How to be an Introverted Leader. Tips for Women, First and Second Generation Managers

Published on Jun 29, 2022

22 min read

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Introverted? Make this your superpower by learning how to be an introverted manager! I spoke to Wen Hsu, a coach who specializes in working with first- and second-generation female leaders. The benefits and drawbacks of being a first or second-generation immigrant are explored. We cover why imposter syndrome can be a good thing! We also talk about double standards for women in tech, how to keep women in the field, and how to help them succeed as engineering leaders.

Transcript

[00:00] Vidal: Okay, so good morning today. I have with me, Wen Hsu. Wen is the founder of Wen Coaching and she specializes in working with first and second-generation female uh, leaders. Wen welcome to ManagersClub.

[00:16] Wen: Thank you, Vidal. I’m very happy to be here.

[00:21] Vidal: Wen, I’m really excited for our conversation today. But before maybe we could start out, could you please tell people a little about your journey to become an engineering leader?

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Your Journey to Become an Engineering Leader

[00:32] Wen: Um, yeah, so my journey started actually 20 years ago. Uh, I am a first-generation Taiwanese American, and I came here for a master’s degree in computer science. After I graduated, I was able to find a job with sponsorship. And after that, you know, I’ve been in the IC role for about 10 years and I move out to a managerial roles afterward, and it is uh, the career path. I’ve never thought I will be on before because like I am an introvert and I didn’t see myself as a leader. So I enjoyed a long time quietness and really, hardly spoke for myself, and that contrast with my own impression.

And I think for most people to where, you know, leaders should be charismatic, outspoken, confident, etc. So, and my journey changed when I had a manager who is even more introverted than that I am. And he is one of the best leaders that I have in my entire career. And so he really challenged me.

He really challenged me and he saw my potential for leadership. And he challenged me to try, try this out. And so that’s actually the beginning of me becoming an engineering leader.

[02:05] Vidal: Wen, I love how you mentioned that you’re introverted, right? A lot of engineers are introverted, naturally I’m introverted too. But I find like in the realm of management, being introverted can be a real challenge sometimes. So I have to force myself to be extroverted. How do you approach that? Or how did you overcome your introvertedness?

The Special Power of Introverted Leaders

[02:25] Wen: Thank you. It is a great question and it’s so important to me because myself, I found through the journey of actually trying to hide it and pretend, you know, I’m extrovert to a actually embrace and see, you know, where is actually the special power of introversion introverted leader.

We know I think at the time The American dream, I think still expect leader to be more extroverted. And at the time I already mentioned my manager who is a great role model for me. And also there was uh, uh, author called Susan Cain that she came out with a book called Quiet and she also had Ted talk (The power of introverts).

And basically it talks about, how introverted leader is actually. You know, Even it has its own special power. So I actually change my own limiting belief of how intro introverts cannot be a great leader. So I started to dive into, okay, what really makes, introverts great leaders.

So the first thing for me is actually to look that the definition where a leader is defined by someone driven by the lucid values that their urge to complete their So nowhere in there, I should mention anything about, being in the position of power or being look certain ways or have to be like outspoken and things like that.

So to me, what really landing me is the term deep-rooted values because I found for me, especially, I know for many other introverts as well, we take the spotlight, not because we enjoyed it, we do it because there’s something that we truly care about and we believe that we are the best person to do it.

So that issue was the beginning of me starting to dive down into, “Oh, okay. What is it that I value? What is it that I want to stand for?” So in that case I was helping the team to improve uh, engineering uh, daily life really make people’s life happier. And to me that’s very important. And so for me too really be able to improve that.

I started to do a lot of like cross-functional team communication, things like that, even work with the project manager to come up with a template for writing specs. So basically all I identify the inefficiencies between Like how engineering team we’re together and that drive that motivation really pushed me out of my comfort zone to even speak to, the CTO, et cetera. So I think that’s exactly why, having something that’s deep rooted that you really want to change give special power.

[05:28] Vidal: Okay. I’ve really interested that you work with first and second-generation leaders, cause like I’m a first-generation immigrant. I’d like to ask you how do you feel being first or second generation is an advantage or disadvantage?

How is Being First or Second Generation an Advantage or Disadvantage

[05:47] Wen: Oh, we can talk about this all day, but to be very honest it’s really interesting a paradox. When I look back 90% of my past managers are actually immigrant, that leader. And yet, like if we looked at people who are really like all the top executives, they’re mostly not immigrants. So for me personally, there are three phases that I actually been through.

As I mentioned, I grew up in Taiwan. I was taught to, work hard, keep my hands down, head down and just do not challenge authority. So I believe is actually very similar in most Asian cultures. And to me, when I first arrived in the us at school, I have that cultural shock where you know, that the playbook no longer works and I needed to learn all the new rules.

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

So initially is a big disadvantage for me, like learning the language, learning the culture norms, everything. So it really challenged me to UN-learn what I have learned before. And I started to learn the new rules I learned to feeding and along the process of being at school, getting into a corporate work I learned to be like more assertive, more outspoken, and I asked for what I want directly I keep track of my like my contributions and speak to it.

And I think it’s I actually got rewarded because of, all these things I learned how to do, I got promoted again, in the IC track and then transition into the managerial track. So while it’s great, I actually, in the end then really feel happy or congruent because I feel like along the process I lost a part of me or I feel like I need to hide it.

Yeah. So for me up to this point, I still feel like it is a disadvantage for me to be an introvert, to have to hide part of me to fit in the norm that I think I should be expected to do, especially I think, as an engineering leader And at the time I got, I should got myself, a coach and I started to really look into myself.

It’s a long journey for me to said myself and then started to choose like what works for me what I want to preserve from my old culture. So to me, that’s like, you know, empathy, humanity and also what I want to. wanted to be part of me in the us culture. And that to me is make myself heard and being proactive, things like that.

So right now I can not operate based on my own values and what works for me. And even now I’m thinking. Yeah. A really good example is how I show up. Like in Taiwan, I didn’t show up at all because that’s safer. It’s more comfortable in the US I learned to speak out more and now I transitioned into a career and it’s access coaching now to me, I really want to be visible.

So it’s a very different mindset and also it’s a journey right now. I actually leverage being an immigrant, an advantage for me because the first and second-generation immigrant leaders like me is in fact the group I want to serve. So in that sense, I, this has become advantage to me.

Yeah. So right now I talk about my cultural influence uh, Instead of hiding it because I believe that the change star from inside, but as we start to change the inside, I want to, at least personally, I really want to also help change the systematic like challenges that immigrants often face like right now being on your podcast and talk about it openly.

It’s still very easy to see that being an immigrant, the middle career ceiling, it is very real. And we are seeing us, my model minority or like the best technical workers, but when it comes to, like promotion, We really have problems getting to the top and like in a very, in a study in 2018.

And I want to call it out because it is really alarming to me where in the report, he says, Asian American compose 50% of professional meaning non executives. And that number dropped to 29% in the executive roles. So there is this about 20% gap where for it’s actually complete opposite. So when I saw that, I was like, it blew my mind.

I’m like, wow. It’s like you, your color, you’re raised, it is a advantage in the systematic level because we don’t look like or sound like an executive right I read another book. Basically we trust people who look like us more. And for, I know for Asian Americans, like the biggest hurdle is that we’re just not seeing us leaders and we’re working like super hard, keep proving ourselves that we’re there.

I think it’s also important just to raise that awareness and that also people would know more. And that’s also the main reason I now coach first and second-generation immigrant leaders because I want to use my own impact to help those people to get to go up and get ahead. And I know once we have more immigrant leaders to be on the top, I know like they will in turn, then change the culture and hopefully change the stereotype. I know it is happening, but it’s not where I think w we needed to be yet.

[12:12] Vidal: That’s I agree with you. It’s so interesting, right? There’s these stereotypes that people have and like you say, there’s like for Asians, the stereotype in some cases helps them. You’re saying it helps them at a certain level, but then it hurts them at another level. And for some people that stereotype hurts them all in everything, but it’s just interesting.

The stereotypes people have. And I want to come back to something you mentioned earlier, cause I’ve seen this. It sounds like you would agree with it. I’ve noticed that in some Asian cultures. For example, people are hesitant to speak to authority. They’re hesitant to talk about themselves, or their achievements.

And so this can actually be an impediment in American culture, cause in American culture, you’re actually expected to speak up for yourself. So you would agree with that, right?

[12:59] Wen: Yeah, I will agree. I faced it myself. And also I know many other like Asian Americans think similarly, I think in the many Asian cultures that I know, like being obidient is actually considered like a good thing. Like you, you work for your boss and whatever they tell you to do, you do it perfectly. That’s like the best thing. And you wait for your boss to recognize you and give you that promotion that you deserve. I still have. Many Asians Americans here saying oh, if I needed to talk to my boss about wanting to be promoted, that means I should have found another job on the side because you know, it’s not recognized like automatically why we should um, I used to think that way.

And of course, like I mentioned earlier, I started to learn like the American way of doing things and I see results. And at the time I didn’t really understand it, but I think things started to shift more once I became a manager. Because from the other perspective, no one really knows what you want in a way.

serious female executive communicating on mobile phone in cozy office

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If I don’t speak my own, what I’ve found uh, you know, out loud, like even if the manager really cares about me, but they don’t have visibility into like how to present the things that I do. And I think for me to be more proactive and give them all the context. That’s what I call a, I think there’s also a book called Extreme Ownership, right?

When you operate at this level and the manager operates at the top level, they have some thing they they oversees, but they also have like blind spots they don’t see. And at this point is up to me to keep them out of the context that I have to help them make the decision. That’s one.

In terms of what I do, and then the other thing about like promotions speak to authority, things like that. It’s also similar. If I don’t talk about my ideas, I don’t, I’m not seeing, if it comes at a time for promotions, your manager or your skip level light, never really heard about you.

It’s going to be really hard for your manager to put the case up for you. And then on the other hand, similarly, even if I want to get promoted my, my manager will need to almost prepare the case for me, like making sure I have, enough like contribution that they can talk about things like that.

So to me, being able to get aligned with my manager earlier on and really let them know. Okay. My intention and my plan is to get promoted at some time. And that’s work toward that. My manager, how can I help you help me? And in that sense, it gives the manager the time to I want the relationship to be out two cases.

And for me, I also can get concrete feedback on what I need to work on with tra I often feel shocked. I have a few the report before a swell. They’re like, come at the promotion time and they’re like, oh, why am I not promoted in hell? It’s what? You never talk about it. And yeah we don’t read people’s minds.

If you want something, talk about it and make it happen. That’s one thing that I learned over time and I think it is really important to be able to speak to why you do give feedback and be better. Even if we remove the promotion aside, it’s okay. The process of learning, getting feedback, and continue to learn as there too.

I think that’s way more helpful than, and, just taking a Watts coming at you and then just finish them and expect things to have.

[16:58] Vidal: I’m really glad I asked you this question because you made so many good points, right? Like when you’re a manager, you see it from the other point of view because the manager doesn’t think about your promotion as much as you think about it.

So you’re actually helping them by giving them information by talking to them about it. So it’s very helpful. That’s what I always tell my staff yeah, I know what you’re doing, but it always helps if you remind me. You know about these things and, and, you’re making their job easier. So this is just great advice and advice.

I wanted to talk about you work with women engineering leaders and you’re a woman engineering leader too. So I wanted to ask you about this. We always want to get more women in engineering. But it’s like a leaky bucket. Right. We bring women into tech, however, a large percentage of them leave. So why do they leave Wen?

We bring women into tech, however, a large percentage of them leave. So why do they leave Wen?

[17:52] Wen: Oh my God. I, yeah, this topic itself can be like a three-day long conference. I think. I can speak to my own experience. And also like the women in tech, like around me that I observed, like for me personally, I actually started playing with a computer at six years old. And after 20 years of working in the IT industry, I’m now doing coaching full-time.

So in the aesthetics, I am one of the women in tech dropouts. Like for me there I always look at things. From two suspect one I think it’s still the system, but the other one is how a woman in PA, or I think that woman in general kind of think about things, how we talk to ourselves. I’m also interviewing many women leaders in high positions.

One thing that people keep bringing up any imposter syndrome, how we feel like we need to be perfect. We need to be hungry, present ready before, we ask for what we want. And automatically we think that we shoe put all the people in front of ourselves. And I think, oh, that actually prevent a woman from Y showing up also to stay in tech because oh, this extra stress and that each is much heavier for us to feel like.

Like we’re ready to move up. We’re ready to ask for what we want. So I think that I want to start with this because I. I really believe that although, system is there again, like it is improving. But at the same time, like if we can change from the inside out, we don’t have to subscribe to, oh, this rule that other people imposing us, we can become the challenge.

So that’s I guess that’s like really, the main thing that I would love to help those immigrant woman leaders do. And of course, like we think this way for a reason, right? That’s because of the systems, the environments, the family, et cetera like, oh, this expectations for woman.

Where we can really walk a very thing line, like when we don’t speak out where we’re being seen as weak, but when we do speak out, it’s very easy for us to be coming to us to bossy. There are so many how if I show empathy, as a woman, I can be seeing us not technical. It’s a real fear when I interview others, they’re like no, don’t call me empathetic, but I don’t want to be associated with that.

And that just blew my mind. And other thing can also be like the expectation for women to do certain like glue work, that can diverge woman from like staying in the technical track and those expectation and sound low then really takes a lot of energy. So like the DEI work. I know that many women are the main one, in the company, they should be like, really making effort to change that.

And when they’re being organized or they spend a lot of time like to group the team together, oh, those work might not be cost leader something that will help them get to the next stage. But at the same time They’re almost like expected to do it and open high people are happy to do it.

But I just want to say like those work, my get out recognized, especially interns of career progression and the other one I think really A lot more is a woman can be continuously passed over for promotion to favor a hiring like white males from the outside. Not only me, I think a couple of times in my own career.

And also for people around me, like we were asked to step up into Taking more responsibilities sometimes with, or without being promoted into the role at tough time. And when things get better and the companies continue to grow and you almost think is, okay, things are great now and they can be forced out.

And even her things like, oh, especially for like Asian woman, usually we look really young. We look really like petite and that can also have people say, oh, you’re too young to play, like the senior director role, et cetera. And I know I probably just give you a few examples.

[22:40] Vidal: That’s, you’ve given it a lot, actually. I didn’t want to interrupt you, but these are all amazingly great points. Yes. I agree. There’s definitely a double standard. Certain behavior, if a man does it maybe considered a good behavior, if a woman does it maybe considered a bad behavior, it’s just people’s expectation.

And definitely the glue work, right? There’s actually an article about this, a very famous article about glue work and how we work. Doesn’t get you promoted, but someone has to do it. And so you’re saying it falls on women a lot. I want to go back to one of the very first things you said, though, you talked about imposter syndrome and it’s not just women though that have imposter syndrome and have imposter syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome

I suffer from imposter syndrome, myself sometimes. So to immigrants and underrepresented minorities as a coach, could you just say a little bit about imposter syndrome? What you can do to address that? Because I think a lot of people have.

[23:33] Wen: Yeah. Yeah. Such a great question. Cause I, I faced this I coach people around this quite a lot.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

I’m a coach. So when I coach people, I actually like to provoke, people’s thinking so many people, they’re like, oh, how do I lose it? I don’t want imposter syndrome. It makes me small. And I like to see differently. So instead of a place mall and don’t feel that imposter syndrome, I will actually say when you feel that means you are playing something bigger. If you just stay in your comfort zone, you will, you’re not going to field it anyways. So the fact that we all experienced this that means at that point, you are playing big. You’re heading into something, that you think, oh, you might or might not be good.

So to me, that’s actually a good thing. So in a way, don’t get rid of it. Get good at. So basically I think like a step that it’s there, I’m going to stand what is the, like the bigger vision, bigger things, bigger role that you’re stepping into and do it anyway because oftentimes I think having imposter syndrome it’s making us feel small and we don’t take any step possibly when we feel like paralyzed. And if we don’t see it as something that paralyzes us and instead of to reframe that into something that, and also, I think the biggest thing is really focused on what we want with. When the imposter syndrome comes up and focus on what we want instead.

And there are many different ways imposter syndrome comes up. And so professionalism is another one, you feel like you always need to have the solution, et cetera. Wherever it comes up also do a fact check and say, is that really real, Everything has to be perfect. And what does that even mean and have a support system that build it around with you to also do that fact check?

Yeah, so to me they’re like many angles that we can get good at imposter syndrome and everyone has different, I guess their imposter syndrome might be different. But overall I think the biggest thing is to a step that you will always be there when you play something bigger and then tap into what is it that you really want when you comes up and feel the fear and do it anyways. Yeah. And then surround yourself with enough support.

[26:15] Vidal: Okay. Interesting. So I what you’re saying is imposter syndrome is a good thing in a way, right? Reframe it, embrace it, go for it. Okay. We talked a lot about these the challenges that women have, right. And all these things is there anything we can do to help women not leave to make them more successful as engineering leaders.

How to Help Women not Leave and make Them More Successful as Engineering Leaders.

[26:38] Wen: Yeah. A great question. Thanks. I think this is a systemic issue. I think a woman needs support and I think the I think the biggest thing is to be intentional, about, like how you recruit woman leaders into the company.

And you really start with stage one. So I like how you write your job description because we own, w we know that women often feel like we need to be hungry percent ready before. For a job, right? So the job description superstar performer, that kind of description, it has nothing to do with what people would do what kind of impact that will bring, but that kind of wording can be a scary, for it woman.

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So like really carefully exam, almost like every stage of your recruiting pipeline, even like intentionally, get involved in like women’s groups. We know like a woman in tags that hurts the T there are many such a group that can offer great talents. And when you be there, show up, they know about you as a company and you care about, diversity, et cetera.

It’s so much easier to attract, women and actually help maintain that culture. If you are very intentional, every step along the way. And I would say another, especially when we have those woman already within the company, how do we help them? I often think that Especially if this counts up after I interview other immigrant woman leaders, what helped them get to, the VP or the CTO role?

There are a few things that people mentioned. One is sponsor by having the matter male or female being able to like sponsor and find that opportunity for a woman to other events in the tech industry. And mentor is another one, like providing different perspectives. And the third one is COVID.

Where it can really help woman remove that kind of like limiting beliefs self-doubt et cetera. So they can really reach their peak performance. So I would say provide this kind of systematic support for women to be successful. And I think lastly, like I say, like every, a woman, especially a woman with.

Kids or with different life family conditions will require different flexibility. So I will really say, ask, that woman, your team, your company, what kind of a true support look like to them and see if you can offer them. Cause I know, like for example, I see so many women.

I have the fear talking about their own pregnancy, or really think that, having. Kids can be an impediment in their career advancement. And how do we change that? So all those things I feel like are what one woman can ask for. And you foster that environment for them to feel safe, to ask without having to worry about their career. I think that’s also important.

[30:02] Vidal: Wow. When first all you’ve been super generous with your time, and I really want to thank you for coming on the ManagersClub. And I can tell just by what you’ve said, you really could speak for hours on these topics have a lot. So if people wanted to connect with you afterwards, right? If they wanted to talk with you more about this, learn about you, learn about your, anything you do, what be the best way.

How Can People Connect with You Afterward

[30:29] Wen: Yeah. So now I’m running my own executive coaching company for first and second-generation immigrant female leaders. So the best way to connect me is on LinkedIn, which I will, but the the link it’s basically slash wing poaching and similar yet my website, wencoaching.com you can find me.

[30:52] Vidal: Okay. I will include links to those again, Wen thank you so much. It’s been great to have you here.

[30:59] Wen: No problem. Thank you. Bye though. Thank you for providing the plans long to talk about this issues, because I think the things we touch on that is that is my life like, introvert, immigrant woman.

I always say I’m like the minority of the minority. There are so many things. I needed to work through to really get to where I am like, feel comfortable, feeling like I’m really like, enjoy my life and I want to help others do the, to do the same. And I really appreciate like a platform like this for me to, have a boat.

For other to learn and bring up the awareness. Cause I really hope that we can change, the culture for you to be, more friendly for immigrants, for introverts, and for a woman.

[31:42] Vidal: No, I totally agree. I think what you’re doing is very important. It’s great. I totally supported, and I’m glad I can help, even if one person watches this, get something out of it. I think that’d be great. I’m sure a lot. So thank you. Thank you again.

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