“Leading With Quiet Strength, Overcoming Layoffs, & Surpassing ‘Not-Enoughness'”: Wen Hsu with Wen Coaching (Video + Transcript)

April 14, 2024

Wen Hsu (Coach & Founder) dives deep into her stories of turning introversion into a superpower in leadership, having navigated the complexities of the tech industry for over 15 years. In this session, Wen will tackle the daunting experience of layoffs, sharing insights on not just bouncing back but advancing your career with renewed vigor. Attendees will learn to confront the pervasive feeling of ‘not-enoughness’ head-on, and will be provided perspectives to help dismantle self-doubt and fully embrace your potential with confidence. Attendees will leave with insights to inspire actions that will elevate both your professional path and personal growth.


In this ELEVATE session, Wen Hsu (Founder, Wen Coaching) shares her own journey of initially doubting her ability to be a leader due to her introversion and inclination to stay in the background. However, after a conversation with her manager made her realize that her introversion could actually be a strength in leadership, she started showing up differently, embracing her introversion, and focusing on listening and creating space for others. 

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Wen Hsu ELEVATE conflicts are beginning of us understanding each other

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Wen Hsu:

Thank you, Angie, for that warm introduction. Before I begin, I actually like to get to know you a little bit better. Use the emojis or chat and I have a few questions for you. Who self-identify as introverts here? All right, I see quite a few. Thank you. Who here has experienced layoffs? Thank you, I see a bunch. Who here sometimes struggling with the feeling of not enough? Thank you.

Lastly, what is that one thing that’s preventing you from leading, given it be your team, your career, or even your life? Put it down in the chat, this is important because we will get to turn it around in the end, okay? Thank you for your openness. My leadership journey starts about 10 years ago in a one-on-one conversation with my manager. Basically, he caught me off guard by asking me question, “Hey, Wen, what do you think about getting into a leadership role?”

My knee-jerk reaction is a mix of disbelief and panic, honest. Like, what are you thinking…? I scream inside my head. I’m not like those leaders I see in the news or even at work, they’re outspoken, charismatic, they can talk to people with ease and confidence. I’m not like that. I’m an introvert. I claim to my boss, it’s not possible for me to be a great leader.

You see, as a first generation Taiwanese-American, introvert, lesbian, and woman in tech, my natural instinct is to blend into the background. My cultural upbringing and my social cues have taught me well, keep my heads down, stay quiet, work really hard and don’t challenge authority.

I have perfected the art of keeping myself invisible and safe, or I thought. Until this very conversation with my manager, and before I can dismiss that idea from his head, he started telling me what he saw in me, what I already did naturally as a leader, those qualities I didn’t see for myself. As I slowed down and looked at him, he’s one of the best bosses that I ever had, yet he’s way more introverted than I am. He is actually the living proof that my belief, introverts can’t be great leaders, is simply not true.

With that, it sparked a radical thought. What if my introversion actually makes me a great leader? And that’s always so foreign to me when I first saw it. But since I see it, I might try it on like trying out a new lens and it’s the first time I looked at the world through that lens. And then I start to show up differently. I take on more responsibilities. I lean into my introversion as a strength, not a hindrance.

I listen attentively and I create a space for people to be heard and to grow. When I see things that I really believe in, I fight passionately. And all this time I see this rule, it is the truth, but it’s only when I wear this new lens I see for what it is. It is basically an outdated script that no longer work for me. The best thing is I get to rewrite it.

As I step into the leadership journey, it’s not without its challenges. After a while, I start to get feedback like, “You need to be more aggressive. You need to speak more loudly.” Or, “You need to show less emotions.” Basically, act like a traditional leadership archetype. And I tried, I adapted, I prioritized what’s expected of me over my authenticity and it worked.

I got promoted, but I feel like it’s not me who got recognized and promoted, but a carefully crafted image of me where I really left a part of me out, feeling rejected in the process. As I grew in my responsibility, grew my impact. I also became more and more unhappy. At my lowest point, I started seek out help. At this time I actually found myself a coach, a coach who helped me to see what’s behind all these challenges that I face.

What are some of the rules that stopped working for me and the rules that have given me so far, but really left me feeling unfulfilled. I started to really stay open and curious to challenge each of them. One example, I need to take on more to prove myself over and over again. Sound familiar? I changed that to, okay, I can voice opinions and I can push back as needed.

I went from, I’m just so uncomfortable with conflict. I want to avoid them at all costs to conflict are actually the beginning of us understanding each other for real. And the other, I need to be the expert in the room, probably do everything alone to reach the highest standard and to I see asking for help as a strength, not a weakness. I get to leverage everyone’s talent.

Each of the mindset shift, each of the rule that I turn around and not only earn more respect, but I get more time, more space to focus on what’s truly important.

I teach those around me to do the same, and when I start doing this, every rule that I turn around, I show up more congruently and powerfully and as things are going well. But my leadership really ran into the biggest test in April 2021. I was about to be promoted again.

One day I was called into a Zoom to have a one-on-one with my skip level for the very first time since he joined two months ago. Little did I know that was also my last one-on-one with him because I was let go in that mass layoff. He didn’t tell me the reason why I got let go.

So my self-doubt went crazy. Was it my gender, my accent, how I look, how I sound, how I lived? Basically, all these questions really crushed my confidence. Regardless of my track record of success. This layoff is like slapped in my face telling me you are not good enough for someone. And for months after that, I clung onto anger as if that makes me right. And the bad guy wrong.

He was the one who didn’t even take the time to know how good I am, how dare him to make that judgment call? And I was in pain. And after a while, I just feel like I couldn’t do it anymore. So I really open myself up and examine the situation. I take a step back. And now I see it. I literally gave my power away to a guy that I don’t even know and I make sure it’s his responsibility to validate my worthiness.

And it turned out I was the one who mistreated myself. I was the one who keep feeding myself anger and resentment when what I need is actual acceptance and love. I have fallen into the rules that I learned since I was a kid. I relied solely on external validations, like money, like title, like productivity, to feel my self-worth.

Oh man, that realization really hurt. Yeah, that’s what I did to myself for months, years, or even decades. The good news is once I know I’m the one that outsourced my self-worth, I can stop it. I can apologize to myself, forgive myself, and hug myself without judgment. I can take that responsibility back to make myself happy and own it completely.

And at this time, I have been developing my coaching business on the side for a few years, but I was too afraid to take that leap. And I see this layoff as a not-so-gentle nudge from the universe saying, “Wen, it’s time. It’s time to follow your dream and do what you love.” And that is when I decided, okay, I don’t want to work for other people anymore.

As scary as it was, I decided to launch into solo entrepreneurship, be my own boss of my own career and coaching business. For the longest time I’ve been following those old games and old rules as if they’re the guiding principles to success. But whose success is it really for?

It’s only when I’m open and curious to challenge my own stories, my very own identities and those old beliefs with each questions, I carve out a path for myself that’s more authentic to me. I get to lead with love, integrity, and creativity. And don’t get me wrong, those rules and expectation, they are still there demanding me to following them all the time.

But it’s only when I’m open and be curious and be courageous enough to try out something different, I find a life that’s much more fun for me. It’s not easy, but it’s so much more fun to live this way. This is important because I know when we are able to question what we blindly follow is the new rules that no longer work for us. We get to take the ownership back to create our own rules. When we do that, everyone benefits.

We get to create a world that’s more inclusive, empathetic, creative, and prosperous. That is why, regardless of my introversion, nervousness, I’m standing here in front of you sharing my truth and also sharing that possibility with you. Remember the last question I asked you, what’s that one thing that’s holding you back?

What are the rules behind it? Are they still working for you? And if not, are you open, curious and perhaps brave enough to create new rules so we can reinvent ourselves? Thank you. Oh, and I think thank you all for all the emojis and chats. Thank you. And I know when I say this, probably a lot of excitement, disbelief, confusions, or anger that might show up. I am having a mentorship office hour tomorrow at eight. Feel free to pop in and we can certainly talk a lot more about this very topic.

Okay, so I don’t see any question yet. If you do, you can ask now. Actually, I thought I went over and I guess I was just so into it. Thank you. Thank you. And I think one thing I want to call out, when we take that first step, it really seems very scary. Okay, so let me finish that thought. The thing is though, like I said, trying out a new lens for the first time and look for evidence of what’s fitting you better.

In that way, we can make it again. Question, how do you own your LGBT identity in the workplace? Great question. I’ve been hiding my own identity for, I don’t know how many years. It’s interesting, the first thing that I learned actually was from another lesbian who just casually out to me, “Hey, me and my girlfriend.” Blah, blah, blah.

I was like, it blew my mind. I’m like, oh my God, I cannot believe someone could be out like that. I think the first thing and most important thing is to not feel like it’s something that you need to hide. And of course, I think I’m lucky and in this tech space where I feel like people are definitely more inclusive, open to sexuality like this.

I show up as if and now it is true that it is actually something that adds to the richness of my life. Even on LinkedIn, what I talk about me and my partner…we just got married last year…all the time. And I think when we show up as that’s the best thing happened to us, for us, then people feel that with you. So yeah, thank you.

I don’t know if there are other questions. Oh, how to bring your whole self into interview process? Great question. I always think about interviewing is like dating. If you hide part of yourself, even if you get into the relationship, it’s not going to work out. Initially, maybe we want to present our better side, but in a way, you really want to know and ask yourself, interview is about fit.

It’s not about who is better, who is higher, who have more power, but am I here to bring out the best of me and help to achieve better good? When I approach interview in that sense, I not only do my best, I show up because I don’t want to make the wrong judgment in a way when we pretend, that’s not the case. We could waste years, right? Similar to dating, I would just show up. Yeah, thank you.

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