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Unleashing the Power of Inspirational Leadership: A Conversation with Charlene Wheeless on Company Culture, Resilience, and Compassion

Miranda Young
Monday, Oct 23, 2023
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When it comes to inspirational leadership, few voices resonate as profoundly as that of Charlene Wheeless. She is many things — an advocate for intentional leadership, a cancer survivor, and a passionate proponent of humanity, empathy, and compassion. Wheeless has become a trailblazing force of change in the corporate culture world.

Wheeless has led a career path that embodies resilience, empowerment, and transformation. With an impressive background as a C-suite executive, Wheeless learned firsthand the pivotal role of company culture in shaping organizational success. During her time as an executive, her life took an unexpected turn when she faced a battle with cancer — an experience that would become a catalyst for her remarkable transition into the realm of public speaking. Wheeless's journey into inspirational speaking was born from the profound lessons she learned during this difficult time in her life, instilling in her a belief in the power of choice and personal transformation. Today, she stands as a passionate advocate for intentional leadership, empathy, and compassionate cultures, captivating audiences with her authentic storytelling and transformative messages.

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Wheeless about her remarkable journey. She shared how her experiences forged her into a champion for positive change and an expert in the inspirational leadership space. With insights drawn from her interviews and keynotes, we’ll learn what is behind Wheeless’s profound sense of purpose, and how she shares impactful knowledge in her keynote speaking.

What Drives Your Passion for Addressing Company Culture in Your Keynote Speeches?

20232310173341CAW-Headshot.jpg (40 KB)Charlene Wheeless is a beacon of inspiration with a mission of transforming company culture. Growing up as a little, black girl in Oakland she spent her whole life being unheard and defined by others who didn’t know her as less than. As she grew older, she learned how to navigate her life with these hurdles and go beyond. She became a trailblazer not a token, a victor not a victim, and most importantly, she learned how to be seen.

Her passion stems from the crucible of her career as a C-suite executive, where she learned firsthand the pivotal role culture plays in an organization's success. At 35 years old she was running a 3 billion dollar company and at 45 she was an executive at a 40 billion dollar firm. According to most, and herself at the time, she had made it; she was successful. But, the stress of code-switching every day — enough to not be a threat or a pet — left her unfulfilled. When she was diagnosed with cancer at the height of her career, the facade she built came crumbling down and, for the first time, she allowed herself to be exactly who she really is — imperfect.

Wheeless’s mission in life is to inspire everyone who feels disenfranchised, marginalized, forgotten, and ignored to embrace and reclaim their lives with purpose, passion, and unapologetic authenticity. Her keynote speaking allows her to reach the individual, while also making large-scale change within organizations. She firmly believes that a diverse and inclusive culture is not a one-size-fits-all concept; instead, it should be purposefully designed to embrace the uniqueness of each individual. Through her keynotes, she encourages organizations to embark on this transformative journey towards a more inclusive and vibrant culture that allows everyone to be their true selves.

How Did Your Experience Battling and Overcoming Cancer Contribute to the Change in Your Career Path?

Life often unfolds in unexpected ways, and Wheeless's journey took a profound turn when she faced an aggressive and life-threatening cancer diagnosis. Initially, Wheeless’s doctors thought the treatment would be short, but life threw her unforeseen challenges as her battle stretched over the course of five years.

This life-altering experience prompted Wheeless to reassess her path, step into her divine power, and choose to finally allow her true self to be seen and heard. The battle with cancer was a catalyst for change, steering her toward a career in inspirational speaking, and sharing her life’s lessons with others. Her remarkable resilience and unwavering spirit serve as a testament to her belief in the power of choice and the capacity for personal transformation.

Why Do You Emphasize Humanity, Empathy, and Compassion as Essential Attributes for Great Leaders?

In a rapidly evolving world, Wheeless is at the forefront of redefining the qualities required for exceptional leadership. Her emphasis on humanity, empathy, and compassion underscores the need for an ever-evolving leadership landscape.

Drawing from her own experiences, Wheeless acknowledges that leadership was once a privilege rather than a responsibility. Today, leaders must exhibit the ability to connect with their teams on a profoundly human level. In an era marked by social and political complexities, leaders who embrace these qualities are more likely to foster trust, collaboration, and resilience within their organizations.

What Is the Core Message Behind Your Keynote Speech, "Choice, Not Chance"?

Wheeless's keynote, "Choice, Not Chance" serves as a beacon of transformation. At its core, this powerful message revolves around the concept of choice — the deliberate choices individuals and organizations make to shape their leadership and culture.

Wheeless's keynote empowers everyone, from top-level executives to grassroots team members, by reinforcing the notion that every decision holds transformative potential. Through her relatable storytelling and unwavering authenticity, Wheeless encourages individuals to recognize the impact of their choices and take ownership of their journeys.

How Do You Weave Authenticity into Your Keynotes, and Why Is It So Impactful?

Authenticity is Charlene Wheeless's secret weapon in captivating her audiences. She doesn't merely deliver speeches; she shares her lived experiences and personal journey. In the process, she creates a powerful connection with her listeners.

Authenticity, according to Wheeless, fosters a deeper understanding of her messages and resonates profoundly with her audiences. Her approach to speaking is unique and sure to invite vulnerability by encouraging open dialogue. She believes that authenticity allows her audiences to see themselves in her stories, making her messages more relatable and impactful.

How Can Your Keynotes Transform Perspectives on Leadership and Culture?

Wheeless’s keynotes are more than presentations; they're transformative conversations. By combining storytelling with profound insights, Wheeless challenges organizations to embrace intentional leadership and inclusive cultures. Her inspirational messages encourage leaders to acknowledge the uniqueness of their team members and foster environments where every individual can contribute in a meaningful way.

Through her captivating storytelling, she shines a light on the path to positive change within organizations, prompting leaders to reevaluate their approaches and embrace the power of intentional leadership.

Charlene Wheeless is not just an inspirational speaker; she's a catalyst for profound change. Her unique blend of authentic storytelling and insightful perspectives on leadership and culture offers organizations a chance to reimagine their paths. By bringing Wheeless to your next event as a guide on your transformative journey, your organization can empower their leaders, enrich their cultures, and foster a more inclusive and vibrant workplace. As Wheeless often says, "It's not about what happens by chance; it's about the choices we make that change everything."

Through her inspirational keynotes, she invites organizations to embrace those choices and chart a new course toward a brighter future. With Charlene Wheeless as their co-pilot, organizations can confidently take flight toward their own moments of leadership and cultural excellence.


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