The Power Shift Podcast – Power Comes From Purpose with Christine Miller

Sharon:

My guest today is Christine Miller, President, CEO and board member of Melinta Therapeutics. I am so excited to have a chance to talk with you today, Christine Miller, I am a fan, you are a role model of how to be as a leader who is in her power, and using power for the good of all. So maybe let’s just kind of get started there in terms of those two terms, like, what does it mean to you to be in your power and to be in power?

Christine Miller:

First of all, thank you, Sharon, for having me today, I really appreciate it. You know, I do think that there is a difference. For me, being in your power is a part of knowing your purpose. Why are you here? What are you here to do? And really being able to tap into that, to be confident about your purpose, and staying true to that. As opposed to being in power. This is more of a positional thing, maybe even authoritative thing, but it doesn’t mean that it’s about you, that is more something sitting outside of yourself, per se. So for me, I focus on being in my power, knowing my purpose and staying true to that.

Sharon:

Fantastic. You’ve been someone who has experienced how power works in organizations. Now you have a positional power, just to understand you a little bit better, tell anything about your experiences earlier in your life that helped you to have this view of power that we’re going to hear more about.

Christine Miller:

I think it starts with my family and my upbringing. I come from a family that are actually immigrants to the US from Jamaica, and I think of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who I felt was such a powerful force within our family. She was someone who really knew herself, what was important to her, she’s a person of faith. And she was so grounded. And she made sure that all of her children were grounded.

Christine Miller:

They knew who they were, what their purpose was. Serving others was something that was really important to her and my family. And that has carried out in the way I was raised. I watched my mother, work, have children. At one point, I was in high school, she had my brother, and was going to graduate school, and taking care of all of us, and being strong, and being able to overcome any obstacle.

Christine Miller:

I feel that there’s so much power in that, you know, like, having challenges, but overcoming those challenges, and getting stronger and more resilient in life. And so that has really shaped who I am as a person and as a leader.

Sharon:

Fantastic. I’m hearing this theme of purpose, come through very strongly for you. Tell us about what power means to you, because it sounds like it has something to do with this sense of purpose.

Christine Miller:

I believe that we are all on this earth for a purpose. There are special gifts that we have, that we are supposed to use to help solve problems. I have always been in pursuit of solving problems, it’s why I went to school for engineering, that’s something that I felt really called to do. And really being clear about what my purpose in life was. And for me, it’s really about solving problems to help people live better lives. Having that clarity is very powerful for me, because it helps guide my choices in life, it helps guide how I treat others. And it’s where I get my sense of power from. The fact that I know my purpose in life is very powerful to me.

Sharon:

So having such a strong sense of purpose, gives you a sense of power.

Christine Miller:

Correct.

Sharon:

How did that play out as you were going through your career? Successes in early career, then you were at mid career, and now you are in a leadership position of a whole company. How did you create power in organizations, how did you use that power? And I thought it’d be really interesting to understand what it was like when you were in the middle of an organization, and then also, to reflect on it now that you are the CEO.

Christine Miller:

Well, it’s actually all the same, no matter which part of my career I’ve been in, it’s actually it’s all the same theme. And really, what it comes down to, is that by knowing what motivates me, which is really being in alignment with my purpose, that helped me to make good choices about what roles that I took, and also how I operated in those roles.

Christine Miller:

So, I think early back to my career when I was graduating from school, and I was looking for my first job. I had different job opportunities. And I remember having the choice between going to work in pharmaceuticals and going to work in chemicals. And I really thought to myself, what’s my purpose? My purpose is really to help people live better lives. And I guess maybe you could do that in chemicals in a way.

Christine Miller:

I had done internships at Merck, and there was something about Merck and the idea that medicines are for the people and not for the profits that really resonated with me. I actually got a text from my dad today he was telling me about how KEYTRUDA was doing so well and I was like, “Merck is rocking it.” They still continue to rock it because they really focused on medicines being for the people. Being able to make the decision to go to a company that had a purpose that was in line with my purpose, for me, was extremely powerful. And that was a real motivator for me in my role, making sure that I was doing the best that I could in my job to make sure that the company was successful with its overall purpose.

Sharon:

Yeah. And so there you are, with such a strong sense of purpose. And I imagine that you were interacting with people who had a different sense of power, right?

Christine Miller:

Yeah.

Sharon:

You were saying that maybe people experience that their purpose is thwarted, or they see other people ‘playing politics.’ What is your observation and reflection about politics and power? And like, what was your experience? And how do you transcend that?

Christine Miller:

Yeah. So there is politics, everywhere you go. Even if you don’t think a company is political, there’s total politics, because everyone has something that they’re trying to accomplish. The politics of a work environment is around everybody trying to navigate and get what they want, right? That navigation is the politics. Finding people that you are aligned with in common interest or common purpose within a company is something that is really essential, and actually helpful in allowing you to be successful in navigating through the politics of an organization.

Christine Miller:

And so, I know that when people hear politics, they think of it as a negative thing. But it actually isn’t a negative thing. It’s actually a useful tool. What I think when people think about politics, and they think about the negative pieces is when people use it in a way that is disproportionately advantageous to someone versus another. But we, especially as women, we have to be clear that politics is a part of life, and we need to know how to navigate it. And being able to connect with people that have a common purpose, and working with those people to advance your purpose, I think is essential.

Sharon:

And creating allies in the way and I know, you’ve been so effective too.One of the things that I’ve heard you talk about is that some people chase power, right? Title, money, position, and the way that I’ve heard you talk about it is that creates scarcity. So, people are looking at everyone as competition. So I think maybe say more about that.

Christine Miller:

Yeah. I think that this is tied to the politics piece, right? When you have the mindset that you know, power sits outside of you, and you’re having to chase power, right? And that there’s actually a limited amount of power, or even if that’s your objective, of trying to have power, this creates this concept of scarcity, and it creates a lot of anxiety for people, it actually creates a situation where people end up not being collaborative or end up having conflicts that could easily be avoided.

Christine Miller:

And, the way that I look at it is that power actually sits within you, it’s fueled by the fact that you know your purpose, you are confident in that purpose. And you don’t need to have something outside of you validate that. And so if you’re focusing on yourself and your purpose and looking to accomplish, what you need to be, and align with that purpose, then you’re not worried about what’s happening with someone sitting on the other end of the table or in another role, et cetera, because at the end of the day, there’s enough for everyone, because we all have our purpose.

Sharon:

So that scarcity mentality, you’re saying is kind of a traditional definition of power?

Christine Miller:

Yes.

Sharon:

And you’re here, you’re exemplifying redefining power. And what I’ve seen for you is, your power is so purpose-driven and your purpose is to serve others not to serve yourself. So in that way, by definition, right? It doesn’t come from scarcity?

Christine Miller:

Correct. Yes, and I think this is extremely important to really focus on something outside of yourself in terms of purpose, because this is the way you can multiply your impact.

Sharon:

Tell us about that.

Christine Miller:

Well, if you’re here to just serve yourself, and you’re only thinking about yourself, there will always be more to do, more to get more to, you know, you’ll be chasing something that, quite frankly, I think will never be satisfied. Whereas if you focus on helping others, helping other people grow, or helping other people meet a need, you will actually see the impact of your efforts more visually, externally, and it will be in a way that’s more legacy building, in my opinion, right?

Sharon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Christine Miller:

Right? I want to be able to leave an impact behind way after I’m no longer on this earth. And if I just focus on pleasing myself, and you know only my needs, then when I’m gone, what have I left?

Sharon:

Beautiful. Now tell us, what are your observations about people who are trying to use power, when you’re in the middle of an organization versus now you know, what it’s like when you can lead from the top of an organization. Is it different? What power do you have now? What’s different? And how can you help our listeners to understand kind of that evolution or that difference and what they can do now?

Christine Miller:

Yeah. Well, I think the power you’re talking about in that case is more a positional power, right? So there’s the idea that if you’re at the head of the ship, right? You have a more power than maybe if you were in the middle of an organization. But I will actually contend that you have as much power no matter where you sit within an organization. You hear the words of influencers, right?

Christine Miller:

There are people who can influence no matter where they’re sitting in the room. And it’s so funny, because people think or just assume that if you’re sitting at the big table, that you have a lot of power. And I got to tell you, you can be sitting at a table, like for anybody who wants to get a seat around the table. You’ll get at that table and you’ll realize there are a lot of seats, but not everybody has power.

Sharon:

Tell us.

Christine Miller:

Well, remember, I said power is in you. So, if you are around the table and you don’t have any ‘power’ the question is, what’s in you? Are you confident? Do you have a purpose for being at the table? What are you doing with your seat around the table? And if you’re not clear about what your purpose is, what your vision is, and what you’re actually trying to drive with your seat at the table, you might as well not even be there.

Christine Miller:

And this matters for whatever level you are in an organization. I contend that there is a table at every level of the organization. The question for you shouldn’t be, “What would I do, if I was at the table where the CEO is at?” The question is, “What am I doing? Where I am right now? And what impact am I going to have in this role right now?” I do ask a very interesting question to my team.

Christine Miller:

So, I had the opportunity to actually meet with everyone in the company since I joined. And as I’ve had several one on ones and small group meetings, there’s one question that I ask people. I say to people, “Do you see this chair?” Oh, you probably can’t see it. But let me see if I can get my camera. But if you see this chair, this opaque chair, and you were sitting in my chair, what would you do with the company?

Christine Miller:

And that always… well some people like, right away, they’re like, “Oh I know what I would do.” And there’s some people who have to really think about it. And the point, the reason why I asked the question is because, first I want to hear people’s ideas, because I think that’s so critically important, it helps me to shape kind of how I think about the future and the company. But I also do it because I want people to think about what is their vision? What do they want? Just because you’re not the CEO doesn’t mean that you don’t have the opportunity to bring that vision to life. You do, you have the power to do that.

Sharon:

Absolutely. So, you talked about the family that you grew up in with these very strong female role models, and really instilled a sense of strength and resilience in you. Anything that you want to share about your own experiences as a black woman in the workplace, radiating and using your power, what reflections do you have?

Christine Miller:

So it’s an interesting question. And I have to say that, I don’t know, what would have happened if I didn’t have these strong women. And, really supportive, male models in my life as well. I mean, my dad, made me feel like I could do anything, he was supportive. I remember he would sit down with me when I was working on my semester plan in undergraduate and he was like, “Okay, what courses do you need to take?” And he was helping me check all the boxes and making sure I had everything straight.

Christine Miller:

And I, what I found was that my parents and my family made me feel as if I could do anything. And it didn’t matter, the color of my skin, I could do anything. And that knowing of support was tremendous. And through my career, I’m very often the only person of color around the table. Almost always the only black person around the table. And many times the only woman around the table, although I’m so excited about my gender diverse team that I want now.

Christine Miller:

And, I got comfortable with not having people that looked like me, but just because people don’t look like you doesn’t mean that you don’t have things common with the people that are around you. It’s really important to get to know people let people get to know you create those allies, because that’s going to be important for you, in your life and in your career. Being authentic is really important, as well.

Christine Miller:

What you see with me is what you get. And being okay with that is important. I mean, I’ve definitely experienced microaggression. I’ve experienced all out racism, but I don’t let that deter me. And you have to decide when you’re going to speak up against certain behaviors. I’m a firm believer in giving people feedback, and I give people feedback in a constructive way. But I do not let any microaggression or even racism, stop me. And there’s times that you have to take a call if there is an environment that you’re in, that isn’t conducive to allow for you to be able to flourish and not live your purpose, then you leave.

Sharon:

Yeah, thank you, for those transparent reflections. And, we had a chance to do some coaching together as you were ascending into this role. And I wonder if you could share with us, there’s just like, you were saying, there’s plenty, as with any professional, especially women, there’s many kind of challenging situations where we might get kind of hijacked out of our power, we have to get back in our power or you want to be intentional to stay in your power.

Sharon:

I’ve observed in you such a strong sense of faith. And that seems to me to be one of the feathers in your quiver to kind of stay in your power or get back in your power. And I wonder if there’s anything else that you want to share with us about how you stay in your power or get back in your power?

Christine Miller:

Yeah, so my faith is actually the is the clear anchor. And it’s tied to the fact that I believe, from a spiritual and a faith based perspective that we all have a purpose in life. And I absolutely feel called to my purpose, I will never forget, when, five years ago, I was interviewing for a lateral role, and I remember being questioned, like, “Are you sure you want this lateral role?” And I said, “You know, my purpose is not about the title, my purpose is about making sure I have a seat around the table to steer a business.” And if I have that seat at the table, that allows me to be in my purpose, then I can stay true to that.

Christine Miller:

And that’s my anchor, in terms of my career, but how I stay anchored in my purpose is that I really take the time out everyday, maybe several times a day, you’ll see actually, in my office, I have a little prayer meditation stool. And I take time out. I had a long day and a great board meeting yesterday, and you came in my office, you saw me on my stool, and I was just taking that time to recenter and to be grateful.

Christine Miller:

Being grateful is so important, really spending the time to reflect. I journal a lot. You know, one of the things that I did, especially leading to this role, is I took the time to actually think about all the times in my life where I had overcome challenges, and how that came to be and how I felt that God had driven things in my life.

Christine Miller:

It was all I felt driving to this moment, in my life that allows me to be in a position to have a vision for a company, being able to share that vision and help bring it to life and to be able to serve others in a way, that is, for me, motivating, but also motivating others. Being able to see that kind of path in my life and being grateful for it also gives me confidence about the future. That’s also why I’m able to stay grounded in who I am, and my purpose, because I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to have obstacles, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to have challenges, but I know that I will overcome them.

Sharon:

When you were kind of coming into this next level role, what I recall is, you really felt like, “My whole life was making me for this moment.” Right? You are a leader who is so self managed, you are so intentional, right? Even in your daily practices, and how powerful an executive presence you have, right? And how powerful an impact you are able to have, because you always come back to your center, right? That you are so grounded in your faith, in your gratitude, in the clarity of your vision, and you can see how it’s enabling you to be so successful.

Sharon:

So just as a final question, what you really wanted to have power for is to be able to create the culture in your company. So, what is your vision? And what can each of us do to play a part in the vision, I mean, maybe not in your company, necessarily, unless we live in your company, but in our own lives, and in our culture?

Christine Miller:

It’s interesting, because when people talk about business, they often think about business strategies, and the numbers and all that. And that’s important, because you have to make your numbers. But I believe that really what drives companies is people and culture, so that’s where I’ve spent a lot of time working with my team, on building just that. My vision is to build a company that is a high performing team culture where you feel empowered, and that we have the right people in the right roles, and that they feel rewarded. The recognition is there, and they have what they need to be successful, we have the right processes and governance and we have the right products, that we’re meeting patient and customer needs.

Christine Miller:

And then we are just driving great performance, because we know that we have all these other pieces in place with a clear strategic vision and priorities. And that we do what we say we’re going to do. Credibility is so important, you need to do what you say you’re going to do. I believe that if you have all of these things brought together, that you will be successful with whatever you put your business actual business target to. I have a great team, great organization. I’m feeling very privileged to be able to be with them.

Christine Miller:

To me, it’s not about leading, it’s about the followership we have and we create with each other in the organization, I believe that creates amazing results.

Sharon:

Fantastic, fantastic. Thank you, Christine Miller, President, CEO and board member of Melinta Therapeutics, a leader in her power, and using her power for the good of all.

 

The Power Shift podcast is all about redefining the idea of “power” and how women use it for good, not with the traditional idea of force. Listen to thought-provoking and practical interviews to help listeners understand power from every angle– how a person gets ‘in her power’, how power works in the workplace, and how power can shift.

Host Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist who’s a best-selling author, speaker, and sought-after executive coach who helps women executives be an intentional Culture Carrier in their organizations and helps women get promoted to next level opportunities. Because every woman in her power is a Change Agent!

You can listen to The Power Shift Podcast with Dr. Sharon Melnick here at these links:

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