According to last quarter’s oft-cited CareerBuilder survey, only about one third of American workers aspire to leadership positions.
Hispanics (35%), African Americans (39%), men (40%), and LGBT (44%) all aspired more than the national average. But a 2011 study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that a full 64% of Asians and Asian Americans surveyed aspired to “top jobs,” but their representation in Fortune 500 companies’ senior management was grim at around 2%.
There’s lots of great advice out there about breaking the bamboo ceiling and leaning in. Most importantly, career advisors point out that Asians and Asian Americans in the United States will find they must adapt their approach as they move up the ranks, a process that is slower and more difficult than for their Caucasian peers. Cultural values like humility, deference to authority, and sacrifice, which may have helped you up to this point, won’t necessarily land you on the Board of Directors or in the C Suite. On the contrary, these attitudes might signal to higher-ups that you aren’t leadership material.
But should you give up those values? A further CTI study among people of color found that many felt that conforming to “white male standards...would cost them in terms of authenticity.” Conforming to this “‘bleached out professionalism’...contributes to feelings of resentment and disengagement”, suppresses the very diversity we need more of in our business leadership, and ultimately erases the trust and integrity that an authentic leader should convey.
So how can you improve your leadership skills - while staying true to yourself and your cultural values?
In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review about authenticity in leadership, Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior and author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (out February 10th on Amazon), offered advice for facing the challenges of becoming a leader while staying true to yourself.
1. Redefine your sense of self.
When we change roles in our careers, especially when it means taking on new responsibilities and a higher level of scrutiny, it’s often tempting to fall back on comfortable habits and behaviors that make us feel more like our “real” selves. But are these habits and behaviors really a reflection of your values and objectives, or are they simply the easiest course of action when confronted with the challenges of learning something new?
Growing into a new role, says Ibarra, “takes courage, because learning, by definition, starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors that can make us feel calculating instead of genuine and spontaneous. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and ultimately become better leaders is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”
Remember, identity is not static - especially a professional identity. Look at your leadership skill set as a work in progress, rather than resisting change and growth.
2. Share your ideas.
You’re starting a new job - so naturally you have some learning to do. But just because you may be struggling in some new areas doesn’t mean you should keep your ideas and your work undercover.
You may dismiss self-promotion as unproductive, preferring to prove your worth by keeping your head down and working hard, but Ibarra points out that “leadership growth usually involves a shift from having good ideas to pitching them.” Previously, it may have been your managers’ responsibility to recognize your hard work - but now it’s up to you to prove your worth.
“Until we see career advancement as a way of extending our reach and increasing our impact in the organization—a collective win, not just a selfish pursuit—we have trouble feeling authentic when touting our strengths to influential people,” she continues.
In fact, you may be tempted to go the opposite route and show your team you can relate to them, and that you’re honest and transparent about your shortcomings. But as Cynthia Danaher realized when she first took on a new role as General Manager of 5,300 employees at HP, telling the Wall Street Journal, “People say they want a leader to be vulnerable just like them, but deep down they want to believe you have the skill to move and fix things they can't."
Moreover, concluded the reporter who spoke to her, Carol Hymowitz, “once a manager is in charge of thousands of employees, the ability to set direction and delegate is more vital than team-building and coaching.”
3. Learn how to take criticism.
Ibarra found that new leaders often have difficulty accepting criticism than they did in previous roles because feedback is often directed at his or her “style” of leading, which can feel personal and a part of one’s identity. In an effort to preserve authenticity, new leaders might cling to their old habits - in spite of their employees’ negative feedback.
She suggests adopting “a playful frame of mind. Think of leadership development as trying on possible selves rather than working on yourself—which, let’s face it, sounds like drudgery. When we adopt a playful attitude, we’re more open to possibilities. It’s OK to be inconsistent from one day to the next. That’s not being a fake; it’s how we experiment to figure out what’s right for the new challenges and circumstances we face.”
4. Choose diverse role models.
As a leader, you should be constantly striving to learn and grow - your own progress will impact the company and its employees to a far higher degree than it did at lower levels of management.
The importance of mentors has been cited in countless articles. We see it firsthand at Asian MBA’s Annual Leadership Conference & Career Expo - watching CEOs and leaders across industries share coffee and leadership tips with MBA grads at our Mentoring Breakfast is one of the most fulfilling and personal moments of the weekend.
But the key is to find a mentor - and then find another. And another.
If you want to be an authentic leader, you’ll need to find a personal leadership style that works for you. Simply imitating one person you admire will always feel fake, because it is.
Similarly, rejecting possible mentors because they aren’t perfect models could mean missing out on a wealth of educational material. Perhaps your manager embodies some qualities that you deeply admire, and others that you detest. Don’t write them off. Show interest and make an effort with your superiors, and you’d be surprised how much coaching and mentoring they’re willing to provide.
5. Tell a new story.
You know that “defining moment” story you tell people - about those wise words your grandfather would always tell you, or that time you nearly died and had to reevaluate all of your life choices?
OK - so you know who you are. Your managers and your employees know who you are. And you may think of your grandfather’s words every time you find yourself questioning who you are.
But is this your only story?
“Most of us have personal narratives about defining moments that taught us important lessons. Consciously or not, we allow our stories, and the images of ourselves that they paint, to guide us in new situations. But the stories can become outdated as we grow, so sometimes it’s necessary to alter them dramatically or even to throw them out and start from scratch,” says Ibarra.
She urges new leaders to “Try out new stories about yourself, and keep editing them, much as you would your résumé.”
Time and again at our Annual Asian MBA Leadership Conference, we hear the same line from top executives of Pan-Asian heritage speaking to MBA students and alumni: It takes more than hard work.
While this advice, as well as Ibarra’s, can help many jobseekers advance their careers, we find it’s particularly helpful for anyone trying to reconcile their cultural heritage with the challenges faced by all new leaders.
By Tracy Kawabata, Asian MBA Staff Editor.
NEW YORK - January 14, 2015.
It’s been a little under a month since the Office of the Surgeon General re-opened with its new leader, Indian American M.D. and M.B.A. Dr. Vivek Murthy, at the helm.
The delay in the Senate following Murthy’s nomination by the President in 2013 left Americans without a strong voice on public health for over a year, notably following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the panic surrounding its spread this past autumn to American soil.
Widely applauded in public health and medical communities, Murthy graduated from Harvard magna cum laude in three years, going on to obtain an M.B.A. and an M.D. from Yale. At 37 years old, he is the youngest to occupy the post to date, and not unlike the bright, young community organizer-cum-politician who nominated him, he could be reasonably criticized as a contender due to his age and relative lack of experience.
But one thing that hasn’t been much discussed is his race.
While the 47-year-old presidential candidate Barack Obama was often portrayed by detractors as a foreigner with a strange name and questionable nationality (remember that elusive birth certificate?), the debate surrounding Murthy actually stemmed from a statement he made on Twitter in 2012:
Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they're scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue. #debatehealth— Vivek Murthy (@vivek_murthy) October 17, 2012
The Tweet, along with an open letter to Congress he later penned with Doctors for America pushing for stricter gun control measures, led to strong pushback from the NRA and unusual discord over a title that bestows no direct legislative power. Regina Benjamin, the former Surgeon General under President Barack Obama, was confirmed unanimously, as was Richard Carmona before her under George W. Bush; the final Senate approval for Murthy was as narrow as many of its typical divisive, party-line votes at 51-43.
Whether or not the Surgeon General will use his new position as “bully pulpit” to lecture Americans about gun safety, his confirmation comes as a victory to Asian Americans. (And if he does start talking about guns, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Director of the National Asian American Survey and AAPIdata.com, argues that gun control is an Asian American issue, with 80% of Asian American respondents supporting stricter gun control measures versus a 50% average among registered US voters.)
Murthy is the first Indian American to hold the title, which confers the rank of Vice Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
"Our diaspora plays by the rules, and we really deserved to have a candidate who is one of us up there," Dr. Ravi Jahagirdar, president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, told the Huffington Post.
The sentiment has been echoed time and again by minority groups lacking representation in government. It was only in late December last year that the first Indian American Ambassador to India, Richard Rahul Verma, was sworn in.
Surprisingly, the post of the Surgeon General, which has existed since 1871, has been comparatively diverse over the past decades.
The first woman to occupy the position was Antonia C. Novello in 1990 under George H.W. Bush, and she was succeeded under Bill Clinton by Joycelyn Elders, the first African American to hold the title. David Satcher, an African American four-star admiral and Assistant Secretary for Health, followed in 1998. The interim following Satcher’s term was filled by Acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu, a Japanese American, for a period of one year.
Murthy has maintained a low public profile in the weeks following his confirmation, but has already taken measures to encourage health coverage enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, speaking off the record to Asian American groups like Asian MBA about its impact in the community.
Health care, the Obama administration and the Surgeon General stress, is an area of particular importance when it comes to unmet needs in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. According to the White House’s AAPI Initiative, the Number 1 objective is to “improve overall health outcomes for AAPIs by reducing health risks, improving access to quality health care, and promoting healthy living.”
Murthy was a physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School before his nomination, but has also put his MBA to work by founding and managing Doctors for America, a group supporting comprehensive health reform, along with a nonprofit focused on HIV/AIDS education and a web platform that optimizes clinical trial operations.
“Dr. Murthy’s confirmation strengthens the AAPI community’s voice and presence, and marks a positive step toward addressing the need for greater diversity in all levels of government,” said Congressman Mike Honda in a statement from CAPAC, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “His confirmation also gives voice to overcoming AAPI health disparities and barriers to health care, including a lack of available culturally competent and linguistically accessible health care. As a physician, educator, and innovator, Dr. Murthy’s wealth of knowledge on public health issues will ensure his success in his new role. I’m looking forward to his great work safeguarding the health of our nation.”
Although I was committed to provide you with as much relevant and useful information as possible to you all, but I haven't done that for the past few months. From here on, since many ends are now tied, I should be able to concentrate on doing that. At the same time, I need help from all of you to be active as well. When we start our dialogue and exchange ideas, we can all benefit from it.
For now, everyone's focus is on our upcoming 6th annual Asian MBA Leadership Conference & Career Expo in October in NYC. I am going to make sure I update the information on the website. Not only the name of the companies that signs up from now until the event day, but I am also going to post as much details as possible on the job titles they will be coming to recruit for along with the job location, H!B sponsorship, and any other helpful information.
I would like to encourage you to participate at the Forum discussion on 2014 Conference. Ask me any questions you might have or talk about anything you'd like.
I just attended and spoke at the annual conference which is the largest gathering of MBA career services professionals and MBA recruiters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was a great conference and I learned a lot and I wanted to share with you my take away.
- Many schools are trying to help out Asian, especially international students, but they are very much frustrated with lack of options
- Compared to their academic credentials and qualifications, they severely lack "soft skills" which are critical to securing best jobs possible. Schools feel that not enough is done to improve their soft skills and looking for better ways to help them improve.
- There are many other ways to secure offers in addition to speaking with HR (recruiters) at the companies. Networking with those who work for the target companies is identified as the most important effort.
- I spoke at the session titled, "how to maximize the benefit of attending diversity conferences". At the session, the most important topic that came up was that.. students don't prepare enough before attending the conference, including conducting research, prioritizing the target companies, registering early to allow companies to search the resume database, and sharpening their interview skills.
Since Asian student population represent at a significant portion of their student body, those attending the conference had a significant interests in matters relating to Asian students. A lot of discussions are taking place and better ways of helping them are being actively sought. I hope all us can work together to help out Asian students in a meaningful and effective way. Please feel free to reach out to me or post something if you have any suggestions or start a dialogue.
My name is Jino Ahn and I am looking forward to getting to know you all and trying to help as many of you as I can through this blog. I must confess that I’ve never blogged in my life, so I am a little nervous (actually a lot) about committing myself to writing here regularly. However, I do believe I can help many of you to find jobs and develop your careers using my past experiences and connections at American companies as well as multinational corporations.
To briefly introduce myself, 27 years ago, right after I graduated from college, I founded and ran a company called, Asian Diversity, whose mission is to help and empower Asian students and working professionals. I was motivated to splash into unfamiliar water, largely due to what I personally experienced during my senior year in college. I was clueless as to what I was supposed to be doing in terms of finding the right job. Particularly, I didn’t see how my Asian background played into the process of finding a job and starting my career. I desperately looked for help, but there wasn’t any. Then, it came to me. I thought to myself, “There must be so many others like me, who must go through what I am experiencing right now and there are bound to be more in the future.” So, I thought it would be worthwhile to start a social venture to help.
Throughout my entire career, I have used many different tools to accomplish what I set out to do, including being a headhunter, organizing the Asian Diversity Career Expo (the first of its kind), starting an Asian professional website (AsianLife.com) which included an online magazine and job board, and organizing the Asian MBA Leadership Conference & Career Expo. I also founded and ran the National Association of Asian MBAs for two years. Now, my latest venture is this AsianMBA.org website, which I hope will be the place where Asian job seekers and employers around the world will find and engage with one another and provide the most effective place for everyone to broaden their network online as well as offline.
Over the years, I have built my reputation on being a “doer” rather than a “talker.” I am committed now more than ever to deliver tangible benefits to all community members of this site. In addition to giving career advice and sharing my knowledge with you, I will focus on providing information on JOBS since that is the most missing and valued.
I encourage all of you to become active members of this online community. Invite your friends, ask questions, and make connections with others. I will do my part and speak with as many employers as possible to deliver job openings in the U.S. and Asia, while writing here as often as possible. Now I ask you to do yours and get involved.
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