This interview is part of a new series where leaders in influential positions share their leadership journey – how they got to where they are today. I believe we all have a lot to learn from our stories of where we started, our successes and struggles, and important lessons learned on the way.
This interview is with Lisa May. She is the founder of Fülle – Holistic Leadership Development and her mission is to help busy executives maximize their fulfilment without sacrificing their success – or anything else that matters to them. You can find her on LinkedIn.
Can you start by sharing your story and how you got where you are today? And if it helps, can you share one or two examples of events, whether positive or negative from your life that shaped where you are today?
So nice to be with you, first of all. And thank you for the invitation.
So, I spent most of my career in the medical industry and the healthcare industry with Johnson and Johnson and had really amazing experiences throughout that journey. And I had a couple of specific things. Throughout my progression and through my evolution there are a few salient points that jump out.
So I’ll just share a little bit of the background and then I’ll, I’ll hone in on those, those experiences that really were formative if you will. So I started, with Ethicon in 1999 and had a number of opportunities in sales, marketing, operations, lots of different things to observe and understand the business.
And, and so that was wonderful, wonderful development as like, as a professional. And after about, you know, many, many years in that space, I was doing well, “achieving success”, if you will, in the external environment and the business and lots of promotions, lots of opportunities, all of which were good, but I really found it interesting that as I ascended in the hierarchy within the company, I started to feel worse within.
And in 2008, I actually had a pivotal moment and a really clear message come through a clear download if you will. And I was leading a large team at this time in an amazing space. I was working in surgical obesity and helping patients with morbid obesity and was really inspiring work.
And we were doing really well. The business was performing amazingly. I had very solid external relationships outside of work but yet I felt really empty inside. All the success critical to quality measures were being met, but I felt empty. And so this was really perplexing and I had a message come through that.
It was that there’s a different way to live. There’s a different way to lead and there’s a different way to serve. And that was it. That was the message. And so I heard it and felt it loud and clear, but I didn’t really know what to do with it if you know what I mean. And so it took me some time, um, about 10 years of time or, you know, five, five to 10 years of time to assemble what that really meant.
And it meant for me to understand myself. I had to study different philosophies. I had to explore some different modalities and methodologies so that I could put the pieces together in this puzzle. That was really me. And through that journey, I actually ended up leaving corporate so that I can serve from the other side in a holistic way.
I started a development practice called Fulle and fulle of means abundance and fulfilment. And so it took quite some time. But what I realized is that I had become my achievements, my identity, and a lot of my worth and value as a human had been trained to be connected to milestones outcomes, performance. And that’s simply not true.
We all know that, but I’ll pause. Those were some, some important moments for me.
Can you share a little bit more about those five to 10 years that it took to discover a different part of yourself?
Yes. For sure.
So I stayed for, for a portion, a good portion of that time. I stayed in the corporate realm actually until around 2014, but while I was still performing in the corporate space. My evenings and weekend time was spent studying. I went back for many certifications to pursue different thought leaders, different philosophers, different spiritual leaders.
And so it was not one thing. It was many things. And I was intuitively called to fight and it helped me begin to deconstruct some of what had transpired. And I was able to observe myself in a different way and to use what helped me a lot with science-based tools and technologies, because coming from J and J, as you can imagine, it’s all founded in science and root cause.
And what are the features and the benefits of that that add up to an effective product? So that was helpful for me. So it was everything from, like I said, spiritual guides to understanding neuroscience and how the brain and the body connect in states of chronic stress. And what happens over time when we subject ourselves to continuous stress in the body, which is what I had experienced and endured for probably 12 plus years in a row.
And so it was just very helpful to deconstruct.
The story which you shared is something that I hear often from people I’ve worked with. As you talked about the spiritual, the philosophical, and the brain, what have you discovered in the context of leadership?
Yeah. Great question. So what I’ve discovered is that there’s a different way to lead and what I mean by that there actually needs to be different constructs and companies that are quickly evolving the ones that are becoming leading companies of this next evolution.
We are going to look at leadership differently. We’re not only going to reward the leaders that can deliver and execute. In chronic emergency situations under high pressure, under high stress, we will actually begin to form what I call evolutionary leaders that will be trained to not only deliver during an emergency and crisis situation but will also understand and embody the art of recovery. They truly allow their brain and their body to recalibrate and recover from the stressors and performance will actually go up. That’s how I see leadership tipping its scales.
What do you like the most about the work that you currently do?
I love the work I do because every engagement is unique and every individual is unique.
I love that the breadth of training that I’ve received and the knowledge that I’ve acquired enables me to serve in a very custom manner. Whatever the tools and resources we applied to the leaders’ needs, they end up better. And so this is such a co-creative and beautiful journey because the leaders that I work with, the leaders that find me and that we find each other are of a very like frequency and in a very like mindset.
And it really is about the unlocking. And if we can get out of our own way to live, to lead, to serve better, we will do it. Not out of pain and suffering and out of pushing and driving through, but out of a place of deep, deep balance and inspiration. So that’s what I love the most.
In our society, there is an emphasis on hard work, of equating success with being busy. There is that narrative, which we live in. So given that and given everything which you shared earlier, what are the challenges you face in doing the work that you do today?
I wouldn’t call them challenges. I think there are opportunities to shift our understanding. So with the leaders, like I said, that I’m able to support in the companies that I engage with to drive cultural shift are ready for this evolution they’re facing with open hearts and they’re really excited to shift.
So I don’t see it as challenging. But the resistance is real. And what I mean by that is we’re trained in a particular way. For me personally, since 1999, when I entered the corporate realm all the way through to when I stepped off that train, it was a repeatable pattern. That the drive and the push were equated to success, as you just mentioned.
And so overcoming those memorized states of being and those memorized neural pathways takes time. Not a lot of time, actually. It can be very, very efficient, but that’s the resistance because the body knows better. We’ve literally memorized a state of being and that if we’re not running Mach three to chase down and put out a fire, then we don’t feel alive or that we’re doing “good work”.
That was the misbelief, the limiting belief that I had deeply stored in my system. So dance with it and opportunities will emerge and every, every leader has their own narrative. Every leader has different, you know, different minute chronicles of this same theme I find. And so that’s the opportunity for us to rewrite what success means.
It doesn’t mean we’re not going to perform. That actually means we’re going to perform better because we won’t be trying to push and perform from a place of emptiness.
We spoke about the past, but what is it that you see in the future that is the kind of work that we will all be doing? And what are you passionate about in creating that possibility?
I think the rewrite is underway and I think those of us like you and me and others that are serving in this space, That we can, we can help accelerate, not in a pushing manner, in an inviting manner that enables more balance and homeostasis where true leadership lives.
Because I think we can agree that when we are shining our brightest lights and speaking our greatest and deepest truths, we’re most alive. And that’s what we need in leaders from the future. So leaders from the future will be able to demonstrate neuroplasticity, meaning that they’re going to be able to unwire and rewire quickly and easily with tools that are sustainable like we’re discussing.
And that means unlearning some of the patterns and habits that have been formed over time. And so neuroplasticity is a key facet. In addition to resilience, these are the two core principles, the core foundations that will, I believe define leadership in the future and resilience is the ability to overcome stressors or changes in the environment with ease and allow the recovery process to occur and not just stay in high gear all the time.
So neuro-plasticity and resilience are the keys to this.
How do you manage pressure and overwhelm yourself? Not just because of the resistance of the old patterns, but also because you want to create change and you are ambitious about the future.
There’s a tendency to fall back into the same trap of doing more aiming for one milestone after the other. So what advice would you give for leaders who are ambitious and want to make a change, but yet at the same time, find a lot of pressure?
Yeah. Great question. Really great question.
And this is, this is the heart of it. If we can actually observe ourselves and recognize when we are going into patterns from the past, it’s all about the how. And so we’re not going to change our level of aspiration. We’re not going to change our level of fire in the belly to change the world on whatever topic that we’re passionate about.
I don’t want that to change. What I want to invite is how we do the work. And so if we can notice with clear observation, our own behaviour, when we are going into an overt push state where we’re out of flow, then we’re in stress. And if we can identify just that alone, it can change the game. Because if we’re going through the to-do list in a state of stress and the body and the brain are out of balance and out of coherence, the work isn’t actually as good as it could be.
And so if we can just observe when we flip into that state of push that state of stress, where we’re doing, doing, doing, just to do, and instead of focusing on the, how I think it would make a major change in different states. We can actually achieve more by this new way of working.
And it is the ultimate form of trickery our brain can play on us. When it is wash, rinse, repeat, perform, go, go, go, acknowledge that it is a pattern and we can really, really do better work if we give ourselves a little bit more space and live in that flow.
I have one last question for you. Who has had the most impact on your leadership? And if you can share a story to illustrate your point.
Great question. Well, it would have to be my dad. My dad, Peter amazing inspiration for me from a very, very, very early age and all my memories about performance and, and unconditional love, honestly stem back to my family and still what my dad taught me and what he demonstrated was sheer drive.
He went back to medical school with three young children. I was a young child at the time. And then he and my mom had two more kids along the way as my dad went back to undergrad to prepare to go to medical school. And so it was not an easy journey. I saw stamina and I saw perseverance and I saw true commitment to the work and to the mission from him at a very early age.
It was beautiful. But what I also saw in him is that he was able to be truly present with our family and with me at those pivotal points in my life where he could have been too busy and just pushing, pushing, pushing to keep going with the achievements. But he didn’t, he would stop and he would be present and he would rebalance and he would really be there.
And so that, he is probably the greatest influencer that I’ve had in my life. Is he proud of achievements that were made along the journey and my corporate-run and in my business now? Of course, he is. But it’s the how and his way of being throughout that journey of his ascension professionally was so beautiful, so beautifully executed.
So he’s probably one of the greatest influencers for me. And the other, I would say is Dr Joe Dispenza, an amazing teacher. He helped to crack the code on me with one book. And that book is called Breaking the habit of being Yourself. And it was introduced to me by a coworker at the very tail end of my corporate career.
And he sent it to me for Christmas and I opened the cover and it said when the student’s ready, the teacher appears. And I don’t read books, sequentially. I read many things over time in different orders and, you know, very non-linearly, but this one was different. I started this book and I finished this book and it changed me. It changed my life because I understood the science of what had happened to me.
And so he is the other huge, huge influencer in my life that I’m deeply grateful for.
Thank you Lisa for sharing about your journey so eloquently.
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Your Leadership story deserves to be heard
Each one of us is on a leadership journey of our own. Our journeys might not look alike, they might resemble more of a roller-coaster than a race track, and that is what makes each one of us special and unique in our own ways.
I am deeply touched when someone takes the time to share their story with me. The readers of my Deploy Yourself newsletter and the leaders I work with are also left inspired when we listen to each other’s leadership journeys.
If you think that your leadership journey is worth sharing and would be valuable to others, reach out and allow me the privilege to interview you. You can send me a message on LinkedIn or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be interested.