What You Can Learn from Madonna, Martha and Oprah
by Susan Aaron
You can't surf the TV channels or go through the supermarket checkout aisle without hearing all about Gwyneth's new baby stroller or the dirt on Britney's latest shopping spree. But between tips on how to imitate celebrity looks, are there career lessons to be learned from rich and famous women?
Joanne Meehl, president of Meehl & Balzotti Career Services, sought to answer that question by taking an in-depth look at three celebrity women: Madonna, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. She found a lot more for women to emulate than just hairstyles.
Madonna: Mistress of Reinvention
When Madonna became famous in the early '80s, who could have predicted her staying power? In the tradition of other legends like the Beatles and Bowie, the Material Girl never lets her look, sound or show become last year's rehash.
"She is a model for us to refresh ourselves," says Meehl, who tells clients to seek new knowledge and experiences in order to stay current and sell themselves to employers. "So many people wait to be anointed with knowledge."
Madonna also rarely shortchanges herself. In a horseback interview with the pop icon, David Letterman learned that she would not be satisfied with his choice of horse.
How many times do women take what others offer, not going after their true desire? "If women ask for what they want, they worry that they'll be seen as bitches," Meehl says. The impulse is sometimes in the name of diplomacy. But when working toward a goal, you must choose the best resources and strategies.
Martha Stewart: Domestic Mogul with Moxie
Going to prison should have been career kryptonite for Stewart. But without apology or fanfare, she chose to serve her recent jail time like something to be checked off a to-do list. Stewart commented during sentencing that she wanted to be released in time to tend her spring garden.
How does the average woman stay steady in the face of such career-rocking moments? "Keep the big picture in mind," Meehl advises. Stewart "knew the garden and the business were going to be there for her when she got out." As noted in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, keeping an eye on the end goal helps you keep the bumps along the way in perspective.
Before Stewart was a mogul of all things domestic, she was a model, investment banker and caterer. Her college major? Art history. While education and training are fundamental to success, so is simply doing.
Some women may lack Stewart's moxie. For them, Meehl suggests "building on past, even private, successes." Gradually, larger triumphs will build the necessary risk tolerance for real-world success.
Oprah Winfrey: Nurturing Visionary
Winfrey rewrites the blueprint for business success daily by replacing the model of the cutthroat businessperson with that of the nurturing helper. This is a woman who has increased her market share with tactics like encouraging people to read more. Winfrey shows women there's a place for all talents.
Think your quiet nature is at odds with your love of theater, or that your extrovert tendencies are out of whack with your love of libraries? Meehl encourages women to research professions, going beyond the common ones, to suit their unique needs and desires.
Shortly after her talk show went on the air, Winfrey formed Harpo Productions. The company now owns the television program, produces movies, operates a Web site, publishes a magazine and runs motivational conferences. Winfrey's retention of creative control reminds us not to outsource our vision to others.
Lessons from All 3 Celebrity Career Women
Underlying the success of these women is the greatest lesson of all, Meehl says: Madonna, Stewart and Winfrey all are true to their authentic selves.
Holding fast to their ambitions may have been met with derision along the way, especially since the confidence and drive needed to follow one's own path are not considered typical female traits. But the proof is in three of the most successful businesses of all time.
Who knows? If you follow their lead, you too may someday be known around the office by only one name.