Madonna King is a prominent Author, Journalist, Speaker and Facilitator who has just released her latest book called Being 14. Madonna currently has a portfolio career, and is putting her 25 years of media experience across newspaper, radio and television to use in a number of areas. She serves as a Non-Executive Director on two not-for-profit Boards, has authored 6 other books and is a sought after keynote speaker and facilitator for events across Australia.
I recently met Madonna when she was MC at the Brisbane Celebrating Women evening that Dr Kirstin Ferguson spoke at. Madonna was articulate, mentally agile, funny, engaging, incisive and very well researched. Her comfort in leading a panel discussion and facilitating an interactive question and answer session with the audience was impressive and lead to a compelling evening.
Described by Anna Bligh as the voice of current affairs in Brisbane, Madonna for 6 years was the presenter of Mornings on 612 ABC radio, interviewing politicians, businesspeople, sportspeople, social advocates, judges and the public of Queensland. She has also written over 500 columns for the Courier-Mail newspaper. Madonna now works for Fairfax and her weekly column is published on Brisbane Times each Thursday.
You’ve just released your latest book, Being 14 which is about helping fierce teens become awesome women. What inspired you to write it, and what was your biggest surprise when researching the book?
It seemed wherever I went, for a period, I’d hear of the challenges felt by teen girls, but especially those around the age of 14. At one event, school leaders told me that was the year that held the biggest struggle for them. At home, and at school, they were confused, and found it hard to find themselves. A few weeks later, a mother of a 14 year old and a good friend, told me that I’d learn in a few years – when my own girls turned 14 – how it was difficult for mothers too. And then, at a public function, a grandmother told me about the difficulties her granddaughter was facing.
That made me think that it was a phenomenon, rather than a commentary on individual parenting, and as a journalist, I felt compelled to explore it! So I interviewed almost 200 girls, and found this beautiful group of teens who are so articulate and passionate, but also vulnerable and really confused.
As a journalist, you’ve interviewed hundreds of people, including 5 Prime Ministers, celebrities, sportspeople and industry leaders. How did hearing other people’s stories inform your own leadership approach?
I tell my daughters that real leaders don’t always wear badges or have fancy titles. People know that from their own experience. That girl in the class who is inclusive and the good listener might never be class prefect, but she will probably be the one that leads a team down the track. In the work place, you don’t have to be the loudest to be the best. You don’t have to be in the big office to lead the office. I think we should put more stock, earlier on, on those attributes that cultivate leadership – like teamwork, and strategy, and empathy.
Being a journalist, and having others tell you their story, is a privilege. And the stories I will always remember are not those of prime ministers or company chiefs. It’s those of people who turn their own adversity into making their own community, or indeed the world, a better place for everyone else. A carer whose story makes us stop and listen. A parent who loses a child and lobbies for legislative change because of that. A child who beats adversity to reach for the stars. Those are the stories we should all hang onto!
What was it that compelled you to write biographies of federal treasurer Joe Hockey, Professor Ian Frazer and businesswoman Maxine Horne?
Partly circumstance and partly desire. I love reporting and writing, and with young children I wanted to focus more on one task, rather than being pulled between many. To write a biography is an enormous undertaking. You need to know everything about that person, spend dozens and dozens of hours with them, and paint a picture of who they are and what makes them tick. That is a privilege. And you don’t stop researching until you know that you know them better than most of their friends!
You currently serve on a number of not for profit boards. Which of your skill sets and experience do you most draw on to contribute in this setting?
Yes I am currently on the Board of St Leo’s boys college at the University of Queensland, and the Griffith University Integrity Summit. I’ve also served on the board of Act for Kids, and the Walkley Advisory Board on journalism previously. Board contributions vary and I hope I bring two things.
One is personal experience, and everyone’s personal experience varies. That should provide the board with a good big picture. The other is professional experience – and I’m not going to be the first person to pick up an accounting mistake, but I can see the train wreck of bad publicity coming a mile away over a bad decision, or a brewing problem. That comes from working in newspapers for 20 years I guess!
What has been your greatest challenge?
It used to be work life balance until I realised it doesn’t really exist! But I want to fit too much in each 24 hours and it never works. And then I feel as though I’m playing catch up each day on the previous day!
What are you most proud of?
My two daughters, who are 12 and 13. They are so different, but teach me new things every single day.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Don’t be afraid. Often young women stand back. Don’t. Go after what you want. Choose a mentor and don’t worry if that person is male or female. Pick a really good one, who will understand you, and your dreams, and will help make them happen. And when you get there, into a leadership position, find someone who needs mentoring and welcome them with open arms!