Passion is the mark of a leader, and when you meet Freda Lewis-Hall, the passion is evident. So is the charisma, which she defines as “sharing the parts of you that have shaped or affected you deeply.” When Freda speaks, you’re compelled to listen—and motivated to act.
This savvy professional has come a long way—as a child, it wasn’t easy for her to communicate with peers. “Frankly, I was a little bit odd,” she admits. “I carried my pet snake around in my purse. Did not make me liked by all!” Her mother had some simple advice about how to win friends and influence people: Start conversations by listening, not by talking.
Freda always marched to her own beat. By age six, she’d already decided to become a doctor. Her uncle, crippled by polio, was never expected to live, much less enjoy a full life, but his healthcare team made all the difference. Seeing them in action “made me want to help people in that way,” she explains. The path ahead was going to be tough. “I had many a hand waved at me, to brush that notion aside.” But that didn’t stop her, even when she faced a series of challenges, any one of which could have ended her dream.
In her first year of medical school, her soon-to-be husband was diagnosed with cancer. She admits, “I had decided that managing all of this was too much.” While she was ready to withdraw for a year or two, Freda’s mother Jeannette wouldn’t have it. She told Freda, straight out, ‘There will be no such thing. You’ll work through this.’”
Unfortunately, tragedy struck again. Jeannette died suddenly from a stroke that summer. Again, Freda wasn’t sure if she could make it. As she walked to the dean’s office ready to leave medical school, her mentor intervened. “I spilled my guts and told him my plan. I didn’t realize it, but he began walking me in the other direction, back towards school while he was telling me how important it was to my mother for me to finish what I started.” With his support and the help of others, this tenacious young woman found the inner strength to complete her medical training.
Today she serves in executive leadership at Pfizer as Chief Medical Officer. She’s also active in re-centering healthcare on the patient, serving on the Board of Governors for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute as well as other influential boards—those of Harvard Medical School, Tenet Healthcare and Save the Children, to name a few. A summary of her best advice? “Make your mark. Find ways to make a difference.“ She continues, “Don’t wait for what seems like a bigger or more exciting opportunity. Little bits every day make a mark.”
Adapted from Helene’s radio show, Dare to Live Fully, episode: Use Charisma to Get Ahead.
On Real Confidence
I’m not sure I’ve ever been FEARLESS. I’ve been fearful but determined, often. And for me, that’s what confidence is. It’s okay to be nervous as long as you take a step forward.