HomeAsian AmericansBreaking Bamboo: being Asian American and fitting in

Breaking Bamboo: being Asian American and fitting in

From PxFuel

By Dave Liu

I have a collegial style of leadership which perhaps comes from my Asian American upbringing. I noticed most non-Asian managers spend less time consensus building and more time issuing directives. Do I need to adapt my style to be a successful manager?

I don’t believe a collegial style of leadership is specific to one ethnicity or gender. However, what does influence how others will follow your lead is their inherent biases based on race or gender. We all have them. Just as male subordinates will have preconceived notions of female leaders, non-Asian American subordinates will have preconceived notions of Asian American leaders. It is critical that you understand what these are and counter them to achieve your goals. For example, if your underlings think you are passive and prone to indecision, then counter that with a more forceful and decisive leadership style.

I also believe that you shouldn’t be influenced (or overtly biased) by what your non-Asian managers do. You should focus on continuing to be collegial and build consensus because that is the best way to operate. However, if you see that you are not achieving milestones and moving as quickly as you believe the organization should, then by all means be more assertive. Give directives and be clear that your juniors can always ask questions and express their concerns. But at some point, work needs to get done and the time for consensus building is over. You are the boss after all.

I just watched an episode of Little America on Apple TV. In the episode a college professor criticized one of his Nigerian students of not doing enough to fit in. The student was lobbying to get a job as a teaching assistant. Do Asian Americans need to “fit in” to do well in corporate America? Is it possible to “fit in” without losing your cultural identity?

Always remind yourself of the reason that you were hired in the first place – your unique attributes and skills. Companies thrive on diversity of opinion and ideas. It’s what drives innovation and growth so bring the best you to work. Don’t subsume what makes you unique and know that if you are Asian American, you don’t need to hide it.  That being said, all Americans need to fit in. Companies are teams and people need to work together to get stuff done. If you don’t fit in then, like a biological system, you can get rejected. Try to leave at home those elements that may perhaps cause the organization to reject you in the long-run. I have found that some of the areas that can be the third rail of the workplace are aging, gender, race, or religion. There’s a reason the government has deemed these illegal in interviews. Just try to discern what could be potentially hazardous to your long-term prospects and always focus on how best to fit in with your company. Otherwise, find a different place to work. 

How much time should I be spending socializing at lunch and after hours with my co-workers? I have family responsibility and don’t have a lot of time. Yet I know schmoozing is key to a successful career.

Socializing is a fact of corporate life. Companies are made up of human beings and we all prefer to work and do business with others we can like and trust.  The challenge is that trust must be earned and given by others – we cannot simply ask for it. I have found that it can best be earned by doing great work, but socializing can bear huge dividends if it builds bonds with your co-workers. It can earn you a pass or benefit of the doubt if you occasionally fail to get an assignment in on time or you make mistakes. In almost all organizations, you still can only earn trust and respect by doing a good job but in many organizations the ones who get promoted and ascend the corporate ladder the fastest tend to be those individuals that have socialized the most with their peers and bosses. It certainly can’t hurt so next time happy hours rolls around, try joining your co-workers.

Have a questions? Send your questions to Dave to info at asamnews dot com. All questions will remain anonymous.

Check out these past Breaking Bamboo columns:  

Breaking Bamboo: Digging yourself out of the doghouse

Breaking Bamboo: From office romances to job search tips

Breaking Bamboo: Secrets to overcommunicating

Breaking Bamboo: How to get that next promotion

Breaking Bamboo: Career advice from an Asian American Executive

About the Author: Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur.  Prior to founding several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, he worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years. He started his career by joining a fledgling investment bank, Jefferies when it had less than 200 employees.  Today, Jefferies is a multi-billion dollar diversified public company (NYSE:JEF).  It was there that he rose from the entry level position of Analyst to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history.  As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the bamboo ceiling by not only working hard but also understanding how to play the corporate game.  He has had hundreds of bankers work for him during his career and served as a mentor to many who have gone on to some of the best business schools and companies in America.  He is eager to share his knowledge with Asian Americans seeking to realize their full potential and achieve their career goals.

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