Sheila Murray Bethel, Ph.D.
155 Las Juntas Way,Walnut Creek 94597
Having emigrated to the U.S. from Croatia, the parents of Sheila Murray Bethel instilled in their daughter a fascination with leaders, encouraging her to learn about the country she was born into. Together they studied American presidents and lived the example of leadership in their community, starting a chapter of Girl Scouts, opening a library and a community center.
And through this, they taught her that exceptional leaders help people who have less than they do and to always observe what makes a great leader.
It’s no wonder, then, that she grew up to be a woman who has worked on projects with four U.S. presidents, created and hosted two National Public Broadcasting television specials, was appointed to the Board of Advisors for America’s Promise by Secretary of State Colin Powell and established the first privately owned business training center in Eastern Europe – not to mention she is a bestselling author and a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame with more than 3,000 presentations to over 2 million people in 20 countries.
With a Ph.D. in communications, which she earned in 1998, Dr. Murray Bethel said it wasn’t her formal education that taught her how to connect with an audience, which is what makes a strong communicator. She had to learn how to use body language and words and how to deliver the message in a way that connects people and forms common bonds.
But she didn’t start out as a professional presenter. She began in the health care industry, then moved to mortgage banking to better support her family as a single mother of two boys.
One day at a seminar, she heard a speaker and realized she knew as much as he did, he was just great at presenting it. So she called him and told him she wanted to get into the industry.
“You really want me working for you, not your competition,” she told him. “He invited me to lunch, and I was hired on the spot.”
After two years of using her sales skills to make just enough to pay rent, she was told there was not really room for a woman speaker in the company. With only a high school education, she struck on out her own, convincing companies they should take a chance on having the first-ever woman leadership keynote speaker.
That is how she broke into the corporate world, which at the time had no women chief executives and only one professional female speaker, Dr. Eden Ryl, later to become one of her greatest mentors.
“It took eight years of 12 hours a day of work to get the guys to let me in,” she said. “At first, eight out of 10 turned me down, two said yes. After about eight years, half would hire me.”
Even today, she was just hired for five speaking engagements by a major insurer that said it had never had a female keynote speaker before.
In the ’80s, Dr. Murray Bethel met Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued Roe vs. Wade, and was nominated by her to the first White House Council on Women formed to look at women’s issues. She made it to the final three, and though not selected, she learned how to access the president’s personal secretary.
This came in useful when President George Bush Sr. announced the Citizens Democracy Corps in 1990, formed to support private-sector development and economic growth in emerging markets worldwide. She called the president’s secretary, told her she had just written a new leadership book and was ready – where did the president want her to go?
Within a week, 14 seminars were set up working with the first chambers of commerce in Poland.
“We spent four months developing and translating handout materials, went, and were there during the election,” she said. “It was the most moving two weeks of my business life.”
She and her husband and partner in the Bethel Institute, Bill Bethel, lectured on what customer service means in a non-totalitarian state and how to do business with western countries.
“We were there for the birth of a democracy,” Dr. Murray Bethel said. “I hope in this new age to be able to go to China and into Africa and impoverished countries and help the global dialogue of what leadership means.”
With her first deal with a Chinese publisher in the works for her newest book, she appears to be on her way.
Her latest of five books, “A New Breed of Leader: 8 Leadership Qualities that Matter Most in the Real World – What Works, What Doesn’t and Why,” (Berkeley, March 2009) explores the essential qualities needed to be an effective leader in the 21st century.
“In spite of all our global problems, there is so much possibility to make the whole world a better place. Even in the troubled areas where horrible things are happening, they are ripe to try to build connectedness and community.”
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