People First! with Dr. Michelle Johnston


By Morag Barrett

Dr. Michelle Johnston is a management professor, executive coach, and leadership expert who helps leaders achieve results through meaningful connections. She is the Gaston Chair of Business at Loyola University in New Orleans, where she teaches in the graduate and undergraduate programs in the College of Business. She is also the author of a brand new book called The Seismic Shift in Leadership.

Back to the Basics

Michelle received a chalkboard as a present when she was in kindergarten and she would invite friends over and play-act as though she was the teacher. She was not a particularly good student but always felt naturally called towards and gifted in teaching – she has always enjoyed the energy of leading people! Also, while not a particularly good dancer herself, Michelle has always been fascinated by dance and has memories of watching her parents and friends dance to the tunes of the 70s! 

Learning the Hard Way

For a long time, Michelle thought being a leader meant exerting power and ensuring there was a clear demarcation between the leader and those being led. When she first stepped into her role as a professor, she thought she needed to adopt the persona of an academic and teach her students from a strict and cold perspective. Academics typically do not self-disclose and all of this ran contradictory to what Michelle wanted to do and be. Prior to this, she had been working for consulting firms and knew about adult learning theory, group exercises, and role play, but wanted to fit into the expectations of what it meant to be an academic and play the role of a  professor. She was not being authentic and was trying to be someone she was not, and she almost failed because of it. 

Connect!

Michelle has seen many of her clients failing because they have lost their connection with their team simply because they were not connected with themselves. It is essential to connect with yourself first, then extend this to others, and finally allow the group to work together successfully. This order is essential – connect with yourself, connect with your team, connect with your organization. Because of this, it is essential to understand your story first. The base of a successful connection with your team is authenticity – and you cannot be authentic if you do not know who you are! Starting here allows leaders to lead with compassion and strive for total alignment with their team. Along with this, the connection to the organization is also crucial. When you are a leader, you cannot forget that you are representing the organization you work for. 
Connection continues to be even more difficult in the post-Covid era. Authoritarian leaders have been largely unable to adapt to the changes that have come with remote work. There is a need for leaders to reimagine water cooler conversations and recreate the personal connections with their team members. Working together requires trust and connection, and the best leaders are those who are able to cultivate this seamlessly. 

Superpowers

Many of the attributes that Michelle now qualifies as her strengths were once looked upon as weaknesses or areas to change. Qualities of nurturing, enthusiasm, fashion were all things that she felt that she had to tone down in order to succeed in the academic and business world. Adding to this was the fact that she was a corporate brat – she was always moving and did not have a hometown. When she became a professor at Loyola, she adopted the flexible mindset that she always had and attempted to become the person that she felt like she should be to fit in. In order to find success, Michelle had to reframe how she perceived her childhood and the skills that she naturally cultivated and possessed. This allowed her to see her strengths for what they truly are. Do not get this wrong, this process took time! Michelle continually journaled and wrote to ensure that she was fully connected with and aware of who she is. Reframing her childhood, her natural abilities, and her passions allowed her to truly connect with the authentic version of herself that then allowed her to lead others to the best of her abilities. 

Watch away: Here!
Treat your earbuds: Here!


Resources:
MichelleKJohnston.com
Book is available for pre-order on Amazon

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