At Girl Geek X Elevate 2018, At Her Best founder Minji Wong shares stories and tools to grow your career. The journey from individual contributor to manager, to a manager of managers, is as much one of self-discovery as it is of learning new skills.
[Transcript of “It’s Not Them, It’s You: Self-Awareness & Ego”: Minji Wong on Unleashing Your Power to Lead]
Angie Chang: Hi. Welcome back to Girl Geek X Elevate. I have with us Minji Wong. She is the founder of At Her Best, a workplace movement to empower high-performing employees to transition into parenthood and return, thriving, to the workplace. She has 13 years of Fortune 500 experience, including a Fortune #1, among the leading tech companies like Facebook and Ebay, empowering leaders to realize their potential.
She’s worked with people at different pivot points in life, ranging from senior executives to stay at home parents and specializes in millennial leaders and working parents. She’s a board member at Girls On The Run, a national nonprofit organization committed to empowering girls to develop leadership skills through running their first 5K. Today, we’re really privileged and happy to have her join us. Minji?
Minji Wong: Thank you so much for the introduction, Angie, and hello everyone from across the world and here in the States. My name is Minji Wong, and I’m the founder of At Her Best. I’m super excited to be here and develop community and connection with you over the next few moments. But more importantly, what I’d like to focus on are the crucial transitions and pivot points that we all experience in our careers.
And so those transitions could include an increase in roles and responsibilities as our scopes. It could be the transition from an individual contributor to a people manager or even a people manager to an executive. There are those pivots, too. It could be that career change, it could be a re-org, it could be a layoff, it could also include a life change, becoming a mother. So there’s a lot of different things that happen in our entire careers and it’s what we do in these small spaces that make the biggest impact.
So where I’m going to focus today is around drawing self-awareness and reflection into being and becoming your best self One thing that I really wanted to share and just really hit home is when we think about our career path and our career direction, it is never something that’s just super straightforward and super easy. In fact, the reality is we have those transitions and pivots. We have those setbacks. We have the two steps forward, one step back. We might even have obstacles along the way, and it’s important to be equipped with the specific skills and competencies to be able to get through those and drive through those.
What I wanted to do today was introduce a very, very simple and pretty straightforward framework in order for you to achieve and encounter any obstacle in your way with a strategic mindset. So it starts with the importance of thinking about more, better, and different, but most importantly, the core of all of that is having a growth mindset. Many of you might be familiar with Carol Dweck’s work. She’s a researcher at Stanford and she focuses on the importance of growth mindset, which is really continuous learning.
It’s the ability to overcome setbacks. It’s for you to learn from your mistakes, build resilience and grit, versus the other side, which is a fixed mindset which is more of the victim approach in terms of, ah this happened to me. This is just where I am. This is who I am. I can’t change and I won’t change. And I underscore this importance because in order for you to drive and be able to move forward, you have to change your attitude. Your attitudes and beliefs change your behaviors, which changes your actions, and eventually the outcomes in your entire career.
The first area that I wanted to focus on was around thinking about more. So ask yourself right now, what are your specific values in life and, specifically, in your career, and are you living those values as we speak? Don’t worry. Many people don’t necessarily know or have those top five values in mind, but it’s super important for you to really, really be true to yourself and understand what those priorities might be right now.
The second area to focus on is around your strengths, and you might be familiar with Marcus Buckingham’s work around StrengthsFinder and several of the books that he’s published, but the importance of strengths is what helps us excel in our careers. You know, one of his quotes was that focusing on strengths is the surest way for job satisfaction, team performance, and org excellence. What are you doing right now in your day job and in your life to actually focus on those strengths?
Bringing everything together is the importance of having a vision statement. I know initially when I heard a vision statement, I thought okay, it’s something about work, right? But it’s also about us, and it’s being able to collect not only our priorities through our values and our strengths, but being able to have an end goal in mind for us to be able to achieve because we can’t start and commence any journey without really knowing where we want to go.
The second area that I wanted to focus on was around thinking better. I’d like to introduce a very simple framework in terms of thinking about goals and thinking about where you want to be in terms of beginning with the end in mind. And it’s the GROW Model.
In my 13 plus years of experience, having worked at various tech companies, e-commerce companies, retail, and various industries and sectors, I’ve managed several leadership programs and experiences with high performing individuals. And in my conversations with them…now, what do you want to do? What do you want to be? Oftentimes the response I’d get is, “I just want to develop these specific skills” or “I want to be able to explore, kind of learn and develop myself in my career”. I never, not never, but I rarely actually had a response that that would let me know, hey, this is who I want to be and this is where I want to go.
It’s super important to realize that and recognize that because if you don’t have that end goal or that end destination, anything and everything you do may not necessarily contribute to that end goal. Now I realize nothing is ever static. In fact, things are dynamic. Things can change tomorrow or even yesterday. But again, highlighting the importance of having an end in mind, knowing that that can change is very important. That’s the goal.
The second piece of the GROW Model is, what’s your reality? What are your current circumstances right now? Where are you? I think a big piece of knowing where really you may be is around getting feedback from your peers and colleagues. We’re going to dive deeper into the feedback piece, but really asking people whom you trust, not necessarily your friends, to really give you a real assessment around where you might be in terms of your skills and in terms of your capabilities to get you to where you need to go.
The third piece is around options. So it’s super important to be able to throw as many options as blue sky, as out of this world, as realistic, but also as dreamy as possible in terms of really thinking and having as many to be able to choose from. The fourth piece is your way forward. So it’s really putting it all together. It’s that action plan.
It’s okay, now that I know where I am, where I want to go, and my reality, what are the things I have to do and put in place as I experience those obstacles and resilience and as I apply that growth mindset to where I need to be? So for example, if I’m a domain expert and I have incredible technical expertise and knowledge, and I’ve shared an interest into becoming a people manager, what can I do now and what are the specific skills that I need to learn and know that go beyond domain expertise that focus around people and leadership, and how can I discover and explore the specific skills to be able to reach those specific goals?
Another thing that I wanted to mention around that is for you to think about a very simple, SMART acronym, which many of you are familiar with. When you think about those goals, how specific is it? How can I measureit? How can I really attain it within this specific amount of time? Is this even relevant to where I want to go? And for many of you who work at companies that have performance management cycles, they can either occur on one year, six month, or even quarterly, OKRs. So when you think about that, those cycles, keep that in mind in terms of what goals you can actually set and what you can actually attain within these specific cycles.
When we think about this learning journey oftentimes, and in my background, having spent 13 plus years in leadership development and learning and organizational development, I oftentimes hear people say, “Oh, I need to develop the skill. Let me go to this training and then I’ll be cured and I’ll be healed.”
The reality is a lot of our learning, 70 percent of our learning occurs on the job and that’s through those stretch assignments, that’s through the cross functional work, that’s through being thrown a new project that you have very little experience having really managed through and learning literally in the trenches.
Twenty percent of learning actually occurs through conferences like this where we can hear from amazing and incredible women in the field and where we can learn and develop community and connection from each other. It’s also through coaching and mentoring. So my question to you is, do you have a coach and do you have a mentor? And if you don’t, what are you doing to get to where you need to be. Even if there is no mentoring initiative in place or if there isn’t any formalized coaching program at your company, what can you do to get …
There is this incredible poem — specifically a quote that I love from Maya Angelou who talks about, basically you can say you anything, you can do anything, but what people remember is how you make them feel.
How do you make other people feel, and what experience do you leave them with? Some of those behaviors include your energy levels, your interests, your emotional intelligence, the ability to become reflective and self-aware of your own behaviors and how you show up.
I was working with a leader who has an incredible brand presence via social media. She’s strong, she’s to the point, she’s powerful, and she’s just on top of it. And when I actually met her in person, my initial experience of her was very different. She appeared to be more shy, a little more meager, didn’t necessarily focus on eye contact. When I gave her a handshake, it was more of a limp handshake. These signals and these behaviors weren’t consistent to the persona that I had seen behind the screen in terms of social media.
So my question to you is, while we have the intent to be a certain way,what kind of impact do we actually leave with other people?
The second P is actually a product — so it’s what brought you here. It’s your technical expertise, it’s your acumen, it’s what makes you awesome and badass. And at the same time, those behaviors include those leadership skills and innovative thinking.
For those of you who are people managers or who are interested in becoming people managers, typically early in your career, the focus and the emphasis is around your expertise, your ability to execute and focus on the product itself.
As you become a people manager, and a manager of managers, and eventually leading the organization, there is a seismic shift in how you see yourself, not just from your product knowledge but to the persona, specifically the experience you create for other people and how you make other people feel in terms of wanting to work for you and wanting to work and really believe in this vision statement.
New managers who have recently been promoted from an individual contributor can still fall into that specific trap of having that domain expertise, and wanting to do it all, and wanting to help their team, and focus so much on the work, and we all know that sometimes those are micromanaging behaviors that may not necessarily give the specific coaching and support that a team member might need.
The third P is around permission, and it’s really owning your seat. It’s not just bringing your seat to the table but having a point of view. So it’s really taking action and not necessarily asking for permission. It also involves specific risk taking as well. So I love Yoda’s quote, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
The fourth is around packaging, so it’s your visual manifestation or it’s just literally what someone who is sitting here could actually watch and see of you. So it’s not just your physical appearance, it’s your behavior, it’s your environment. So how does your desk area look like? Is it completely messy? And if so, that’s fine because Albert Einstein wrote, “A messy desk is a sign of genius,” and at the same time it could also show you might not necessarily be on top of things.
Are you always late to meetings? Are you always five, 10 minutes late to meetings? What kind of impression do you necessarily share and show to other people? Especially for those of you who are interested in becoming a senior leader, it’s super important to dress the part as well. So again, each company and each environment has their own norms. Look at what other people are doing, especially people whom you admire and people whom you want to become.
When we think about communication, 93 percent of it is nonverbal. So it’s not even the words that I say because most people think that that’s communication. It’s my body language. So 55 percent of it is, how am I standing? Am I just totally just tired, low energy? Do I have my arms crossed, looking and appearing to be more closed off? Or am I open? Then 38 percent is the actual vocal tones. Am I super excited to be here or am I super excited to be here? And then the actual seven percent is the actual words itself. So my question to you is, again, how are you showing up in ways that you may not necessarily intend with impact that you actually have?
The fifth P is around promotion and so the promotion is really being able to seek out specific people and really share what you’re doing and highlight what you’re doing. It’s becoming strategic about what you’re doing and your specific message.
I know that these five P’s are things that we have various muscles in. So my call to action for you is to… [no audio 16:21–16:42] Who you are, what are the consequences of people not necessarily knowing and being able to see or hear if you’re intense? If people can’t see it or hear it, it may not… or to the consequences that you are actually not looking forward to.
In summary, everything begins with a growth mindset. Really learning from those mistakes, learning from and becoming more resilient, always finding new ways and new approaches to learn.
Being open is the groundwork and the foundation for you to become a strategic person in terms of learning. What can you do more of? So again, focus on those values. If you already are halfway there, of five values, think about those five values that matter to you right now. Again, they’re dynamic. They can change, but it’s important for you to have that North Star.
And again, what is your strength? What are the things that you do in your day-to-day job that brings you joy and brings you flow? It might appear to be like the hardest thing ever, but for you, you just nail it. Again, we want you to focus more on your values and strengths. Create a vision statement out of it so that you have that end goal on where you want to be.
The second area is to think better. So again, through very simple goal setting, I introduced the GROW Model. There’s other goal setting models out there in terms of having a strategic mindset be able to think differently using those tools.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Minji. We have a lot of questions for you, actually.
Minji Wong: Okay. I’ll try my best.
Angie Chang: So we have a question here. What we’d love to hear more and learn about the StrengthsFinder, and is it free to test out for individuals?
Minji Wong: Yeah, there’s actually a lot out there in terms of for StrengthsFinders. There’s actually, if you buy the book, you can actually get the assessment from the book, but even if you do a quick Google search to even just type in “strengthsfinder assessment,” you can actually find something that’s pretty straightforward and helps you focus on strengths.
During my time at Facebook, there was an initial emphasis around StrengthsFinder and I think it moved out or moved forward towards standout. So that could be another area and aspect that we focus on as well. And I think even if it’s just having a simple conversation with yourself, with your peers, colleagues, or even with your team, it could be a really great opportunity for you to just target, you know, in my day-to-day, what brings me flow? What do I find joy in?
Strength is what you do well in. There’s an activity, again, it’s pretty simple and it’s something that you might be able to deploy right now, actually. It’s called love it, loathe it. And what I’ve done over one week is you keep this either at your bedside table, which is what I’ve done, or even at your desk, or if you have some collaboration doc, just add it, kind of break it down to a T chart. So you focus on the activities and things that you really enjoyed and loved and actually found flow in, and things that just like you really detested and just things that you’d rather not do. Write those behaviors down. You’d be surprised at how many behaviors probably fall in the loathe and how there are certain things that might become reoccurring themes and they loved it.
So if you’re an extrovert and you love being in front of people, and you love and find so much energy just around being able to influence other people, standing up in front of other people and just really being with people, well that might show a lot about you in terms of perhaps the field or a specific area of work that you do. On the other hand, if you don’t necessarily like being that analytical or that technical, or if you don’t like details, again, there are certain parts of your day that you might be able to hack in ways that that might benefit you.
Angie Chang: We have another question that asks for you to talk a little bit more about the strategies on how to take maternity leave and still advocate for a promotion.
Minji Wong: Wow. Where do we begin? I think this will take another half day. Well, do you have another half day? Do you have like another half year?
Angie Chang: Elisa is coming back from leave, right? As a promotion cycle, discussions are starting, so she wants to make sure she’s included.
Minji Wong: Yeah, so thank you for addressing that question and this is a big emphasis on what I’m doing in my current role with At Her Best. I think it actually starts with phase zero, so taking a step back. Phase zero is before you leave. Once you become pregnant, before you even announce things, what is your game plan? What can you do to set yourself up such that when you have that conversation with your manager and your team, it’s not going to be end all be all.
Specifically, when thinking about the work that you’re doing during phase zero, before you even have any conversation with people, what can you do? Take an overall inventory of the stuff that you’re doing. What can you do that you can probably wrap up over the course of the next few months? If this is something that is ongoing, which oftentimes is the case for many projects, who are the people that you work with right now that might be able to take on more responsibility or be able to help you during that time and during that leave?
It’s also inquiry in terms of, what is the culture and what are the current HR policies around maternity leave? There are big companies, so my husband works or he recently left Google, and he actually … At Google and that many big companies, there’s generous maternity and paternity leaves, but the reality is that may not necessarily be the case for smaller companies or even startups as well.
So the point that I’m trying to make is get a good idea of what the actual leave of absence might look like. What are the benefits and policies that are there? There are some companies that are really starting to listen to the importance of advocacy and the importance of returning back so that you can hit the ground running. They might actually offer you some transitional forms of working part time, or even being able to be paired with a coach, or being able to get additional supports and resources.
So that said, do all the housework phase zero. I think phase one is then when you do share the news, the exciting news, with your team, really expressing your commitment on what you’re doing and how that isn’t going to change in terms of how you actually get work done. I think the reality is when you do return, it’s super important for you to line up and think about all the important things that come with having, now, a party of three.
Before, it used to be you and your partner or even just as a single parent, you, but now there is another person. There’s the plus one. And the reality is that person’s going to need childcare. So unless you have a full time nanny or daycare or preschool, there’s going to be some implications around pickup and drop off.
Going back to the five P’s, it’s important for you to actually share your intent with other people because it’s a change curve and it takes time. So when you have a conversation with someone, it’s not going to happen overnight, which takes months, maybe even years, hopefully not. So knowing that, what can you do to get ahead of it?
Angie Chang: Great. I think we have time for maybe one more question.
Minji Wong: Okay.
Angie Chang: Can you offer some strategies for setting meaningful stretch goals? From Sarah Sherman. Sorry about that, folks. Technical difficulties. We have one more minute until the next speaker is due. So I will just … Yes, we have the recordings. We will have them for you after this day. They’ll be available at elevate.girlgeek.io, so you can go check them out. We will ask Minji these questions in a blog post and make sure they’re answered for you. Feel free to tweet questions to #ggxelevate and we will have Minji answer them as well. Thank you.