How to become a leader

From bookworm to worker bee, then onward and upward

My father is a wonderful husband and man. In his spare time, he founded a volunteer organization which has provided assistance to hundreds of immigrant Chinese families in the United States, helping them settle effectively into their new life.

In his professional life, however, my father remained a near entry-level engineer throughout his 30+ year career. This despite the fact that he was the hardest-working person in his unit. He was early to the office each morning, and brought home work in the evenings and weekends. Whenever he traveled on business, he would stay not at the three-star hotels with all his colleagues, but rather at the one- and two-star hotels nearby, just to save his company money. His master’s degree is from MIT, the world’s leading school for his area of engineering.

So, why did he never progress into middle-management?

One evening when I was 12 or 13, my father and I were sitting together, and he said, “Tonight is the evening of our company’s annual Christmas holiday party.”

Surprised, I asked “Why didn’t you go?”

His response: “Because when I go to those things, I never know what to say to the people around me.”

It was as if I’d been struck by a bolt of lightning. I suddenly realized that my father never would be as successful in his career as he should be, and that this had something to do with the fact that he didn’t know how best to relate socially to his co-workers.

That moment is one of the most searing memories from my childhood. It’s when I resolved to learn more, to figure out how society really works, and what I needed to do to succeed.

This journey took me so deeply into society that I even entered politics myself.

Now as a corporate head-hunter, I see many of the top Chinese students coming in as employees of my client companies, and languishing at the entry levels.  From bookworms to worker bees, but progressing no further than the insect stage.  Seeing them work so hard with little recognition transports me back with memories of my father and his career. This blog is my valentine to the next generation of global Chinese talent.

Comments in English and Chinese are welcome, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.