How I charted my course as a leaderFeatured

Reflecting on my 13 years of experience as a marketing and data science professional in the tech industry, I feel immensely grateful for the opportunities, experiences, and people I met on this journey. As an immigrant and often one of the few women in the room, I'm very proud of my ability to find my voice as a leader and build a supportive network that has been crucial in charting my unique path.

On Becoming a “leader”

While many view management as the sole path to leadership, my experience in Silicon Valley's dynamic culture presented diverse opportunities and paths.

Given the chance to choose between people management or technical individual contributor, I seized the opportunity to determine which route to take. I did a lot of soul-searching in the actual working environment, taking on different projects and stretching various skills in various areas in and outside of workplaces. I also consulted other senior professionals or mentors who could provide me with insights into different lifestyles and careers.

Opting for a managerial role, I embraced my strengths and what genuinely drives me. Over the years, as I continue to grow as a manager in the workplace and as a member of my communities, I’ve learned that leadership is not just about a job title. Leadership is about how you show up, engage, and influence others in the communities you are part of toward a goal or cause.

I hope these insights can provide some clarity as you contemplate what type of leader you want to be and how you are creating your own leadership style.

Learning 1: Know who you are

Understand who you are, your strengths, values, and motivations. This knowledge will help you identify the leadership opportunities that best suit you, such as being a people manager, individual contributor, or community organizer outside your full-time job. Understanding these aspects of yourself allows you to take actions that align with your identity, leading to the most fulfilling outcomes for you.

It took me years to realize that while spending hours coding and learning about algorithms can be tiring. I'm most energized by bringing diverse ideas and people together toward a common goal. While I may not be the most charismatic in winning over a group of influential executives, I find great fulfillment in seeing mentees gain confidence and clarity during intimate one-on-one sessions.

Navigating complex organizational and personal agendas at workplaces can be stressful, yet I thrive when initiating activities and cultivating an inclusive environment that enriches people's wellbeing and sense of belonging. Being an immigrant in a professional world full of foreign cultural nuances can feel lonely, but organizing events for other data science professionals with the same Taiwanese roots helps me find deeper meaning in building community.

Understanding our unique strengths and motivations can guide us to impactful leadership roles. Like how I found my calling in uniting diverse perspectives as a community organizer and fostering inclusivity as an empathetic people manager, you can find a leadership path that aligns with your authentic self. Embracing this can lead to success and meaningful difference, whether as a people manager, key project contributor, or outside traditional settings. Let your unique self be your guide in this journey. What you bring to the table can create positive change in your career and the wider community.

Learning 2: define and develop your leadership style

For years, I grappled with feedback about lacking executive presence, a challenge to my growth as a manager – even when other aspects of my work, including my team's performance and satisfaction, consistently surpassed expectations.

However, I embraced my unique leadership essence with support from mentors and coaches. I leaned into the things I do best and care about the most. I focused on my strengths: empowering my team with adequate tools and clear direction, helping business counterparts make informed decisions, and fostering an inclusive environment by spearheading org-wide activities and extending space for others.

This journey taught me the power of authenticity in leadership. Embracing my distinct approach allowed me to influence positively and lead effectively, highlighting that true leadership is about harnessing individuality, not conforming to traditional norms.

Learning 3: Cultivate and lean on your personal board of directors

Being a woman in a male-dominated field can feel isolating and challenging, particularly when I feel compelled to be more assertive to serve as a role model for others. Fortunately, throughout my career, I have surrounded myself with inspiring and supportive women and allies. These are the managers who believed in me, the executives who listened and advocated for me when I wasn’t there, and the peers who cheered me on when I felt lost.

They are the community of professionals who provided a platform for me to express myself. They are a critical part of my personal board of directors, who have been there to help me navigate the challenges and celebrate my victories. They remind me that I am not alone and that my unique contribution is needed and appreciated.

To anyone navigating similar challenges, I cannot stress enough the importance of cultivating such a supportive network - it can make all the difference in your professional journey and personal growth.

Connecting it all Together

My leadership journey underscores the importance of self-awareness and leveraging personal strengths. As an empathetic individual who values perspectives and learning, I've realized my role as a connector and restorative operator is where I excel. This approach not only shapes my leadership style but also enhances team collaboration and fosters a supportive atmosphere. And my network of incredible women and allies has been pivotal in this journey, offering wisdom and support. For those charting their leadership paths, I recommend self-reflection to identify your values and strengths, experimenting with various leadership styles, and building a network that supports and enriches your professional development.

thank you for sharing this journey, only more great things to come your way :)
Thank you, @iynna! Definitely looking forward to the many things this year - serving and empowering women through coaching, and getting stronger with my fitness goal (in-door bouldering)
@ninaynt, it's so wonderful to hear more of your story and your learnings from them.This resonated with me a lot:"It took me years to realize that while spending hours coding and learning about algorithms can be tiring. I'm most energized by bringing diverse ideas and people together toward a common goal."Also +1 to a board of directors! I like to refer to them as our personal glam squad.Sarah
@sarahing - yes! I'm very grateful to have this realization which led me to a new journey as a coach. Love "personal glad squad"! It sounds a lot more approachable than the business-esque "board of directors", ha!
How did you get the first opportunity to lead without official experience?
Hi! Apology for the delay. I was promoted to "manager" from "sr analyst". I believe it was given I'd proven myself (e.g. SME in multiple areas, high quality execution of projects, project management of larger and multiple projects concurrently, effective stakeholder management, etc) AND my proactive career development discussions with my manager.