Trust is a critical component of effective leadership. Leaders who are trusted by their teams are more likely to be successful in achieving their goals and bringing their visions to life. Trust can be built by speaking respectfully, being an active listener, and following through on promises.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Rod McDermott.

Rod McDermott is the CEO + Co-Founder of Activate 180, which helps companies elevate employee performance, productivity, and happiness through affordable coaching for all; the CEO + Co-Founder of McDermott + Bull, one of the fastest-growing executive search firms in North America with offices domestically and internationally; the President + CEO of M+B Interim Leaders, which he founded along with Angela Anderson in 2011 to address an increased client need for time-sensitive solutions to important leadership challenges; and the Founder of the M+B Executive Network, a community of in-transition senior-level executives seeking guidance to land their next role, serving over 10,000 members since inception.

Rod has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, growing companies from the ground up and challenging industry norms. His ultimate goal is to meaningfully contribute to the greater good, which is showcased through his passion for hard work, fostering relationships, and conceptualizing solutions for professional development.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

At Activate 180, we are currently creating a six-month leadership development program for newly promoted leaders. This program will include a coaching relationship with Activate 180 and participation in a leadership cohort. Our Co-Founder and Chief Activation Officer, Zach Smith, has designed an innovative launch pad for new leaders, which we plan to launch in the next quarter.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

The leader who has influenced me the most is my dad. He used to run a division of Merck and he taught me about business through conversations and experiences, such as attending trade shows and visiting an oil field ship in Houston. He educated me on important lessons related to sales, acquiring and serving customers, being better than the competition, and acting as a consultative leader by understanding and meeting people’s needs. He has been my biggest business mentor.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

In the past, my biggest mistake as a leader was promoting people to leadership positions without giving them the space to learn and perform on their own. Previously, I would micromanage them for 90 days and direct them on everything. Now, I meet with them on a weekly basis to discuss desired outcomes and results, allowing them to figure things out through firsthand experience. This approach empowers and builds confidence in my leaders, creating a more driven and empowered leadership style.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

I used to equate leadership with management, but now I understand the clear distinction between the two. Being a leader means setting an organizational vision and culture and getting stakeholders excited about it. A leader must prioritize the needs of their people and create opportunities for growth and advancement within the company. As a leader, my goal is to grow both a company and its people, as they are inseparable.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

I used to be present in every management meeting, feeling like my role as a leader was to be involved in every aspect of the company. Over time, I realized the value of stepping back and allowing my leaders to take charge. Now, I attend one meeting a month while my Chief Operations Officer and other leaders conduct weekly meetings. . This has allowed my leaders to grow and develop their own ideas and capabilities. My new leadership formula seems to be working well, though I will continue to adapt and find the right balance as needs evolve.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

I have started prioritizing regular touch base meetings with my key leaders. We meet either once a week or twice a month for about an hour. During these meetings, we talk about both personal and professional topics, allowing us to create a deeper connection and bond.

I believe that building trust is one of the most important aspects of leadership, and by talking regularly with my leaders, I am able to foster stronger personal relationships. Additionally, I am now trying to host monthly face-to-face meetings with a number of my leaders, either in person or virtually, to strengthen relationships and build trust.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

As a leader, it’s important to understand that the strategies and tactics that got you to where you are won’t necessarily take you to the next level. As your business grows, you need to evolve your leadership style and be willing to let go of past playbooks and patterns. One approach to leadership development is to seek the help of an executive coach who can challenge you to think bigger and help you make the transition from being a manager to acting as a leader who develops other leaders. The goal should be to become a “star maker,” helping create other top performers within the company to scale the business. Remember, what got you here won’t get you there, so be open to new playbooks and be prepared to let go of the past.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

As a leader, it is important to get to know the people you are leading on a personal level.. Once you know about an individual’s needs and goals, you can co-create a role that aligns with their values and priorities. For example, when promoting someone to a senior sales role, consider their concerns about balancing work and family time, and make sure to build the position around their ideal life. This approach can encourage leaders to show up stronger, leading to faster growth for the company. The key is to start by understanding what a successful life looks like for each individual and to help them solve any challenges they may have in achieving that balance. By having their back, leaders can motivate and engage their team members to show up big at work.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Character: Effective leaders possess strong character, making ethical and difficult decisions with their team’s best interests in mind. They understand that people are their most valuable asset and work to minimize negative impacts while guiding their team toward success.
  • Vision: Leaders have a clear and inspiring vision that motivates and engages their team. This vision is not just focused on growth or profit but also on positively impacting the world they serve.
  • Active Listening: Great leaders have the ability to actively listen, allowing their team members to feel heard and understood. They avoid jumping to conclusions and are patient in order to help their team grow and become more involved.
  • Soft but Effective Communication: Effective leaders have strong communication skills, speaking slowly and softly to create room for their team to get involved. They understand the importance of not monopolizing conversations and allowing their team to level up.
  • Trust: Trust is a critical component of effective leadership. Leaders who are trusted by their teams are more likely to be successful in achieving their goals and bringing their visions to life. Trust can be built by speaking respectfully, being an active listener, and following through on promises.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

I make it a daily habit to strive for excellence in all aspects of my life. I have that quote framed and placed on my nightstand so I see it every morning and night as a reminder to make each day count. My goal is to make every day a 10 out of 10, but I understand that not every day will be perfect. I approach each day with courage, a positive mindset, and a solution-focused attitude. When faced with challenges, I channel my best self and take a moment to slow down and breathe, if needed. I start each day with the intention to make it a masterpiece and I reflect on my progress at the end of the day to prepare for a better tomorrow.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

As a leader, my aspiration is to leave a legacy of work-life balance and fulfillment. I believe that it’s possible to have it all — a fulfilling career, strong relationships, and a sense of personal satisfaction. I aim to instill this mindset in other leaders within our organization and encourage them to prioritize how they are achieving their goals rather than focusing on simply reaching their end result.

Through my coaching business, I aim to show others that work can feel like play and that it is possible to have a fulfilling and enjoyable life. The legacy I wish to leave is one where people know that work does not have to be a battle, but instead, it can be fun, even in the face of challenges and failures.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

Readers can follow along with Activate 180 at

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!