As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.
In this feature, Huilin Min, Managing Director at Kimberly-Clark Taiwan and Hong Kong, shares her insights on the benefits of mentorship, how empathy plays a significant role in today’s climate, as well as vital advice on striking balance in career development.
Q: What do you wish you’ve asked yourself before starting your career?
One question that I should have asked myself when I started my career is really, “what is my passion?” What ultimately inspires me? So, like manyyounger-generation kids, instead of following a vision, I kind of started off my career following a path that would be a textbook career ladder.
But should I have the opportunity to do it again — which is also advice that I would givesome younger kids who are just fresh out of college — we should really ask ourselves what we are passionate about. And only when we love what we do and believe in what we are doing can we make an impact and do a great job in the long term.
Q: Are there any stories unique to a female in the workplace?
Yes, absolutely. 20 years ago, when I first started out in my career, it felt that it was a long-held belief that women are typically not as good as men in business negotiating. In today’s environment, women are being championed in the workplace in ways that are much louder and prouder than ever. We are no longer told to hide our emotions or taught how to be assertive at the negotiation table.
However, in my experience, not just as a female or male — relying on personal traits that would likely be characterised as soft skills has resulted in tremendous success.
One example is that I had to accept a distribution centre contract with the international distributor inone of my previous roles with my previous company. So, when I went to meet with the owner of the distributor, I quickly realised that this was not the typical business meeting that I was used to. The distributor had brought bodyguards.
That was a bit intimidating at first, but I quickly realised that my ability to listen, be empathetic and remove ego from the conversation was what was needed to soften the mood. So, I think many people, especially females, are naturally good at using the softer side. To that extent, I would encourage both women or men to leverage their natural self in what they do and be authentic at everything they do.
Q: How do you set the tone at work?
I truly believe the best way to set the tone is to walk the talk, be transparent, open, visible, and available. So, I talked to my organisation, [I was] very upfront about my leadership, philosophy and beliefs that are really important to me.
For example, I believe in always being optimistic; even when business is challenging, the external environment is going through turbulence, there’s always a way. And we really need to look forward, not live in the past or current moment. I also make sure that I make time to have one-on-ones with employees throughout the organisation and all levels of the organisation often.
This is to make sure that I understand what’s on people’s minds and what drives individuals to contribute to the collective team and provide them with another platform to speak up about their concerns and questions. One of the biggest reasons people fail is that they don’t know what is expected of them.
So, I believe setting up the tone upfront and having that transparency upfront is important. Everyone is executing towards one goal throughout the organisation. It’s also crucial for leaders to realise when we’re wrong and not be afraid to admit when we make incorrect decisions or when we’re wrong. That shows authenticity, also helps set up the tone for a transparent, open environment.
Q: Have you come across any significant barriers in your career?
Yeah, absolutely. We’re all human beings, Steve, and we make mistakes and have doubts at times. The most significant barrier for me, and maybe for many others, is really believing it can’t happen to yourself.
Everyone should be aware of things that might prevent, delay, or stop growth. In my first role in sales, I led a 200-people field sales team in the US, and the vast majority of them were more experienced than me.
At first, I felt very uncomfortable being a younger Asian female in the US as their manager; with the power that I hold over others, the pressures of this responsibility can cause even good leaders to hold back from fully embracing their role.
So, I quickly realised that I must think on my feet and learn to use the responsibility effectively. So only by doing that can one earn respect from the team members and truly lead a large team.
Q: Why is empathy in the workplace so important?
Yeah, there’s a saying that nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. And that’s absolutely true. Empathy really allows leaders to create an environment of open communication and trust, which leads to an engaging team.
Empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures, and it makes us feel that we’re free to speak up with our ideas. It encourages the leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance by listening and paying more attention to non-verbal cues that are part of everyday communication.
Right now, we need to practice social but not emotional distancing. Given the ever-changing chaos and external challenges [brought about by the pandemic], every team deserves an empathetic leader who deeply understands what individual people are going through.
Making the right managerial and executive decisions is challenging enough during tough times, and it gets even harder during a global pandemic. Hence, empathy and the ability to listen and understand the root causes and what drives people during a tough situation are important.
Q: What has made you the confident leader you are today?
What really helped me was being able to come to the realisation of my weaknesses. I do believe my own strength, as well as knowing my weaknesses are important. One of the ways to gain more confidence as a leader is to embrace my weakness.
I am a quick learner and fast thinker, which can also, at times, become a weakness. If you think you need to know everything in your team, you’re in trouble.
For example, I’m not an expert in manufacturing or supply chain as I grew up in marketing and sales before becoming a general manager. So instead of hiding the fact that I have certain knowledge gaps in these functional areas, I try to embrace them by pausing before speaking. And by asking more questions before I jump to conclusions.
Q: Why is mentoring important to you?
I believe we have been touched one way or another by someone at some point in our career or lives to get to where we are. I was lucky enough that I had not only one but many great mentors along with my career, who helped me shape who I am today, as an individual, and as a leader.
Being able to mentor others is very important to me because it gives me a chance to give back, be a trusted listener, and encourage and enable others professionally and in personal development.
In addition,I find mentoring others allows me to self-reflect more, not only on what I have achieved but also on how I got here, what contributes to, the strengths critical to my career and what I should be doing now to ensure that I continue to learn and develop those attributes.
Being a mentor as a mother of two is also important because it gives me more insights into how I can do a better job of being a mom and being a role model to my kids.
Q: How do you stay energised at work?
So, what really makes me energised is winning as a team and not just winning; winning with integrity energises me the most. One of the responsibilities of leadership is defining the organisation’s long-term vision and establishing short-term goals for the entire team as milestones.
While the business environment has certain challenges coming up, celebrating small wins along the way together with the team and getting up every morning, knowing there are new challenges that we can solve as a team. A team with a winning spirit is what really energises me the most.
Q: What makes you doubt yourself, and how do you deal with that?
In a business environment, especially given how fast the world has been changing, especially with the COVID-19 situation, there’s not really a perfect decision. There’s no ideal data as well.
Every business decision has its pros and cons. One of the things that make me doubt, at times, is when there are important decisions to make, whether I am making the best decision for the organisation and business.
I believe my job as a leader is to make sure as a team, we are making the best-informed decisions while taking some calculated risk for the organisation and business long term, but also move in a speedy way without having to spend too much time on analysis or obtaining perfect information or backwards-looking, over-analysing a situation.
That’s even more important given today’s ever-changing environment. I ask questions, listen, and try to listen from different perspectives and people throughout the organisation. And I have team members, peers and mentors to also bounce off ideas. So having that network of connections when you’re in doubt is also extremely important.
Q: Do any of your personality traits get you in trouble?
I think everyone has some negative personal traits or perceived negatives. For me, I’m direct and transparent. As a result, I’m not afraid to say what’s on my mind, making some people uncomfortable at times, especially in group settings.
Throughout the years, I’ve learned that while my intention is good, there is still a way to be heard. Speak up, and bring people on board, especially in certain Asian culture settings. So to get to a better balance, instead of speaking my opinions, I pause and try to ask more questions for us to seek to understand. And often what I realise is that my point of view or feedback is better delivered through asking questions and follow-up questions.
Q: What advice would you give to other female professionals?
Two pieces of advice. Number one is for everyone to think about the long-term balance that we’re trying to drive, so, to me, it’s important that I balance work and life and prioritise my kids. So being able to identify that balance has been beneficial for me.
I don’t think everyone’s career has to be a linear progression. It’s okay for people to take a pause or a backward move at a certain point in time because I believe one’s career is in general like this. And having that balance and being able to let go during certain periods to prioritise, whether it’s personal or some other professional interest, has really helped me.
The second piece of advice that I would give is really figuring out a balanced support system on the personal side.I’ve been fortunate to have that we managed to do career with my husband, we’ve been able to figure out the moves together. And I feel personally have a very strong support system at home, whereeven though we don’t have other help, we know how to manage kids’ schedules. So having that internal balance and making sure that you have a support system at home is extremely important.
This interview was conducted by Steve Parkes, Head of Page Executive’s Hong Kong office. He is also the Practice Leader for Consumer and Industrial / Manufacturing across Greater China.
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