I recently facilitated an Advanced Management Training Workshop Series for the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce.
As part of the series that covered topics such as communicating for impact and cultivating a strong leadership presence, Michelle Ledford joined us to share her real-world leadership experience.
As President and Principal of MADE, a branding, marketing, and digital agency, Michelle has spent 25 years in the advertising industry. Before graduating from college, she began her career with a large regional ad agency working with iconic brands like McDonald’s and General Motors. Her passion for her work led her to launch MADE with her business partner, Allen Reed, in 2017, where they provide local, regional, and national clients with website design, digital advertising, media buying, strategic branding, and marketing services.
Michelle shares with us how the lessons learned from triumphs, as well as missteps, have influenced her leadership style.
Q: Tell us about your leadership style and how your style has evolved over the years.
A: I’ll just say right off the bat, by no means do I have it all figured out. Mistakes I’ve made along the way have had the most influence on my leadership style. Every day is a new day and some days I feel like I’m doing it well and some days I need a “do-over” button. My leadership style has been influenced by the opportunities presented to me and the positive experiences I’ve had, the people that I’ve had the privilege to work with, as well as some missteps along the way.
Early on in my advertising agency career, I worked with two amazing women who were leaders within the agency. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, particularly at that time, they influenced me a lot. These women led with confidence and were conscious of building relationships. They also made sure they knew their stuff so that when they were the only women in the room, they were looked upon as an equal.
My leadership style is a combination of all the people I’ve had an opportunity to work with, learn from, and be mentored by. I am grateful for the leadership experiences I’ve had and for the lessons I’ve learned from others. Leading a team to a common goal, while encouraging and motivating others along the way, is the best reward.
Q: What is an important lesson that you’ve learned about managing and leading others that has served you well?
A: Understanding my personality profile and what adjustments I need to make to lead effectively, as well as learning to be more accepting of others’ styles, has been a real eye-opener for me.
I have an extremely high work ethic and an expectation that things will be done right – and done right the first time. That’s my instinct, so I automatically have that expectation of others. I’ve had to learn that just because someone may not approach something in the same way I would, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any less effective in getting to the result.
I also don’t need a lot of praise. I do something just because I know it needs to get done. Others need more acknowledgment. When you are building a team and you want them to trust you and work with you, you must communicate with them. Simply reminding people that they are valuable, that I am glad they are working with me and thanking them for everything that they’re doing goes a long way. I’ve worked hard at being intentional about how I acknowledge my team’s efforts.
Q: What’s the most impactful feedback that you’ve received as a leader?
A: A few years ago, during a particularly stressful time as we were starting our agency, I realized that it is essential to have a strong network of individuals who know you well, understand your goals, and are willing to give you honest feedback. I call this creating a personal board of directors. My “board of directors” includes coworkers, family members, and people outside of my work environment and family life. These trusted advisors allow me the space to have completely truthful conversations about personal and professional issues. Building this network has been exceptionally effective for me and has helped me with career choices, establishing objectives, and learning how to get things done.
I feel comfortable asking them tough questions and I trust them to give me honest answers about whether I’m choosing the right path. You need people like this in your life.
I’m grateful to Michelle for the time she spent with the participants and me in the Chamber’s Advanced Management Training Series. They truly benefitted from her insights, honesty, and candor.