The Power of Interest-Based Leadership

(Guest Author Mariann McDonagh, for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

As a senior executive who has built high-performance teams in challenging growth environments, I have often been asked about the secret to my success. The real answer is, there is no secret. Cultivating leaders and building great teams is a full-time job and one that requires commitment and intention.

Great leadership is interest-based leadership; your teams need to know at all times that following you is their best bet because their interests lie with you. And we often forget this critical fact in leadership: following is a voluntary act. To create a passionate, high performing team, they must want to follow you, especially when the going gets tough.

In my experience, interest-based leaders share these characteristics:


Real leaders need to be…real. Especially in a growth environment when the pressure is on, your people can immediately tell if you are not being genuine. Tell it like it is and they’ll accept it at face value. Recognize how hard things are right now and pitch in to help. No one needs to have “smoke blown up their skirt” in an effort to mask what’s really happening. Be straight with your people and they’ll respect you for it.


One of the fundamental keys to interest-based leadership is one-on-one communication. You have to be accessible to your people and make yourself available for questions, brainstorming and helping to remove obstacles from important projects. But don’t confuse accessibility with the need to physically be together in one location. I’ve effectively run teams across 7 time zones, and they always knew I was available to them when they needed me. Remember: the single greatest gift you can give someone is your time, because it’s finite and you can never earn more.


I cannot say enough about the importance of building trust with your teams. Trust that you have their back, trust that you will recognize them when they excel, trust that you’ll course correct them when they need it. A great deal of this trust is developed in the one-on-one communications we just talked about. But it’s also in the consistency of your leadership and the predictability of your behavior. Trust is key for day to day interactions, but where it really matters is when things get hard. When the challenges mount and the outcome and future may seem unclear, it important your teams trust you enough to follow where you lead.


The final ingredient to interest-based leadership is investment. You have to invest in people in order to effectively lead them. You give them your time, your ear, your advice. You help them be better managers, learn how to effectively deal with conflict, help them chart a course to increase their own strategic value. While this may make you uncomfortable, it’s an important epiphany: the more marketable you help your people become, the more loyal they are to you and the faster they will run.

And remember the cardinal rule:

People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led.



Mariann McDonagh.  President, McDonagh Growth Associates


Mariann McDonagh is President and CEO of McDonagh Growth Associates, a rapidly expanding growth consulting business.

At McD Growth, Mariann leverages more than 30 years of experience and C-suite perspective to assist growing companies across a myriad of strategic initiatives.

Prior to launching McD Growth, Mariann McDonagh was responsible for product management, brand strategy, demand generation and channel development at cloud software player, inContact (NASDAQ: SAAS). In five years as the Chief Marketing Officer at inContact, Mariann significantly changed the competitive contact center marketplace, firmly establishing inContact as the leading brand in the market and helping to drive their stock price up by a factor of 4.

Prior to inContact, Mariann served for more than six years as Senior Vice President of corporate marketing for Verint Systems. Mariann’s 30 year career in high-tech and software marketing also includes tenures with CMP Media, Computer Associates and Cheyenne Software.

Mariann is a frequent industry speaker and contributor on cloud, marketing and customer experience and was named one of the most influential women in marketing in 2013 by DM News.

Connect with Mariann on LinkedIn at


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