GV hosts lecture series on transformational leadership


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Sabrina Rihtarshich, Staff Writer

On Friday, Jan. 27, the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies held an event on leading transformational change featuring Dara Richardson-Heron as the speaker.

“The Frederik Meijer Lecture Series was established back in 2010, and its purpose is to bring in both local and national speakers whose careers give them unique perspectives on issues of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Roger Gilles, the director of the Frederik Meijer Honors College. “This week, our speaker is Dara Richardson-Heron, who has over 25 years of experience as a physician, corporate executive and advocate for health equity, biomedical ethics and women’s empowerment.”

Gilles said her visit is especially timely due to her experience of being the chief patient officer with Pfizer during the pandemic, as well as her service on the Board of Directors of two biomedical research institutes.

Richardson-Heron was introduced by Rosalynn Bliss, who serves as the mayor of Grand Rapids, as well as Grand Valley State University’s endowed chair for the Frederik Meijer Honors College. She opened by posing a question to the group, asking what was in their “leadership wheelhouse.” 

GVL / Annabelle Robinson

She said having the right elements in one’s leadership wheelhouse at the right time has the potential to “significantly enhance not only your own life but also the lives of others.”

Richardson-Heron then shared insights into what’s in her own leadership wheelhouse, noting that the foundation of her wheelhouse was laid by her parents. She said her parents were her first role models, and they often told her the phrase, “To whom much is given, much is required,” emphasizing the need to enhance the lives of others.

She said practicing patience, perspective and perseverance, “the 3 P’s,”  is essential to being a good leader. 

“Patience helps us keep our wits about us while we gain the insight, the lived experience, the understanding, the intelligence and all the things that we need to move forward,” Richardson-Heron said. “Patience provides us with the time and space we need to actually accomplish something before we attempt to lead. Extraordinary leaders cannot survive without a healthy dose of perspective.”

Richardson-Heron said to expand and advance one’s leadership abilities one must be willing to step outside of their comfort zone.

“True courage comes from taking smart and calculated risks,” Richardson-Heron said. “We’re going to be faced with unexpected personal and professional setbacks that rock us to our very core. We can use the setbacks and obstacles we face to help build our character, our strength, our personal and professional resolve and even elevate us to new heights.” 

Richardson-Heron then elaborated on her role as an executive medical director, where she learned important leadership, business and management skills. She said this moment in her career was when she met her husband, Earl. A month after their wedding she discovered she had breast cancer, which she is a survivor of. 

“I was writing ‘thank you’ notes for wedding gifts and fighting for my life, all while big clumps of my hair were falling out as a result of the treatment that ultimately saved my life,” Richardson-Heron said. “…It all seemed so unfair, and I felt so powerless.”

However, she said she worked towards having a new outlook on things.

“Instead of asking the question, ‘Why me?’ I began to ask myself, ‘Why not me?” Richardson-Heron said. “‘What makes me think I’m so special and that I should be exempt from life challenges and setbacks?”

Richardson-Heron ended the lecture with a call to action.

“I want to challenge each of you to operate as leaders, being intentional and purposeful about identifying and refining the key elements in your personal leadership wheelhouse,” Richardson-Heron said. “I challenge you to seek out new thoughts, new ideas, new partnerships and new ways of looking at things with new people. (Do this) while operating with an open mind, open heart and a new sense of purpose so that you can build a whole new operating system and leverage the personalized contents of your leadership wheelhouse. You can be one of the leading and most impactful and sought-after leadership voices that drive positive change.”