Pushing Past Barriers to Become an Exponential Leader: Part One

During the month of August, we invite you to join us as we partner with Martha Holley Newsome, Medical Teams International President and CEO, to discuss exponential and transformational leadership and what that can look like as you advance on your journey to be unstoppable for God. We begin the conversation with a blog written by Martha, who shares three tips for embracing this type of leadership.

You can listen to more of our conversation with Martha on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.

Here is a truth I believe: that anyone, at any point in their career, can be an exponential and influential leader. I know this because I have lived it. During my career, I have been fortunate to learn from several exceptional leaders and mentors, and I aim to be one for my team today. As I reflect on my professional journey over the last three decades to the present as the President and CEO of Medical Teams International, I want to share a few important themes on this topic with the 4word community.   

#1 – Don’t wait for permission to dream big.

There were pivotal moments in my career where I had to lean in, take the challenge, and not shy away from what I had to offer. There were allies who encouraged me to be visionary, and to ask the question: what would it take to scale up our work?  A key mentor from early in my career challenged me to not wait for permission to influence – even if I didn’t have the specific line authority to do it. Their wise advice taught me that using my influence and offering my ideas would multiply my impact. He helped me to understand the role of a leader and to have the confidence and belief I was capable of big things and then develop a detailed plan to make it a reality and rally people around me to achieve my vision.  

It is so important to think about the big picture, especially in your sphere of influence, and not wait for permission to share it and then push for the picture to be realized. 

Be open to allowing God to push you beyond your comfort zone and capabilities- to take the risks and opportunities the Lord is giving you to step into things that seem impossible because I believe that is where God shows up the most, stretches, grows, and uses us. 

#2 – Challenge the things you think are barriers.

I am so grateful that others saw potential in me that I didn’t realize in myself. When I was 33 years old, I was working in Mozambique and the staff encouraged me to apply for the country director position. During the process I found out I was pregnant with my second child, and quickly pulled my name out of the running. A fellow director quickly chastised me with: “women have babies all the time” and told me to simply ask for what I needed to take on this position. As a single mom with two of her own sons, she was living proof that a dream career and family was possible.  

Later, when I was being recruited for my current position of CEO, I found out it would require a cross-country move from Washington D.C to Portland, OR. I said no immediately because I felt like the move would not have been good for my kids and where they were in their schooling. The recruiter made an interesting comment along the lines of “how men don’t use their families as an excuse to turn down a position.” It fired something up in me and caused me to pause. He was right. I didn’t even consult my family and as soon as I did, they all encouraged me to apply and gave me the green light. If he had not challenged me with that comment, I would not be in this position today. Oftentimes, we need to push past what we believe are barriers to unlock our potential.  

#3 – You can have an exponential impact at any point in your career.

Over the years, I had mentors and senior leaders who believed in me and what I could do. They were catalysts who pushed and encouraged me to question the status quo when it was taboo to do so- especially as a female executive. I saw how doing so had exponential impact in the programs I led and in our success. Now, I try to do this for others in my organization and encourage female representation at every level. We need women on boards, and in all positions, to achieve diversity in senior leadership. At any level, your influence can impact your team, your organization and in some cases, the world.  

In my next blog later this month, I look forward to sharing about what this looks like for my organization, Medical Teams International, and the women we empower to bring life-saving health care to communities around the world.

Martha Newsome is the President & CEO of Medical Teams International, a global health and humanitarian organization. She has spent the last 30 years of her life dedicated to serving the health needs of others. In her current role, Martha leads more than 1,500 international staff as they restore health to three million people through medical and dental care, disaster response, humanitarian aid and community health programs.

Considered an authoritative global leader in international public health, Martha has a deep understanding of grassroots operations as she worked her way to senior leadership from the front-line realities of local community health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wheaton College and a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. Martha lived in southern Africa for 15 years, and at the age of 33, was elevated to Country Director for World Vision in post-war Mozambique. Prior to joining Medical Teams International in 2016, she led World Vision International’s Global Sustainable Health team representing three sectors, over 3000 employees and a budget of $700M.

Martha is Chair of the Integral Alliance Board of Directors, an international alliance of 21 faith-based relief and development agencies, and is published in public health journals like the Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine and Human Resources of Health.