Episode 315: Leadership: A Sacred Journey with Micheal Pope


Episode Summary

In this episode, we had a fantastic conversation about leadership, the power of intentional listening, the art of building cohesive teams, and how to form team members who support each other. We also talk about the importance of balancing our personal and professional lives and the courage required to move beyond what we think we know and learn new things. 

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. And we have an amazing person with us today — a friend, and somebody that I admire so much. Welcome, Micheal Pope. 

Micheal Pope: Welcome. Thank you for having me. 

Steve Shallenberger: I’ve been looking forward to this. I’d like to give you a little background on Micheal. And then we’ll get into hearing about her wonderful life and her wisdom and the things that she can share with us. Micheal joined Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay in 1997 – 25 years ago, Micheal. 

Micheal Pope: Oh my gosh! When I was just an infant. 

Steve Shallenberger: She has served as a Program Director and Director of Development before becoming Executive Director in 2008. And with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from New Hampshire College, and coursework and city planning and urban affairs at Boston University, Micheal has more than 20 years of experience in healthcare management with an emphasis on marketing. She believes that everyone must contribute if a change is to come about. So, serving on the board and staff of ASEB – which is the Alzheimer’s Service of East Bay – is one of the greatest highlights of her life, and it’s an honor that brings great meaning to her every day. That’s wonderful. In addition to that, Micheal is conference lay leader of the California Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church. And she is amazing. She and I have had the chance to do a little work there. And I’ll tell you, this lady is just something else. She has great light and influence. Also, she provides counseling and support to youth in foster care programs. So, Micheal, let’s get going, and here’s my first question: tell us about the Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay. We’ll start there and then I have another question right off the cuff. 

Micheal Pope: Thank you so much, Steve, for having me here this morning. It is a great honor to be your colleague and friend in this work of self-help and advancing ourselves to be our best selves and live our best existence. So, I consider it an honor to be here with you and your podcast listeners. Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay is a nonprofit organization that is 34 years old — so, I have not been with it since its inception — that is an adult day health care, or in California, we call them community-based health organizations. And we supply and serve individuals that are living with behavioral health, dementia, and Alzheimer’s where we provide medical care, rich services that support not only the person living with the diagnosis but also supporting the caregiver. As you know, being a caregiver is like having a full-time gig, and many of them have a job that is employment but also need respite from the heavy lifting — and so ASEB is here to support that. We have two centers — three centres before the pandemic — one in the Fremont area, the South Bay of Alameda County, and the North Bay in Berkeley. And I’m just honored to be the CEO here and the Executive Director. It’s hard work, but it’s fulfilling work because we get to see caregivers who say “Thank you”, and we get to see a smile on a person’s face that maybe doesn’t remember what day of the week it is. So, thank you for asking about Alzheimer’s Services. I’ve been here 24 years, so it must mean something to me. It’s been a great marriage. 

Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. And as someone who lost his wife 14 months ago to Alzheimer’s and dementia, and went through it for seven years, I am so grateful for that resource. And it is a compassionate service. We’re not alone in this; there are millions that are touched by this and millions more – because it’s growing – that will be. So, thank you for your contribution in this area to so many lives. 

Micheal Pope: Thank you for having us present that because everybody, every person may become a caregiver in their lives at some point, whether it’d be with a family member, as you were with someone that you love, or just a neighbor down the street who you know has dementia and you go and you’re saying, “I’m going to the grocery store.” So, we are all caregivers of each other. And ASEB just brings that together in a model that makes it available to a lot of people. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. Now, I met Micheal on her podcast show. Tell us about that. 

Micheal Pope: Oh my goodness! “Life is a Sacred Journey” is this incredible child that was birthed by a group of young people that I had the honor of mentoring. They were international students from Japan and Belgium — all over the world — and they came for a six-month mentorship, and they said to me exactly what you said, “Your personality – you need to share it with the world. You need to share your pearls with the world.” And I thought I already was doing that in my work. And they said, “No, there’s this thing called a podcast.” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” And the pandemic happened, and we were doing a podcast that was just on Blog Talk Radio, where that was easy to do because nobody was seeing me. And then in the year of the pandemic, Felicia, who is now our producer, said, “You’ve got to go live, they’ve got to see you.” And I am so thankful to her for that. We now have hundreds and thousands of listeners worldwide, and we are supporting people through this sacred journey of life with caregiver tips, self-help tips. And we’re also helping other folks, like why you came with your book, Do What Matters Most, is to share these gems of things that are happening in the community that can help people to really live better. “Life is a Sacred Journey” is a dream come true, and I could never have imagined that it would have touched so many lives as it has today. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, great going. That was so fun being your guest. 

Micheal Pope: We had a ball. Go back and look at it, you guys, if you didn’t. 

Steve Shallenberger: We did have a ball. Well, Micheal, what are some of your key lessons learned, professionally, that have helped you and your teams and organization be successful? 

Micheal Pope: I love that question, and thank you, Steve, for raising it. It is, for me, being transformative. Being a transformative leader – a leader who looks at herself all the time and has to make the fundamental decision, “Is the leadership role that I’m playing today, the leadership role that is needed?” You just stated, I’ve been at ASEB 24 years, I’ve been in this role for a minute. And at the end of the day, revisiting my Why: why am I here? What is the purpose? What is the vision? What is the dream? Because we know, and as you outline in your book, vision and dream are two different things; how do we do that? Also, how do I plan for a future that not only embraces myself and my self-worth and my growth, but the individuals around me? The most important thing a leader can do is listen – listen with intention, listen with clarity – and then also look at your own biases and the things that have restricted your thoughts, and flush those thoughts through that. Because when we don’t recognize that we’re hearing through a filter of life experiences, we sometimes can lead people in a way that is detrimental to their personal growth and to the organization that you’re leading. So, that, to me, is the primary thing: listening, having a vision, being willing to dream, and then embracing your team and ensuring that you create opportunities for personal growth for them so that you grow and the organization grows as well. 

Steve Shallenberger: Those are powerful! Micheal, do you mind sharing maybe an experience or two on how you learned those lessons? 

Micheal Pope: This is a great story. When ASEB was looking at partnering with the city of Fremont – the city of Fremont is a city in the Northern California. It’s an upscale neighborhood and we wanted to partner with a faith-based organization, and we did. But understanding that the language of the faith-based organization and then the language of the nonprofit were very different and while, in fact, we come under the nonprofit criteria, and we do need to make a profit in order to serve the families that we serve. So, I go into the meeting, thinking I’ve got this because I’m a person of faith, I get what their focus is, and they want to serve, I want to serve, and I was feeling myself that day, like, “I got this. I’m a good leader. I’ve been doing this a long time.” And I walked into the meeting, and I began to speak, and I forgot who my audience was – I forgot that the audience were a group of nuns that did not have a clue about the model that I was presenting to them. And I could easily see, after 30 minutes – way too long because my agenda was way more important, I should’ve recognized it in five or 10 minutes that I was losing them – that I lost them. I completely lost them and had to realize that after the meeting was over because of the number of emails and phone calls that I got with questions that I thought I had responded to. And so I’ve learned to prepare by, first of all, when you’re doing those kinds of meetings, to really call the audience and say, “What are you expecting to get out of this? What are you expecting to hear from me? What are the directions that you would like to see me go?” So, I learned to be humble, one. And I also learned that it’s not about me bringing my grandiose ideas about ASEB and everything to the forefront, it’s about listening and then matching my grandiose ideas with the ideas of the partner, people, or the persons or the company that I’m giving the presentation.  

Micheal Pope: That was a hard day for me, Steve, because I could tell that I lost them and I didn’t really know how to put the fishing rod back in and reel them back in. So, I ended the meeting, and then the next thing I knew, my phone was ringing, emails were happening, and I had to go back. And it took another year to bring that relationship back around to intentional listening, intentional focus, spending time together, getting to know each other to finally come up with a plan that is a wonderful program that we partnered together with, now six years later. So, that would be my one advice is, don’t always take what you are into the situation and think that’s all that people want to hear about you and your organization or whatever you’re representing. Do some homework, get engaged with who your audience is, and then present what you know, from your conversations, from your pre-work that they want to hear. And then it’ll be a more engaging experience, and you’ll get to that sweet spot a lot quicker. 

Steve Shallenberger: Now, that’s some serious sage advice right there. And the fact is that I love, first of all, listening is an attitude, it’s a mindset that I don’t know it all, and therefore, I have a need to listen, and I can learn from every single person that walks on this planet. And I will be better by taking the time to do it. The other thing that stood out for me, Micheal, is that listening starts before you ever get in the meeting. It’s starting to be open and asking them questions, their expectations. So, by the time you get in, now you’re a little more prepared to say, “But do I have it?” And then you can get into sharing, you’re having a shared vision and sharing your dreams together, and then you really collaborate, and then you’re cooking without molasses then. 

Micheal Pope: Authenticity that then is in the room is a place where you can build vision and dream, and then build strategy. Because, again, we know that vision and dream live in the nebulae unless you have a strategy to make them real. 

Steve Shallenberger: If you had the chance to sit down with someone who was joining your team, what would be one or two things that you would say to them about what it means to be a great team member? 

Micheal Pope: The one thing would be, again, to be a great listener and to realize that a team member never throws the other member of the team under the bus, that that team member, as a team, you understand the job description or the tasks before the other team members, you look for ways to participate to be a part of the heavy lifting, you look for opportunities to when that team member is not at their best that maybe you can help them and they can help you. Being a member of a team means you’re looking for that place where you can bring your skill. I played basketball for many years and I understood – no matter if I was playing center or whatever the position was – if the ball was coming towards me, it was my role to either get it to the best shooter or to take an opportunity and shoot it myself if I thought it was for the win. So, those are the kinds of things that when you bring into your work world or you bring into your personal world, that creates that space where interaction happens, and it’s uplifting for everybody. But if you join the team only looking for the weakness of the other team members so that you can make yourself look better, that’s not a team, and it will soon create a division in the team, and the team will soon not be productive. So, I think that would be my first thing is don’t go in looking for the weaknesses of your other team members; look for their strengths, look at your strengths, your SWOT, do your own personal SWOT, and then bring that into the whole team dynamic so that you can be better as a team. Because I am no good if the members of my team are not at their optimum best, then I am no good; my work doesn’t benefit in any way, shape, or form. But when they’re cooking with gas, and they’re doing what they need to do, and they’re excited and on fire for their roles, then I am too. And then you have a team that produces great thing. Sports teams that win, people need to watch them. They win because they found out what their Achilles’ heel was, they found out what their strengths were, and then they came together as a cohesive team and they said, “Let’s go for the win.” And it was not just one person leading the win, rah-rah; it was every member of the team. 

Steve Shallenberger: That is really great advice, and I love the examples. I was talking with a member of a National Football League team, which I will not say the name of the team, but I will say they’ve been in the cellar for about five years – almost the worst team in the NFL. He said one of the things he was shocked about, he’s played three or four years in professional football, he said, “Everybody on this team is out for themself, that’s why we’re losing.” He says, “We don’t have a vision together, and it’s so counterproductive.” But if you look at, like you said, any team, almost. Well, we have an NFL championship game coming up, you look at these top-tier teams, there’s camaraderie, they’ve got each other’s back, which means they do have to listen and be tuned in to how they can contribute. So, a good example of that. 

Micheal Pope: And Steve, the last thing I didn’t say is then I can hold you accountable. If you and I are working together as a team and I’m falling short, then as a team member, you can push me, nudge me, and hold me accountable for what I say I bring to the team. And I can hear you because we have a relationship that is trust, and we’re constantly growing from exposure to reach up. 

Steve Shallenberger: Micheal, how have you balanced the personal demands in your life, like self, family, and being successful professionally? How do you balance it?  

Micheal Pope: Not very well until the last, probably, five years where I began to realize that the balance was off in many ways. When my children were growing up, it was easy to have that parental balance and things because you had to be home, and it was important to me to be home for dinner, homework, and all of those things. Where it got imbalanced was when they went off to college and it was just me. And all of a sudden, I had all this extra time: no more basketball games, no more track meets, no more theater, no more extracurricular lives with children. And I found I became a workaholic to the point that I didn’t even know when to stop; I was bringing stuff home and all of that. And I realized, I began to resent the position that I loved so much, because it was eating up more time than I should have been giving it. I was giving it because I didn’t know where else to put the time. So, what I started to do is to really explore your book. This is not a commercial, guys, for Do What Matters Wost, but I have to just say, in it, it asks for you to look at all your roles. And I began to look at all my roles, which I have a lot of roles in my life, and I started to realize I wasn’t giving enough time to the roles that mattered the most, the things that really fuel me, which is time with my family; aunt, uncles, people that I love. And when I began to shift it, and say, for every couple of hours that I give to ASEB, I’ve got to give double of that to my family. And I consciously started doing that, and boy, what a difference that made. I cross off days that are just for me, for me to go and disappear somewhere off the grid. And then there are days that I have with my daughter. And so, yeah, the balance has to be conscious, because I love what I do – and so it can pull me in and I don’t even feel like, “Oh my gosh, it’s nine o’clock already.” So, I think it’s being conscious and giving. This is it. Knowing that you got the degree for your life the day you were born. And the day you were born, you were given a purpose and a trajectory, that everything that you did, education, all the things that you did, the people you got around you prepared you for catapulting into this life. But it didn’t mean that it was going to be the 100%; you’ve got to have other things. And that’s what I began to do and I’m living my best life now. There’s a balance. When I leave my office, give or take, maybe every once in a while I’ll have a meeting at home – I try not to do that a lot. But yeah, I just make time. But it is, I will tell you that looking at your roles, writing them down – oh my goodness – writing down the rolls and really looking at how much time you give them or don’t give them was eye-opening, heartbreaking, soul-lifting. And I think we all need to do that at least once or twice a year to just make sure we’re doing what we’re purposed to do. 

Steve Shallenberger: What a great answer. Thank you. And that’s so illustrative and so helpful to have you share that. Now, on the personal side, what are two or three things of your greatest lessons learned in life? And what experience has taught you those? And then we’re going to wrap it up. I’m just always shocked how fast time goes. 

Micheal Pope: I know, right? Time flies when we’re having fun. Well, Steve, I know you will understand this, and I hope that your listeners and podcast followers will understand. On the personal side, one of the biggest lessons that I had to learn in my life was that not everybody who looks one way or acts one way is going to end up being who you think they are – big lesson in life. As an African-American woman growing up in this world — and I won’t tell my age but I’m older than I look — I felt some things in my life moving into new experiences traveling around the world. And I began to realize that when we learn something in a bubble, that’s just what it is; you’ve learned it in a bubble. And in order to grow from that bubble, the bubble has to be popped and you have to be able to go out and experience other things, or then you become confined by this bubble that sometimes has a lot of bad darkness and hatred and all kinds of gobbly goop in it because of one experience, one interaction, or one thing that you know. So, I’ve learned, and I think I taught my children this, this is the one gift I pray I’ve given them, to travel the world, go out and meet other people, talk to people. If you’re afraid of anything, that’s the one thing you need to go and seek and figure out why you have fear of it and rise above it because the “rising above it” is glorious. The first time that I met a skinhead, I met him in a situation where I was scared, I was nervous. He was a recovering addict and had left the life of that. But because he was wearing it and I could physically see it, it frightened me, and I was unable to go beyond the barrier of his physicality until he and I sat down and had a cup of coffee together. And he had to overcome what he had been taught about me. And now I’m here to tell you, he is a very dear friend, he takes care of my car and keeps my car moving. And whenever people see him hug me, they are shocked and they don’t quite understand how this could happen. And it’s because I was willing to forgive, I was willing to hear and to listen, and I was willing to move beyond the place where he could even have possibly imagined that he and I would go, and now he is a very dear friend to me. 

Micheal Pope: So, my one advice to all of you out there: be willing to move beyond what you think you know because it may not be the truth, one. And number two, everybody has an opportunity to change, and forgiveness is one of the biggest gifts that we have and that we can share. Number two is to love yourself. Love yourself, be yourself, and know that who you are is magnificent. And even though it may not fit into the normality of stereotypes or other things that are going on in the world, it is authentic people that are successful. Believe it or not, authentic people who show up as they are, who they know they are, believing in themselves; those are the successful people in the world, because they can go anywhere and navigate any situation with clarity, with respect for themselves and for others. So, those are the two life lessons that I would love to share with all of you, and I pray that those resonate with you in any way that you want to use them.  

Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’ll tell you, for our listeners, Micheal is just an absolute gem. You can probably hear it in my voice why I like her so much. You’ve got a light and a feeling and it’s lifting and edifying and loving and caring. So, great going, Micheal. 

Micheal Pope: Thank you, Steven, so do you. We are friends. It’s impossible – people think you have to have all this life experience with an individual to call them friend. But we need to also understand, there is a tentacle, there is a line, there is a thread that is the human thread. And when we give ourselves an opportunity to let that shine within each of us, we will make friends all over the world and they don’t have to just be your neighbor. So, thank you for being my neighbor and being my friend and having me on this podcast with you. It’s been an honor. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, you bet. And, Micheal, how can people find out about you? 

Micheal Pope: You can go to Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay, our website, You can go to Micheal Pope Productions if you want to talk to me about guest speaking or coming on “Life is a Sacred Journey” or just to learn more about me as a person, and just feel free to reach out. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thanks, Micheal, for being part of our show today. 

Micheal Pope: Thank you. And thank you for the glorious friendship that we have. And let’s continue to keep talking and making the world a better place.  

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, we’ll do, that’s a deal. And what a great and productive visit this has been today. And we wish you all the best as you’re making a difference in the world. And thank you for listening and blessing so many other people in your own right. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership wishing you the best today and always.  


Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.

Micheal Pope


Public Speaker, Professional Leader, Podcast Host and passionate about motivating people

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