Experiences that shape the way we lead - Here are some of mine

Mel Healy
May 23, 2016

Mel Healy

Founder & CEO of Mel Healey & Company, Former Executive Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company

First, let me introduce myself . I was born and raised in Brazil and lived there for 34 years so, most of my life. I also lived 3 years in Caracas and 3 in Mexico where both my kids were born and have been in the US for 15 years now.

My mother, grandmother and Great grandmother are Chilean and my grandfather is Peruvian. So where do I get my blond hair and blue eyes? My father is English. He moved to Brazil 50 years ago after living in India for 5 years. Neither of my parents went to college and so I was the first in my family to go to college. And, I came to the US for the first time 5 days before I was a freshman at University of Richmond.

Why do I give you all this background? And how has this impacted me as a leader? I'm going to tell you three stories that have shaped me and impacted the way I lead.

So, back to my background, here's my first story…

When I walk into a room for the first time and people look at me, they assume just about every single scenario about me, but certainly not the one I just gave you and this has been true my entire life. My entire life I have walked into rooms in every part of the world including my home country and because of how I look and how I sound, people immediately make assumptions about me that are typically not true and this has been a very defining and repeated experience in my life.

This has taught me never to assume who people are because of how they look or sound. It's taught me take the time to really get to know the individuals on my team, to understand their background and experiences and to actively look for, value and understand their unique differences, experiences, way of thinking and perspectives that can help us make better choices and decisions for both the business and the organization. Different perspectives and experiences are a blessing and as leaders, in our rush to solve problems and find solutions, we don't take the time to value the diversity of experience we are surrounded by.

Its not enough to say I have a diverse team. We must value that diversity of experience and create a culture of inclusion where all team members can be themselves, feel valued, and be encouraged to contribute at the very highest level.

My second story is about how growing up in such a volatile economic and political environment in Brazil prepared me to be a more flexible, in touch and agile Leader.

Between 1964 and 1992, Brazil had periods of inflation of up to 80% a month and well over 1000% a year, defaulted on its foreign debt, had 4 different currencies, went from a military dictatorship to a democracy, controlled prices, then froze them and even experienced the appropriation of an entire nation's savings by the government!

So, Imagine for a second, driving home from work one day as a young 25 year old, 3 years into your first job and the president of your country suddenly announcing on the radio that the dollar was no longer called the Dollar but instead it was now called the Dollarette. Yes, that happened, not once but several times!

So, what do you do the next day at work? Talk about dramatic and fast change .. How do you pay your staff, price your products, pay your rent or grocery bills. You can only begin to imagine the chaos we all experienced. I can honestly say that after the first time that happened, nothing ever really surprised or fased me again. In Brazil, we have a saying which "jogo de cintura" which translated loosely means "game of the swift hip movement". It's the ability to calmly, but quickly flex and adapt to the new circumstances. Those who are able to do this well, with grace and composure are the true innovative, out of the box, creative and agile Leaders.

This constant volatile environment taught me the importance of surrounding your self with an A-team who is willing to roll up their sleeves and rally into a well thought out and strong plan of action fast. You need to quickly get clear on what's necessary and be willing to make the tough choices. You also need a team with a culture based on trust and collaboration and who will help each other overcome the obstacles that will come your way. This is the kind of team I always try hard to surround myself with.

My last story is around embracing change, another constant in my life

In 1992, I went to Mexico with my family. I was 5 months pregnant, and in a dual Career situation with my husband who was also transferring with his job. We had 2 kids there and then in 1995, we moved back to Brazil with our jobs. In 1998, we moved again to Venezuela and in 2001, we moved once again to the US. Four international moves with a husband who worked and kids in school!

It might have been easier to stay put in the comfort of our home and extended family and resist all this change in ones life, but the opportunity to get out of our comfort zones and learn new languages, embrace new cultures and truly value style differences ended up broadening our perspectives as a family and being critical to my formation as a leader - all critical skills in an increasingly global world.

My point here is, embrace the opportunity to experience something new that steepens your learning curve and takes you out of your comfort zone. It will open your mind, broaden your bandwidth of perspectives and positively impact your leadership and authenticity.

Summarizing, I'd end by saying this. Life is a journey. It will be full of experiences - both ups and downs. Keeping a positive attitude and enjoying and learning from your journey is a gift you can give yourself everyday. How you embrace your journey is how you will be perceived and as a leader - you are always being watched - so do it with grace and always do what's right and remember to have some fun along the way.

Mel Healy

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