Mohammad Lone

Mckinsey Leadership Academy Alumni

Never did I expect such inspiration to come to me from a television show, let alone one as apparently whimsical as The Office.

This quote came to my mind two years ago, on a March afternoon, as I sat on my desk confronted with the application form for the McKinsey & Company Leadership Academy. I was attracted to the Academy by the opportunities for learning about leadership and management consulting that it presented, and I knew selection process for this residential would be tough, considering the other applicants were undoubtedly some of the brightest minds in Britain. But the prospect of writing three 500-word essays expressing my views on leadership seemed much less fun than spending the afternoon on the PS3, or watching TV.

But, remembering the words of Michael Scott (actually words taken from Wayne Gretzky, an ice hockey player from the 80s), I went for it. It required effort, and I did not even know if I would be selected- but I took the shot. Because no matter how small I chance I thought I had, I had less of a chance if I didn’t take one.

And boy, am I thankful that I made that decision, because it changed my life. Being selected, attending the Academy, meeting and learning from inspirational people gave me the self-belief to start my own venture, Poponomics: my attempt to create economics-related content to appeal to the public, not just people with a PhD in the subject. I wanted to promote popular economics, through articles and videos.

I also hoped running Poponomics would be a way for me to research, to learn more myself about economics, as that was what I wanted to study at university. But the journey I had begun actually taught me more about myself than about any economic theory.

When I began poponomics, I naïvely thought uploading an article and a video every week a) was sustainable and b) would make poponomics a household name by Christmas.

I was so wrong. I had underestimated the amount of time it would take to produce videos and articles, alongside studying for my A-Levels and maintaining some sort of social life.

And the hard work didn’t seem to be worth it. The website received just 65 views in its first three months, most of these being the consequence of me spamming my friends’ Facebook feeds. My videos were not faring much better.

Sometimes, the hardest person to lead is yourself.

Whether it’s motivating yourself to study, to complete your own project or even just get up in the morning, we often fail to appreciate the importance of being a leader for yourself as well as other people.

Through leading myself, I gained a place on the Leadership Academy, where I was fortunate enough to meet peers and mentors who taught, encouraged and inspired me in a way I never imagined possible. I led myself to create poponomics, which has continued to thrive thanks to the incredible support it has received, from Future Foundations, McKinsey and all of my friends and family. I hope to continue to lead myself as I start a new journey into the unknown at University.

So whenever you don’t feel like doing something new, because it might not be ‘fun’, or it might be a little intimidating, remember to be your own leader. Have a go.

Because, after all- “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.

So my hopes of the project being sustainable and popular were crumbling, along with my enthusiasm. At multiple points I considered quitting, and just ‘relieving’ myself of what had become a burden. I thought failure to succeed so far signalled the end of the process- but only later did I learn that failure is a part of it.

I learnt to be flexible. Make failure a part of your journey rather than the end of it. No matter how well your plans are laid out, expect them to change as you learn about what works and what doesn’t. I learnt my plans for an article and a video a week were unrealistic, as I simply couldn’t maintain the time investment without sacrificing quality. So I changed my plan to an article a week and a video every 3 weeks. Accommodate failure- don’t let it break you.

As a society, when we think of ‘Leaders’, we tend to think of individuals who took charge of massive groups of people. We think of Leaders in war like Winston Churchill, Leaders in sport like Sir Alex Ferguson. These people are certainly great Leaders, but what we must realise is that you don’t need to be in charge of a thousand people to be a capable and effective leader.