Madonna. This legendary Pop Icon doesn’t even require a last name for worldwide recognition. Madonna is one of the most memorable, celebrated, and highest-paid women of the twentieth century. In the world of pop culture she has been the subject of conversation for her accomplishments, goals, and occasional controversy. Rolling Stone Magazine said, “She remains one of the greatest pop acts of all times. No other artist has had more of an impact or influence in this medium over the past twenty years than Madonna.” (Ciccone, 2008, p.23) Madonna is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as world’s top selling female recording artist and most successful female recording artist of all time. Billboard Magazine ranked her as the most successful solo artist (second overall, behind only to The Beatles). Throughout her career she has scored many hits on major international charts, including 13 number-one singles in the United Kingdom, 11 in Australia, and 23 in Canada—indeed more than any other female artist! At last count she has sold over 300,000,000 records worldwide. In 1992, Time/Warner signed an unprecedented $60,000 00 contract with Madonna. Ladies Home Journal published a book in 1998 titled 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century and Madonna was featured as one of them. In July 2003, VH1 and People Magazine listed her number seven of the “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons of All Time.” As if this list of accomplishments wasn’t already remarkable, in 2006 a new water bear species was named after her (Echiniscus madonnae). The paper along with the description of E. madonnae was published in the International Journal of Animal Taxonomy Zootaxa (Vol. 1154, pages: 1–36). The zoologists commented: “We take great pleasure in dedicating this species to one of the most significant artists of our times, Madonna Louise Veronica Ritchie.” Unbeknownst to some, Madonna is also the owner of her own recording company, Maverick Corporation, which is a joint venture with Time Warner. Madonna has proved herself not only as an artist/musician, but also as an actress, children’s book author, as well as an esteemed businesswoman. In 2007, she signed an unprecedented $120 million contract with Live Nation. Recently, (March 2008) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Madonna during her first year of eligibility. In the summer of 2010, Madonna accompanied by her daughter Lourdes launched the clothing line “Material Girl” which is sold exclusively at Macy’s and has instantly became a success among teens.
Madonna’s early life and defining moment
After reading these extraordinary career accomplishments one may ask who is this Madonna? Where did she come from? Were her parents rich and famous? The answers will surprise you. Born in Bay City, Michigan in 1958, her birth name was Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. Her family was Catholic, and she was brought up with strict Catholic values. Madonna’s family was considered lower middle class, and she was one of six children. At the very young age of five, Madonna lost her mother to cancer. Her father, Tony Ciccone, was an automotive engineer for Chrysler and soon married Joan Gustafson, one of the family’s housekeepers. In many of her biographies Madonna was quoted as saying it was very difficult for her to accept the fact that her father had remarried. It wasn’t until much later in her life that she accepted her stepmother. She craved her father’s attention and approval. As a child she often jumped on tabletops singing and dancing to get attention. The need for approval continued into her late teens and college years. She excelled in dancing and cheerleading to her father’s disapproval. Instead, her father wanted her to focus on getting an education. After attending The University of Michigan for a short period, Madonna dropped out despite receiving a dance scholarship. She was eager to begin her career, and with $35.00 in her pocket, she headed for New York. Although Madonna was young when she lost her mother, she says the loss of her mother has defined her. Others say it may be what fueled her drive. She is quoted as saying, “You walk around with a big hoe inside of you, a feeling of emptiness and longing….and I think a lot of times that’s why you want to be an overachiever.” (Taraborrelli, 2001, p.16)
From the bottom up, Madonna is self made
Upon her arrival in New York, Madonna worked as a backup dancer for established entertainers, waitressed, and even posed nude for college art classes. She did anything to make money. In those early days she worked hard and focused on her goals. J. Randy Taraborrell wrote an Intimate Biography of Madonna, entitled Madonna in 2001. Here is what he said in his author’s notes; “When I first met her (Madonna) at a press conference in the spring of 1983, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was twenty-five at the time and she struck me as brash, cocky, petulant and self-indulgent. She was never one to put on an act for a journalist, she was just what she was-and without hesitation. “Look, I never had money,” she told me of her early, struggling days in New York. “Each month it was a scramble to pay the rent and get some food in the apartment. I literally had to eat out of garbage cans in those days. Now that I have a record out and it looks like it’ll be a success, hell yeah, I feel like I deserve it,” she concluded. She fixed her hazel eyes on me. “People don’t know how good I am yet,” she said, holding me with her gaze. “But they will soon. In a couple of years everyone will know. Actually,” she concluded, “I plan on being one of this century’s biggest stars.” Taraborrell was not so sure, after all she didn’t even have a last name, but he said, “It was difficult to argue with her, mostly because she wouldn’t hear of it.”
Everything she is today she has earned. Nothing mattered to her more than her career and “she was going to do almost anything to get to a certain point of creative freedom and financial security.” (Taraborrelli, 2001, p.87) Although the exact number is not know, today Madonna’s estimated net worth is somewhere between $650 to 850 million dollars. Not bad for a lower middle-class child from a family of six who came from the suburbs. Her accomplishments are undoubtedly enormous which is why she is an inspiration to many. Madonna could have retired and walked away long ago, but instead she reinvents herself and keeps it coming. She is quoted as saying; “It is not in my nature to just kick back.” (Taraborrelli, 2001, p.88)
Raising Malawi, Madonna uses her celebrity status and money to change the world
Madonna, a natural leader, has used her celebrity status and money for many noble causes. Among her finest and largest is the 2006 campaign she and a colleague founded named “Raising Malawi”. Malawi is the fourth poorest country in the world. Geographically situated between Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, it is in central sub-Saharan Africa. This densely populated country is burdened with disease, drought, poverty and an overall lack of essential resources. HIV and Aids is among the many diseases that have left children without parents. To date there are approximately 2,000,000 orphaned and vulnerable children in dire need of basic care! Living conditions are harsh and most of these orphans don’t have anyone to turn to for support and care. Many of the children are hopeless and that has fueled Madonna’s intensity for intervention. In 2006, Madonna along with a colleague Michael Berg founded Raising Malawi. Their vision was clear, “to bring an end to the extreme poverty and hardship endured by Malawi’s 2,000,000 orphans and vulnerable children once and for all. Raising Malawi supports community-based organizations that provide vulnerable children and caregivers with the following critical resources: nutritious food, proper clothing, secure shelter, formal education, targeted medical care, and emotional care/ psychosocial support.” This is Madonna’s vision, and it doesn’t end there. She has partnered with corporations and enlisted others to see these goals and vision become a reality. Her support comes from an array of corporate, nongovernmental, community based and academic sponsors. She has reached out to her fans globally and asked for their support. She has empowered others by asking them to join her in “refusing to turn their back on those in dire need.” (Why Malawi, 2009) When supporters donate online they are sent emails keeping them posted on Malawi’s progress. As if all this wasn’t enough, to enlist more support, Madonna created a documentary to increase the awareness for “Raising Malawi.” The documentary entitled “I Am Because We Are” came out in 2008. The title is founded in the spirit of ubuntu, an African philosophy that acknowledges the common bond between all peoples. There is a saying in ubuntu: “I am because we are.” Translated simply, it means, “Without you there is no me. Your fate is mine.” (Why Malawi, 2009)
Madonna pledged to match every donation dollar for dollar. She was astonished at the support from around the globe. When the original goal was quickly close to being met, she raised the goal and pledged to continue to match the contributions. Her vision for Malawi was being met with nutritious food, proper clothing, secure shelter, formal education, medical care, emotional/psychosocial support. In addition, in “2008, Raising Malawi announced the creation of an all-girls’ boarding school to provide impoverished girls with the means to realize the full range of their potential, to foster Malawian cultural pride and responsibility and to act as examples of girls’ empowerment and gender equity”.
Direct results and impact from Madonna’s “Raising Malawi” Campaign
Taken directly from http://www.raisingmalawi.org/pages/progress
“Every day, Raising Malawi works to improve the lives of Malawians with the help of invaluable partner organizations, volunteers and donors. Read about the recent progress to end disease and poverty in this African nation of 14,000,000.
HIV / AIDS + Disease
- Over 66,000 children and caregivers living with HIV/AIDS, malaria, or other diseases have received life saving treatments and care.
- 6,000 households are on the road to sustainability through the establishment of communal gardens and distribution of agricultural inputs, including livestock.
- 3,000 youth and caregivers are receiving vocational training.
- 300 widows are enrolled in a savings and credit program and have received vocational skills training.
- 73,000 children and caregivers are receiving daily, nutritious meals, while 10,000 children have received supplements aimed at reversing the effects of severe malnutrition.
- 57,000 impoverished villagers now have piped safe water and new boreholes.
- 10,000 children and caregivers are receiving regular dental care through Malawi’s first community based Oral Health Development Program, co-created with the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
- 1,750 community-based organizations have increased their ability to respond to the needs of 1,000,000 orphans and vulnerable children.
- 160,000 children are benefiting from the construction of 159 community-based child care centers.
- 30,000 orphaned children have been enrolled in rural and urban community-based child care centers.
Children’s Mental Health
- 1,500 children are receiving Success for Kids (SFK) classes and personalized mentorship through community-based organizations.
- 300 youth are receiving SFK classes and personalized mentorship through juvenile prisons and reformatory schools
- 200 children and caregivers are receiving SFK classes and personalized mentorship through orphanages.
- 50,000 children now receive primary and secondary education support, including academic scholarships, school uniforms, and learning materials.
- 10,000 children now benefit from the construction of new or renovated primary and secondary schools.
- In 2011, Raising Malawi will open the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, an all-girls boarding school.
With your support, we can see to it that community-based child care centers can take in more kids, more antiretroviral drugs can be distributed, academies for girls get built, and more.” (Our Impact, 2009)
Madonna exudes leadership. She is a self-made, a natural born leader, which in my opinion is the best kind. There was no formal training in her early years, only experiences. Not only did she learn from her experiences, but they fueled and drove her. She was, and still remains, driven to succeed. It reminds me of the story we heard in class about the CEO who took over in order to change the company. He could have retired; he didn’t need to be there to change the company; he wanted to. It’s true that actions speak much more louder than words. I would go so far as to say actions scream! It is the action Madonna took in Malawi that speaks volumes of her character. Knowing the types of leadership styles I would undoubtedly place Madonna in the visionary category. Her character is unquestionably bold; she sees and lives a “better place”; she has attuned her vision to her followers; she has connected her career to a larger purpose, and finally she is firm and unwavering. I will address these characteristics of Visionary leadership and give specific examples of each as they pertain to Madonna.
Madonna is bold because her values are solid. Sure we all remember the young reckless Madonna. But who among us had solid values in our early twenties? Madonna has grown into a mother who values family. After giving birth to her first child, she was quoted saying, “Family is everything. Family comes first. It’s not what I expected it to be, but nothing ever is,” and also “Lourdes (her daughter) really is the love of my life. I don’t want to traipse around with nannies and tutors. I think it’s important for children to stay in one place, to socialize with other children.” This newfound compassion that came from motherhood coupled with the loss of her own mother may be one of the reasons she feels so strongly about helping the orphans in Malawi. She is bold because she is self-confident, true to herself, and believes you get what you give. She has said, “I stand for freedom of expression, doing what you believe in, and going after your dreams” and “we are responsible for our own fate; we reap what we sow; we get what we give, and we pull in what we put out. I know these things for sure.”
Seeing and living a better place is synonymous with taking action. Madonna knows things could be better, so why not take a stand to make them better. In addition to launching the “Raising Malawi” campaign and raising awareness for this poverty stricken country, Madonna herself has adopted two children from Malawi. Her son David was a 13 month old boy when she adopted him in 2006, and her daughter Mercy was three year old girl when she was adopted in 2009. Both children had lost their mothers shortly after their birth. Although she alone cannot adopt all of the orphans in Malawi, she has and continues to strive to make Malawi a better place by taking action and urging others to join her. This story reminds me of the manager of the paper factory who always harped about keeping the factory clean for safety purposes. When employees actually saw the manager picking up debris when he thought no one was looking, this impacted the workers in a big way. They realized not only does he say it, but he does it. Madonna’s adoptions exemplify this concept on a higher level.
Obviously being the megastar that she is Madonna has clout as well as a global following of fans. Rather than use that following for her own exclusive benefit she has used her celebrity status to help “Raise Malawi”. Millions of people (including myself) would not have known this country even existed much less of its struggles and tragedies. Madonna used her power to shed light on the situation, improve the situation and has attuned her vision for Malawi to her followers. It wasn’t enough for her to stop once the goal was close to being reached. She raised the goal and vowed her continued financial support dollar for dollar. As the first five visions were being met, she raised the bar and took the vision further by funding a school for girls. As someone who sits on the sidelines and watches a leader who has high expectations, one might think wow they have met those expectations. But when you see the leader not only reaches the high expectation, but push past them and reaches higher levels, well those actions demand respect and recognition.
The fourth characteristic of a visionary leader is connecting work to a larger purpose. In addition to the “Raising Malawi” campaign Madonna has created documentaries and sung at benefits for purposes larger than her own. Madonna’s fame and celebrity status naturally sets the stage for her to accomplish great things-and in these cases raise a lot of money. As a leader with solid values, she jumps in to do just that. Among the causes she has supported are Help for Haiti Now, Afghanistan Relief Organization and The American Foundation for AIDS research to name a few. In essence she uses her resources (celebrity status) for a larger purpose and a greater good.
Lastly, we know Visionary leaders are firm and unwavering. Could this statement reflect Madonna anymore perfectly? She is certainly not wishy-washy nor shortsighted. In her “Raising Malawi” campaign, she has proven to the world that she wants to see a change. Through the raising of campaign goals, creating the documentary “I am because we Are” to increase support, and announcing the addition to the girls’ school project, she shows her firm unwavering position of improving the country and its conditions for its people.
When I think of leadership, the following adjectives come to mind: inspiring, relentless dedication, passion, drive, honest, solid, and self confident. Madonna exudes all of these characteristics. In addition to being a self-made visionary leader, she is able to capture both corporate and individual audiences and bring them onboard to ensure her vision comes to fruition. She is quoted as saying, “I have the same goal I’ve had ever since I was a girl. I want to rule the world.” I would say as one of the riches woman in America she certainly could almost rule the world! Even today over twenty years after she came into the celebrity scene, she is influencing teens with her style. When I attended her concert in 2008 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J, I was surprised to see the vast age range of her fans. Her fans range in age from teenagers to adults in their mid-sixties. Both men and woman were there all screaming in adoration for her. Let me share another quote of Madonna’s that I believe reflects her drive, “I feel just as hungry today as I did the day I left home.” A quote on her passion for changing the world, “I’d like to be more involved in making the world a better place.” And lastly my favorite quote of hers that reflects her boldness, “Better to live one year as a tiger, than a hundred years as a sheep.” Viva Madonna!
Taraborrelli J. Randy. (2001). Madonna, An intimate biography. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Ciccone Christpoher. (2008). Life with My sister Madonna. New York, NY: Simon Spotlight Entertainment.
Our Impact. (2009.). Retrieved from http://www.raisingmalawi.org/pages/impact
Why Malawi?. (2009) Retrived from http://www.raisingmalawi.org/pages/why-malawi