaders, she presents a great opportunity to learn:

  • How do you deal with innovation?
  • What techniques can you use to reinvent your profile?
  • How do you bring your management team with you?
  • How to you capitalize on success for the benefit of larger causes?

When you think about artists who are truly innovative, a few names instantly rise to the top – The Beatles, Elvis, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, to name few. All of these artists broke new ground at the outset of their careers. At various times throughout each of these artists’ careers, industry pundits and others declared them “yesterday’s news.” However, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, every one of these artists bucked the odds and, through clever use of innovation and reinvention, stormed back to the forefront of the industry leaving naysayers scratching their heads. For Madonna, her use of controversy to keep herself “in the news” is indeed legendary. And even beyond this, she has used her visibility to launch societal trends which continue even today. In fact, her influence on young girls is, for all practical purposes, immeasurable. It’s her innovative style of music, dance, fashion and even her steadfast defiance that has kept her from succumbing to the perennial notion that she is a mere “flash in the pan.” It is these same qualities that have allowed her to remain ever-relevant to audiences of all ages even as she approaches her 50th birthday.

One thing that Madonna has also steered clear of, that unfortunately others have fallen prey to, is management failures. She has consistently avoided the self-absorption that Steve Roesler warns of. She has partnered with great managers and producers throughout her career. In fact, Madonna and her management team have been proficient throughout the years at managing the overall Madonna “brand” and maximizing the outcome of nearly all endeavors, be they music, acting, writing or cause-related. It is the consistency of her team, led of course by Madonna herself, that has allowed such dependable success in nearly all that she does – and through countless controversies. Others, especially those that have selected non-professional management, i.e. family or friends, have suffered failures of all sorts including financial (think Billy Joel), career (think Britney or Lindsey Lohan), or life and death (think Chris Farley or Heath Ledger). But for over a quarter of a century, brand Madonna has rolled on, amassing billions of dollars in value.

In fact, it is as a result of all of her success, that Madonna has been able to leverage her platform to bring attention to causes close to her heart such as the plight of millions of children in Africa. She even adopted an African child herself in late 2006 (albeit not without the customary Madonna controversy). Madonna is also known for donating millions of dollars for the formation of a school for children and performing at several aid benefit concerts for numerous social causes. Her ability to influence others in so many ways – be it style, fashion, politics or social causes – is a testament to her command of what it is to be a true, model leader.

As such, leaders of all kinds – be it women or men, in business or in life – can learn plenty from Madonna’s masterful use of innovation to manage career crises; constant reinvention to remain hip, cool and relevant to ever-changing needs and desires of the marketplace; consistency of her management; and the ability to leverage her prestige for all sorts of purposes. It’d be difficult to think of anyone who has done a better job of these things than Madonna, whether in business, entertainment or elsewhere in life. She stands head and shoulders above others in her mastery of these important leadership qualities.

As someone who strives each and every day to learn something new, I am awed by Madonna in all that she has accomplished. She is a beacon for women across the globe as well as an exemplar for leaders in any facet of life. We can only hope that the lessons we glean from observing her will serve us in such remarkable ways as they did her. Rock on Madonna!

Nina nets it out: We all reach points in our lives where we hit a wall of sorts. It is at these critical junctures that we must think, innovate and overcome. Don’t let naysayers dictate your outlook; but rather, reinvent and recast yourself. By having a solid team and sticking with them through thick and thin, success is yours to lose. I’d love to hear stories of how you used innovation, reinvention and a trusty team to overcome obstacles.