my job


“Whenever I use the term ‘retired’ in front of my friends, they just roll their eyes,” Margaret Smith said. “I did officially retire from 3M. But I didn’t retire from a career. In essence I rewrote what my next chapter would be.”

Smith spent 27 years at 3M in sales and marketing positions before retiring in 2009. At one point, she led a division that did $800,000 in sales a year. “I was fortunate to learn from great leaders,” she said.

Over the years, Smith saw companies thinning the ranks of middle managers and reducing investment in leadership development. “People are moving into roles they are not prepared for. As a result, they’re not doing their best work as leaders,” she said. After her “retirement” in 2009, Smith sought ways to share what she had learned about leadership. “I wanted to give back,” she said.

She now teaches four courses a year in sales and marketing at St. Catherine University and lectures in their MBA program. Smith also provides one-on-one and group coaching in leadership development. Because she wanted to get the message out to as many people as possible, she wrote a book, “The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge”. “My book was a way to capture great stories that I was storing up. I identify 10 attributes that I felt were critical to my success, that helped me to be a good leader. Each chapter takes 10 minutes to read. I wanted it to be ‘I can do this!’”

Her website,, offers a 30-question survey that helps readers to identify which of the 10 leadership attributes they should focus on. There is also a reader guide for book discussion groups.

What is a leader?

I found this quote by John Quincy Adams that I really like and that hit home for me: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Are good leaders born or made?

Everybody has some part of leadership inside of them. “Leader” isn’t significant to a title. No one has “leader” on the door of their office or on their business card. I do believe there are people who naturally have a lot of charisma or that people are attracted to, but that doesn’t always make them good leaders. I find that some introverts make great leaders because they prefer a one-on-one conversation. They’re a little bit slower in their approach.

Which of the 10 characteristics are the foundations of leadership?

They are so interwoven. Some of the stories in the book could apply to more than one chapter. Self-confidence and authenticity are two really important attributes. Sometimes as our roles change and over time we get more authority, it’s easy to lose sight of our roots. Authenticity — knowing what you value, what you’ll stand up for — leads to trust and leads to being present. You can build your self-confidence by practicing, by taking more time, by preparing yourself, by ignoring the negative self-talk. If you are presenting, prepare well enough that you can present with such clarity and conviction that they will be less likely to challenge you, and when they do, you know how to handle that gracefully, not defensively. You can say, “Tell me more. Help me understand your position on this a little bit better.” □