Three core premises are applicable to first-time leaders, to first-time CEOs, and to everyone going into new leadership roles. Mike MacDonald learned these during his 33 years at Xerox and is applying them in a whole new light as CEO of Medifast .

    1. Leading is different from managing.
    2. Taking over as a leader for the first time is a critical, career-defining moment.
    3. Focus on the cause.


For First-Time Leaders

  • Leading is different from managing. Where managing is about organizing, coordinating and telling, leading is about inspiring and enabling and co-creating. Great leaders can also do and tell when needed, but they focus on inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.
  • Taking over as CEO for the first time is a critical, career-defining moment. Getting this transition right can be the consummation of years of leadership experience or the catalyst that accelerate your career trajectory. Steering clear of avoidable mistakes at this juncture requires preparation, commitment, and follow-through.
  • Focus on the cause. People follow charismatic leaders for a time, but will devote themselves over time to the cause of a BRAVE leader who inspires them in the pursuit of that cause.


MacDonald’s Approach:

1. Leading is different than managing. MacDonald said at Xerox, leading over 50,000 employees and $6.5 billion in revenue, “My job was to execute, turning around Xerox’s North American operations and growing revenue and profit.” While executing is still a big part of the job, MacDonald’s main focus at Medifast is managing three critical processes:

  • The strategic process – MacDonald manages the process differently than at Xerox, as Medifast is a smaller, more nimble operation. MacDonald charted a strategic direction, including a partnership with MEDIX, a leader in pharmaceutical obesity products in Mexico, to distribute Medifast products in Mexico, South America and Central America.
  • The operating committee or operating process – MacDonald strives for C-suite relationships that respect and encourage independent thinking with the belief that the best ideas often come from a good debate. This has led to an executive team that provides consultative support to drive key decisions impacting the performance and direction of Medifast through operating strategies and processes to drive company efficiency and future scalability.
  • The organizational process – Changing the management of the organizational process is necessary for an organization that has grown to $356MM in revenue and is now turning out 30 new products per year instead of the 9-10 of the past.


2. Taking over as a CEO for the first time is a critical, career-defining moment. MacDonald quickly realized some of Xerox’s processes could work on a smaller scale. Systems that “seemed bureaucratic” at the time like managing expenses and strong finance and legal functions to deal with outside stakeholders like the SEC and FTC were valuable so he enhanced these mechanisms at Medifast.


3. Focus on the cause. MacDonald keeps the right mix of “entrepreneur” and “corporate” and strives to keep the culture of a company focused on changing lives through weight management and long-term health and wellness improvements while scaling it up.

This fits with Porter, Lorsch and Nohria’s advice in Seven Surprises for CEOs. In particular, remember that you can’t actually run the company. Lead the core processes. Don’t give orders. Don’t tell. Dig deep to find out what’s really going on. Pay attention to your message. And stop thinking of yourself as the boss.

Whether you are a first-time leader or a first-time CEO, the basics apply.

  • Keep in mind that leading is different from managing. Have a bias to inspire and enable over tell.
  • Pay attention to transitions, getting a head start, managing your message, building your team – especially when taking over as a leader for the first time. It’s a critical, career-defining moment, a true crucible of leadership.
  • Focus on the cause. It’s not about you. It’s about inspiring and enabling others to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.


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