“Let Go And Lead”: Leadership In The Social Business Marketplace

I recently had the great pleasure of chatting with Maril MacDonald, CEO of Gagen MacDonald, who is spear-heading a truly exciting new leadership program called, ‘Let Go and Lead.’ Here’s what Maril had to share about the project.



I recently had the great pleasure of chatting with Maril MacDonald, CEO of Gagen MacDonald, who is spear-heading a truly exciting new leadership program called, ‘Let Go and Lead.’ Any transformative shift in the way business must start with new leadership. Here’s what Maril had to share about the project.

SM: Hi, I’m Simon Mainwaring, and I have the great pleasure of being with Maril MacDonald of Gagen MacDonald, which is a fantastic leadership and employee engagement firm here in Chicago. I wanted to talk to her today about a new project she has, which is all about leadership, and what that looks like in the new social business marketplace. Maril, tell us a little bit about your project, Let Go and Lead.

MM: Let Go and Lead is centered on an interesting paradox that leaders are facing today: the idea of doing your job, doing what you were hired to do while allowing others to participate in that job with you. I became very interested in this working with corporate leaders in all levels, people with a mission and a passion, and who has followers.

SM: What would your definition of a leader be?


MM: My definition is simply someone how has followers. It could be an assembly man on a plant floor, it could be the CEO, head of marketing, someone trying to drive innovation in an R&D land. They are people with a mission, vision, passion and cause, and who want to engage others behind them.

SM: So this Let Go and Lead project is really for any one of those types of people?

MM: Absolutely.

SM: So who are some of the people that you’ve spoken to in this project?

MM: What I was really interested in is getting out of breathing my own air and stewing in my own soup, so to speak. So I thought it would be fun to tap into people from different walks of life, and who were doing a lot of work in the areas that most interested me. For example, storytelling, we talked with Mitch Elbom, the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. We talked with Bruce Mau, who started in Toronto as a designer. First he was in the world of design, now he wants to design the world. He’s been engaging people all around the world through a process called Massive Change, bringing together leaders to make the world a better place. Julio Patino, who is the dean of engineering at Northwestern University, and who’s passion is the intersection of art, technology and science.Stephanie Pace Marshall, who is one of the leading thinkers on education reform. She founded the Institute of Math and Science. There have been very different kinds of people who have been bringing unique perspectives and thoughts so that we can take them and share with one another to create something new.


SM: With the intersection of all these types of leaders, have you discovered things that have resonated with you that you didn’t expect, or are there any commonalities between what they’re saying?

MM: One of the key commonalities is the general acceptance that we have a lot to let go of. That each of us as individuals have a lot of stuff, and a lot of that stuff comes to us honestly because many of us were brought up through a very strict management discipline, which is all about control, it’s about maintaining, harmony and it’s about stability. That’s not the world we’re in now. We’re in a world that’s rapidly changing. It’s beyond us, it’s bigger than us, and so many of us get stuck because we try to keep the opportunity to a size that we can manage it, rather than growing by busting it open and going with it. It’s been really interesting to talk to all these people.

SM: So as you roll this out, what will it look like? In terms of people wanting to compartmentalize things in a familiar way, what form will it take? How do you hope people will engage with the project?

MM: The interesting thing is that I was really gripped by ‘what would it look like’ but then I decided to let go. It started as a book. It wasn’t taking off in a way that felt right, so I decided to open it up, bring in the best thinking out there, and let the idea go. So the goal is this: I’m going to set up a website, start up a blog, post video interviews online, launch this project with a variety of conversations, invite everyone else to participate in the conversation, and let’s see what we can create for ourselves.

SM: Your hope for the result, the community that builds around it: what are you hoping to offer them and what do you want back?


MM: What I hope to offer them is an opportunity to participate in the struggle we all live in. Then to share with one another a variety of ideas. We set this up around certain topics like storytelling, building critical mass, engaging people around an irresistible idea, and beginning to talk about how we can learn from one another, not only in terms of how we might think differently, but also the practical tools on how to get there.The biggest thing right now is to get people back to the blog and website so we can start a variety of conversations that may be celebrated by me, but not controlled by me. That’s my ultimate goal.

SM: So if people wanted to tap into the project and have a look at these interviews, where should they go.

MM: Go to and join the conversation.

Thanks so much to Maril for her time and the whole team at Gagen MacDonald for putting so much energy and heart into such an important topic.

Reprinted from


Simon Mainwaring is a branding consultant, advertising creative director, blogger, and speaker. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he now consults for brands and creative companies that are re-inventing their industries and enabling positive change. Follow him at or on Twitter @SimonMainwaring.

About the author

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, the leading social branding firm that provides consulting and training to help companies use social media to build their brand reputation, profits and social impact. Simon is a member of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Public Diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School, the Transformational Leadership Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London