Nurturing Potential, Unleashing Power – Bridgette Heller, 2013 HBA Woman of the Year

By Kim Wilber and Laura Momcilovic; marketing and membership committee volunteers

On September 25, the HBA Chicago chapter hosted an event in conjunction with Astellas that was a resounding success. Bridgette Heller, chosen by her peers as HBA 2013 Woman of the Year, was there to walk through her reflections of her journey of leadership. Initially overwhelmed by the honor, she took a step back and thought about what she could share, what resonates within her that she could empower other women. She realized that it came down to three things: the power of authentic communication, the ability to nurture potential and the ability to become comfortable unleashing the power within. Bridgette walked us through her reflections and how she learned to “Nurture her Potential and Unleash Her Power”.

Bridgette Heller
Bridgette Heller 

Growing up in the segregated South was a rewarding experience. She was raised by not only her family, but the “village” that encompassed her. Many of the people in her “village” did not buy into the notion of “white power”. The African American teachers and individuals in her community taught her that a good education, led to a good job which allowed you to support and feed your family. Her “village” believed that these elements equaled power. Bridgette’s strengths were recognized early on during her childhood and her community assisted in nurturing this potential. They encouraged her to rise up to the challenge through her academic potential, and gave her the courage and desire to build her own power.

Not everyone in Bridgette’s early childhood provided support and encouragement. Although there was significant support in her “village’, there were individuals such as her math teacher, that caused her to doubt her abilities. She recalled that at one point in her childhood, she was told that she was not able to enroll in an advanced math class. This teacher had convinced her that she was not good enough which took some of “her” power away. As she reflected back, she realized that her power was stunted as she was convinced that failure would be the outcome. This sense of failure caused her anxiety in the years ahead.

Bridgette reflected on how in corporate America, taking power away from individuals is a common experience. She reflected on a story about a woman who decided to take a lateral move in the organization because she felt that the company had needed her in this capacity to help with growth.

Upon taking the position, the CEO said to her “great opportunity, I hope you don’t screw it up”. The anxiety around disappointment and failure stayed with her for ten years and every time she moves to a new position, she hears those same words. In another situation, a woman was once told that she was too smart and she could not relate to people. When people hear these things from their peers, they begin to believe, and it inhibits their ability to grow to their fullest potential.

As a leader, it is our job to create an environment that provides space where people are comfortable unleashing their power. When we don’t provide this, we squash the potential within, and inhibit growth. We fail to nurture those around us, and take away from the additional value that these individuals can bring to the organizations they work for and the society in which they reside. Our greatest gift as a leader is to create a space where people can grow to their full potential. Power equals capability of strength and force in driving an outcome.

Bridgette shared with us that her favorite program is the mentoring program. Over her career, she has had outstanding mentors that have empowered her to be who she is today. These individuals were able to see potential in her that she was not able to see herself, and she was encouraged to step towards her power and embrace it. By surrounding herself with the right people, she believed that she could impact and become the CEO that she was told as a young adult that she could be.

Bridgette shared with us that there are three pathways required to help women unleash their power:

  • Leaders have to create an environment for women to unleash their power and rise up to higher positions. We need to ask ourselves what is making it difficult to advance.
  • As women, we must reflect, “what can we do for ourselves to move ahead?” How can we recognize the power within ourselves and how do we develop the confidence to exercise that power, honestly and objectively?
  • We need to have the right mentors and sponsors who generously give of themselves to see others succeed.

Companies that embrace these three things will succeed in the marketplace. As women, we have the ability to step towards power rather than shrink away from it. So she asks us to reflect, and “imagine the potential for your business if there was a nurturing environment, where people felt empowered to step toward their potential”. If we can do this, we can make this a better industry.

Bridgette’s true inspiration came from Maya Angelou. Through her inspirations, Bridgette felt empowered to nurture her potential and become who she is today - President, HBA Woman of the Year, wife and mother, and our inspiration and hope for a more diverse workforce filled with leaders like her.

Earlier in the evening, Kathy Relias took an opportunity to remind us why it is important to be engaged with the HBA. Through active involvement in this organization, you are able to gain valuable industry knowledge, develop new skills and strengthen your leadership. The organization offers development opportunities through our mentoring program, which this year incorporates over 120 mentees and mentors. With over 6,000 members, the HBA continues to be an avenue for growth and development for women and men in healthcare.

The HBA also empowers us to recognize each other for the contributions we make to the organization. This month we recognized Pat Fuller as Volunteer of the Month for the contributions she has made to the HBA Chicago chapter. Pat was recognized for the outstanding work she has done in the mentoring committee. Pat has been active and engaged in her role on this committee, providing leadership and corporate initiatives in technology.

Pat Fuller, Volunteer of the Month from mentoring committee
Pat Fuller, Volunteer of the Month from mentoring committee

Across the organization we all share many things in common; we care about our careers; we want to learn how to be better leaders; we care about our companies; we care about healthcare; and we bring value to our companies by being involved in the HBA. The HBA gives you the opportunity to build your network before you need it.

A huge thanks and gratitude to Astellas for hosting this special event flawlessly.

Groups audience: