Michael Margolis on How to Be a Leader by Taking Care of Others

In Chapter 9 of 17 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, educator and entrepreneur Michael Margolis answers "What Does It Mean to Be a Leader in What You Do?"  Margolis references the book "The Book of Destiny" and builds upon Mayan leadership lessons to discuss leading in the gift economy. 

Michael Margolis is founder and president of Get Storied, an education and publishing platform dedicated to teaching the world how to think in narrative.  He earned a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Tufts University. 


Erik Michielsen: What does it mean to be a leader in what you do?

Michael Margolis: I read this book that’s actually about the Mayan prophecies, and it was written by a Mayan elder and there was something really remarkable in there that talked about leadership and had a definition of what makes a leader. We often forget to ask that question like, “What makes a leader? What makes you a leader?” We often think about it in the political context or we think about it in the corporate board room and it’s about power and it’s about who’s in charge and all of these things that are often times more about ego and self-appointedness and a whole bunch of other things but this book defined leadership in such a brilliant beautiful way. It’s called the Book of Destiny, by the way. Really cool book. And it said real simply, “You become a leader by taking care of those around you“. It’s that simple? Wait a second, well, if you take care of those around you really well, what happens? Those people naturally turn to you and look at you as somebody who is looking out for their welfare, looking out for the needs of the community, of the tribe, of the village. 

So, how do we become a leader, well it’s this notion of taking care of others, right? Which is why you have to bring that spirit. This is the power of the internet, of the gift economy. The gift economy is something that is actually hard wired into us as human beings. This is my background as a student of anthropology. We think about gift economy, it goes back to the times when we were out hunter-gatherers out on the savannah and you might have a good day, you might have bad day hunting. Well, so if you came back to the village and you had nothing to share but your friend Joe just brought in the wooly mammoth, well gift-economy means you’re gonna share what you got or what Joe got rather.  He’s gonna share with others because Joe knows he’s gonna have a bad day some point down the line. As that evolved over time, the notion of being a leader was the privilege for instance if the village would come together for a big feast. There was no greater privilege and honor than to be the benefactor to feed the village. It was a signal of your power and position but it was also a responsibility. It was a privilege and responsibility. 

So, that notion of gift-economy actually is what fuels the internet, right. It’s why people talk about free. The power of free on the internet. So, the notion of having a gift to be able to start a relationship from that place. It’s like going to a dinner party without a host gift. Dude, don’t be that guy, right. If you’re gonna go over to somebody’s house, you bring something whether it’s a bottle of wine, a fruit basket, some chocolate in my case but you bring something. It sets a tone. It acknowledges, hey we’re entering into a relationship. So, that’s a really powerful way. Simplest way to become a leader: is 1. Take care of others and 2. Think about what are the gifts that you have to share, not just in abstract terms but literally create a gift. Create an e-book. Create an info product. Give something away for free that is of high perceived value. Not some nickel and dime little thing but something that people go, “Holy crap. This thing just changed my life and you just gave that away for free?” If you are able to give that away for free I can’t even begin to imagine how much more you’ve got behind the curtain. What else do you have? Sign me up. What can I buy? I wanna go deeper. So, that’s I think the power of being a leader. Becoming a leader is having some gifts and not being afraid to share them.