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Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) in Washington, D.C.

Leader as Healer:

A CEO and Coach’s Journey into 21st Century Leadership with Nicholas Janni & Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath

Executive presence (EP) is more than image, communication style and gravitas. Today, EP requires a more fine-tuned self-awareness that inspires others and lets everyone around the person know that he or she is in charge, confident and capable of leading others. It is not an innate quality that you either have or do not, but a set of learned behaviors that today embrace emotional agility, empathy and generally, an ability to stay present in the moment. And when you are fully present, it inspires others with your feeling of calm and confident. Others feel safe in your presence.

Sylvia Hewlett, CEO, Center for Talent Innovation discovered several years ago that EP is a dynamic, cohesive mix of appearance, communication, and gravitas. And, today, the secret ingredient inside all of this is the ability to not just look like an executive, and work like an executive, but feel like an executive. This requires some vulnerability and coming to terms with your own life work story.

In this conversation leadership coach Nicholas Janni and CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry Heath unpack how they see the evolving leadership landscape and the deep work they have been engaged in together as coach and client in making the desired paradigm shift towards the Leader as Healer.

What we used to think of as executive presence revolved around learning the skills to be authoritative which, from a communications standpoint, means a top down approach to leadership defined by fitting in. When you fit in, it means you are the circle that goes in the round hole. If you’re a square, and you’re looking to fit into a circle hole, it will be more difficult to fill the circle or fit in without feeling the emotional pain.

“This top down authoritative approach requires cutting off various pieces of yourself to fit into the molds, whether those molds were related to race, gender, ideas about corporate America or academic medicine”, says Dr. Health. In the process of building your career and power, if you can’t reclaim those pieces of yourself that you’ve cut off you come out hobbling on the other side”.

What’s required then to be a leader?

“It requires Integrating the parts of you that have been left aside through meditation and reflective exercises, through conversation. That is what makes you a whole person again. It’s Impossible to lead with integrity without that wholeness,” says Dr. Heath.

“We become reasonable and acceptable, as we weather daily indignities without making a fuss, without a flinch. But it meant that when I went home at night, I could not process any of it,” she explains further.

The way she understands whole being is this. “The result is that you become disembodied, you only access thinking and you avoid feeling,” she says. When you become embodied in your leadership, you go from becoming less vulnerable to the psychic lens in the room to processing from the whole body which gives you more intelligence.”

“You miss so much by staying in your head…because you have so much intelligence in your body and spirit that you are usually closed to, “ says Dr. Heath.

How do you see your leadership now?

“Part of my role is to be open to signals and messages of team and broader society we are serving. This brings a kind of fearlessness and flexibility”, she says. “It alleviates a lot of stress and anxiety around being ready to pick the next move”, she explains.

If this topic intrigues you, you may be interested in my just published guide book and call-to-action for women leaders inspired by well-known women leaders like Dr. Heath. The book called “Be Your Own BRAVE & Reignite Your Life’s Work” , was also inspired by my own story in caregiving for my mother.

It is based on research from leadership and wellbeing literature with six interviews of leaders today.


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