Tag Archives: leadership

Closing Career Chapters – Cheers to New Beginnings and Endless Opportunities 

In October 2017, I felt exhausted, both physically and emotionally.  The last three and a half years weighed on my heart and my mind.  My calendar was filled with “good luck on your next chapter” appointments.  Work felt like a succession of good-bye and/or good luck lunches strung together on a ragged piece of twine.  It hurt and it stung every time a friend left the company, regardless of whether they relocated to Texas or left the company altogether.  I lived in a perpetual state of mourning – losing so many friends in my immediate circle, one happy hour or one bon voyage cake at a time – hurt.  And the weight gain that accompanies bon voyages cakes and lunches slowly began to show on my hips.

Because of my role, I spent hours upon hours listening to team members cry as they wrestled with the decision of whether or not to move to Texas.  Some had family considerations to take into account. Would my spouse/partner be able to find a job?  What are the schools like in North Texas?  Others were just shocked with the idea of moving.  How can I go from Kentucky or Ohio into an area with a higher cost of living?  I just finished remodeling my kitchen and bought a snow blower for the winter.  Will I be able to find a barber/hair dresser/church/supermarket to meet my personal needs?  I took on a little bit of everyone’s pain when they vented to me.  It ate away at my heart and soul, one teardrop at a time.

Although I felt exhausted, I knew it was my duty to help the company.  My focus sharpened to support diversity and inclusion, especially from a talent retention and development standpoint, to create a new culture for the company.  I also kept my decision about my relocation a huge secret.  I didn’t want to influence anyone’s personal decision based on what I decided to do.  So I didn’t tell anyone that I had elected to NOT move until the company required a public commitment.  I told my boss and my friends at the very last minute.  Keeping that secret was a struggle and it added to the heavy burden on my shoulders.

In late August, I heard about an open position at a long-standing Southern California company for their Head of Diversity role.  Rather than working with a headhunter or placement agency, I decided to take on the recruiting process alone.  I knew a few people who had strong connections inside the company and the company did good work in the community.  My resume and application made its way to the hiring manager and a recruiter called me right away.  By the end of September, I had a day set to speak with four executives from this company.  The day went well, I felt confident that I would receive a job offer but I still had two more weeks with my current company.

As one of my last tasks for my former company, I spoke at an African American employee resource group event in San Diego County.  It was the day before my last day of employment. Unbeknownst to me, at least two of the attendees worked for the long-standing Southern California company I mentioned earlier.  At the end of my presentation, they both asked what my next career move might be and if I would consider working for their company.  All of that felt fantastic.

When I spoke with the hiring manager, whom I really respected and looked forward to working for, I mentioned that I definitely felt interested in taking the position and I was exhausted.  So exhausted in fact that I needed two months off.   My brain felt tired and out of smart juice.  I needed to spend some time with my family, my loved ones and my dojo to recharge.  That meant that I would not entertain starting a new position until January 2018.  To my surprise, he supported my decision and said that the company wants someone to start right away but they also want the right person in the position so they would wait for me.  We discussed a start date in January 2018 and would check in with each other when the date grew closer.

I felt lighter and a bit happier with the prospect of having time off to close out 2017 and refresh my mind and soul.  Knowing that I would be able to go to a new job with a company that had a strong commitment and strategy for diversity and inclusion allowed me to breathe easily.  Then came the second conversation with the recruiter about little details like compensation and benefits.

When I received a verbal offer, my mood changed from a cheerful Snow White princess to a dark and Evil Queen.  All those good feelings dissipated and I felt insulted by the compensation offer.  In addition, I received information regarding other parts of the package that turned out to me incorrect but did not make me want to even take the time to negotiate.  When I declined the offer the next day, I did not even want to waste my time with asking for more money.  All I said was that the offer that was presented to me was less than my minimum salary requirement.  Why would I want to go to a company that didn’t make me feel valued or appreciated?  Actually, I felt like I didn’t even want to speak to the hiring manager about the situation.  They did offer me more money and a sign-on bonus but it was too little, too late.  The hiring manager felt horrible, especially since the recruiter reports to him.  It may have been a case of miscommunication but when a company is trying to bring in talent, mistakes like this can cost a lot.  We wasted time with the interview process, they willingly waited for almost two months to finalize my offer, and I wound up feeling undervalued while they wound up not filling the position.  Lose-Lose.

By then the year 2017 was almost over.  Most companies did not do much hiring in December.  I didn’t fully engage with the job search firm that my former company had contracted with for all of us who elected not to move to Texas.  My initial meetings with them told me that they had no idea what I did for a living, how could they find me a job?

As I began to explore possible open positions, I grew keenly aware of issues around diversity and inclusion that had begun to populate the headlines in social media, newspapers, and magazines.  Having worked in entertainment heightened my awareness of #metoo and discrimination along lines of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, and other social identities.  And living in the United States as a diversity professional pains me to read headlines from our current President and his administration, particularly when he mocks people with disabilities or makes a racist comment about another country or acts like a sexist misogynistic pig.  My own family members experienced the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 concert.  Mass shootings at schools across America continue to plague our nation and our teenagers are leading the charge to call for policy reform and change.  There are so many issues that involve diversity and inclusion.  Actually, I suppose any issue that impacts human beings involves diversity and inclusion.

In December, I sent applications to two different companies from two very different industries:  entertainment/tech/video games and research/science.  Both posted positions that were brand new to their organizations.  One had no diversity and inclusion strategy developed while the other company had a strong foundation but needed experienced leaders who could both execute and design new plans.  The second company called me before New Year’s Eve to schedule an initial phone screen for January 2, 2018.  I felt good knowing that I would start the year off with a deliberate launch of my search for new employment. Or, the planning the death of FUNemployment.

January 2nd arrived after a rather quiet New Year’s Eve celebration.  My puppy and I took a walk at dusk in Hermosa Beach, before all of the parties began.  We returned home to watch movies and snuggle on the couch.  A quiet night was all I required to say “Adios” to 2017.  On the morning of January 2nd, I had an initial conversation with one of the Directors of Talent Acquisition from the research/science company.  She convinced me that the company’s Mission drove all their business decisions:  Enable customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.  I definitely wanted to speak with others from the organization.  From January 3rd on, the process progressed rapidly.  The next interview was scheduled for less than a week later, via video conference, with the hiring manager.  I hardly had time to reach out to my network to get the scoop on the company’s efforts and the hiring manager’s reputation.  Our conversation started out with his puppy barking in his office, the pup was vying for attention from his human.  I knew that we would definitely have puppy ownership to bond over while we discussed diversity and inclusion philosophies and strategies.  After that conversation, an in-person interview with his boss was scheduled.  The night before my interview, I posted a snippet of a slide that I reviewed as part of my research on the company on social media.  My hula sister reached out to me the next morning on my drive to my interview and said, “Call me asap.”  Turns out she recently took a job with this same company and could not help but gush about how great her experience has been.  That conversation made me even more excited to continue through the interview process.  This interview was with my boss’s boss who had attended UCLA at the same time as me.  He also knew of a fantastic restaurant in Pacific Grove so we talked a bit about food and wine.  We spoke for over an hour and I left feeling confident that the conversation went well.  Soon thereafter had two more video interviews with other leaders from the organization.  The last conversation I had struck the tone of “we would be lucky to have you on the team.”  What a refreshing feeling compared to the last company I considered.

Of course, the director of talent acquisition from the entertainment/tech/video game company scheduled a call with me for the same day as my video interviews.  I felt obligated to speak with him, even though I felt like the other company would be a great fit and a wonderful place to make a difference.  At the end of our call, he said that he had quite a few more phone screens and would probably be back to me in a couple of weeks.  I mentioned that I had spoken with another company and would no doubt be receiving an offer within that timeframe.  He understood and asked that I keep him abreast of my situation.  During that call, a voicemail from the first company popped up.  I felt too tired to check it so I plopped on my bed for a nap.

The next day, I had an email wanting to set up a phone call with the hiring manager from the entertainment company.  So my day started off with good news.  I threw on some warm clothes and sneakers so I could take Kihon for a long walk.  She’s trained to poop once in the morning and once in the evening, if we break that schedule Kihon will poop on her pad but it is always in our bedroom for some reason.  She freely pees on the other pads when necessary but poop is always deposited on the pads left in our bedroom.  Is she trying to tell us something?

On our walk, I took a few snaps of her playing and dialed up the first recruiter I spoke with in January.  I apologized for not returning her call the day before and explained that I felt exhausted from the cold I kept trying to shake.  She understood and simply said, “We just wanted to make you an offer of employment with us.  Everyone felt impressed by your accomplishments and enjoyed speaking with you.  Here is what we want to offer you…”  Not only did the compensation match my expectations but they also offered to make my position remote.  I would not have to commute to the closest office:  90 miles south of me.  Even with carpool stickers and my Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, that commute would suck eggs.  The formal offer letter arrived via email, as did a request to meet with the hiring manager from the other company.  What a delightful problem to have.  I agreed to speak with the hiring manager, to alleviate any risk of doubt in my mind about accepting an offer from the first company.

It felt like I interviewed the hiring manager from the entertainment/tech/video game company about “why diversity now”?  She stated her case and her vision and noted the support of her senior leaders and peers.  Her big question for me, “What diversity issues should we be addressing?”  I brought up #metoo as a huge diversity issue for women, people of color and people who are LGBT.  I noted the inequities in diversity across both above the line and below the line production teams.  In addition, I stated that people with disabilities have capabilities when it comes to working in tech that are often overlooked because of the hiring manager’s unconscious biases.  And, I briefly mentioned that I had popped onto Reddit to read what the players had to say to each other while they played the companies games as well as what they were saying about each other and the company.  None of my comments brought up specifics about the employee life cycle around recruiting, retaining, and developing talent.  There are just so many opportunities for improvement by leveraging diversity and building a more inclusive work environment for companies who cross the industries of entertainment, technology and video games.  That job would be a huge one.  We said our polite goodbyes and I hung up the phone, excited that this woman wanted to create a new culture at her company but knowing it would have to be without me.

My decision all came down to what I felt in my piko (gut) and my personal connection to the company’s mission.  My last job felt like an ideal situation, a CEO as champion, supported by executives and leaders who genuinely “get it.”  And the employees backed up our work through volunteerism, charitable donations, taking on assignments outside of their job description, and pushing on us to keep charging ahead.  This new company is poised to accelerate their progress exponentially.  Their CEO supports the work on a personal and professional level.  His commitment shines through authentically.  I feel confident that our department will make a difference and push the company’s mission forward:  “We enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner, and safer.”  My next chapter will be focused on that mission.  Not a bad gig at all.

#TeamTogisala visits www.thekaratedojo.com

 

Here is how Social Media works in a positive way. Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch Togisala re-connected after twenty years thanks to Facebook. These two men competed throughout the 1990’s all over the world. Sensei Brian and his family visited California and Togisala Shorin Ryu during Easter break and, a little over a month later, Sensei Butch was graciously invited to attend the Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament in South Carolina.

On April 24, 2016, Sensei Brian Pena published the following announcement via Facebook:

“EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT:

We are excited and honored to announce that multi-time NBL World Champion and Japanese / Okinawan Karate Legend: LELAGI ‘BUTCH’ TOGISALA of Torrance, California is set to be at The Karate Dojo in West Columbia, SC for a seminar, private lessons, and to receive a special award on May 14-15, 2016 to coincide with the Carolina Martial Arts Open.

Sensei Togisala is a Japanese Kobudo and Kata MASTER that holds the record of winning the NBL World Title in Japanese / Okinawan Kata for 5 straight years through the 1990’s until he humbly bowed out to his team member Marcus Young at the 1998 Super Grands World Games.

Please make plans today to meet, greet, and LEARN from a great friend of mine, and the single most prolific Japanese / Okinawan Karate & Kobudo competitor of the past 25 years – PERIOD.

Email me at Sensei@TheKarateDojo.com with Seminar interest or to schedule Private Lessons, and stay tuned in the coming days for further information.”

On Friday the 13th in May 2016, before the sun had risen, Sensei Butch and I boarded a flight to ATL to catch a connection to CAE.  There was a level of excitement in both of us bubbling and Sensei Butch had lots of questions regarding the weekend.  We knew that a greeting at the airport by Sensei Brian and a sushi dinner with some of his black belts were on the Friday evening itinerary.  So, we planned on checking into our hotel, resting a bit, getting our gi pressed for the weekend and just going with the flow.

I had cooked up a fresh batch of Kalua pork for Sensei Brian. He really enjoyed that when he was at our house for Easter.  A couple of pounds of frozen Kalua pork were one of my carry-on items. In addition, I packed some healthy snacks for the long flight across the country.  

Early morning flights usually mean a plane full of passengers who are either trying to sleep or overly sparked on caffeine.  We both attempted to catch some Zs after take-off, to no avail.  Because our seats were upgraded to Delta Comfort, we had access to free movies and he selected the film, “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg.  Sports-themed movies usually contain messages about hard work paying off, enduring monumental physical challenges, and overcoming adversity.  These themes were threaded throughout the film and I saw many parallels with what Togisala Shorin Ryu is experiencing.

We sat next to each other, sharing earbuds (yes, we looked like “that couple”) and enjoyed the inspirational true story of lifelong diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan Vince Papale. Coach Dick Vermeil called an open tryout to boost interest in the flailing Eagles.  Papale realized his wildest dream, survived try outs, and became a squad member.  The movie shows Papale’s tenacity, grit and heart in a mature and relatable way, beyond Disney’s usual animated fairy tales.

“Invincible” touched our hearts and there must have been quite a bit of dust circulating in the plane, as I had to keep wiping tears away.  No comment about Sensei Butch’s “allergies”.  The feel-good story focused on the importance of hard work and the responsibility of individuals to support their friends, neighborhoods and more importantly, their families. Competing in sports played a critical role in developing both of our personal core values around Respect, Discipline, and Courage.  He and I are athletes who have competed at various levels throughout our entire lives.  Sensei Butch leveraged his raw talent for karate and his incredible support from his father and surrogate father, Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, to “pull himself out of the ghetto.”  Disciplined training became a way of life and that led to a successful sport karate career that took Sensei Butch all over the world.

When a competitor sees someone who consistently performs at the level to achieve world champion status, that person impacts him/her in profound ways.  Sensei Butch has fans around the world and social media has connected him with other martial artists that used to compete with him. This is what brought Sensei Butch to South Carolina.

Friday afternoon we landed at CAE airport. Sensei Brian Pena greeted us with some of his senior students:  two of his black belts and one of his brown belts. The Karate Dojo welcomed Team Togisala with warm smiles, open arms, and deep bows of mutual respect.

We felt hungry but wanted to see The Karate Dojo before checking into our hotel. The facility was incredibly impressive. I had never seen a dojo as large as this one. The main floor also housed weight machine that looked more complete than most hotel gyms I train in while on the road. In addition, there is a smaller, more private training room and a large space perfectly equipped for child care and fun. But as impressive as the physical space was, even more impressive was the spirit and atmosphere inside the dojo. The floor, the walls, the equipment all looked pristine. But on the interpersonal level, everyone  from the  staff to the students showed immense respect to Sensei Butch. We heard, “Yes, Sir” and “Yes, Ma’am” in every response.  Such a simple behavior, using consistent and respectful manners, exemplifies the way a karate-ka should hold him- or herself.

Sensei Brian graciously allowed Sensei Butch to use his beefy, tricked out, and gorgeous Expedition.  He drove us to Downtown  Columbia, dropped the car off with the valet, and Sensei Butch spotted a man walking.  He told me, “Babe, that’s Coolio.”  I dismissed him and said, “Leave that man alone.  It is not Coolio.”  What would Coolio be doing in Downtown Columbia?  We checked in, unpacked, and grabbed a nap before dinner.

Friday night – sushi dinner in South Carolina.  That was not a sentence I ever imagined saying out loud.  We pulled up to a shopping plaza and found a restaurant called, “Inakaya Watanabe.”  Sensei Brian had reserved the private room with tatami mats and when we entered, there were two HUGEMONGOUS  sushi boats on the tables to greet us.  Sensei Butch felt a bit apprehensive about sitting on the floor throughout an entire meal but thank goodness, the tables were built over a sunk-in floor.  The food tasted fresh and I devoured the fresh yellowtail sashimi while Sensei Brian requested rolls like soft shell crab, chef specials and some terrifyingly hot roll with a mystery chili pepper of some sort.  Eating that hot scary pepper thingy roll was a rite of passage for Sensei Brian’s black belts.  Since I am deathly allergic to peppers, I did not have the opportunity to taste that mystery torture roll. Thank goodness.

 

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At the end of dinner, Sensei Butch presented a special gift to Sensei Brian.  We had a brand new set of rope kama made  by Tenth Degree Weaponary in Southern California for Sensei Brian.  Rope kama are Sensei Butch’s signature weapon and there are multiple videos of him swinging them in sport karate tournaments all over YouTube.  Sensei Brian appreciated the gift and we were delighted to present it to him.

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 May 14, 2016, Saturday morning, Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament day.  When we arrived at the The Karate Dojo, the building was bursting with competitors and their family members.  Sensei Brian treated both of us like honored guests in his dojo and asked for the opportunity to introduce Sensei Butch to all of the participants.  We didn’t know he also had a big surprise in store for Sensei Butch.

And then, Sensei Butch had me bring up another gift for Sensei Brian. It was a vintage heavy weight Team Togisala competition gi, complete with gashes in the back of it from Kama blades. I thought that this one of a kind, irreplaceable gift would be something that Sensei Brian would appreciate. Material gifts can’t beat sentimental gifts, in my opinion. We can all buy “things” but no one can replace memories and experiences. 

A wide variety of martial arts schools were represented by colorful gi and t-shirts.  The number of competitors could have felt overwhelming but the order and precision that Sensei Brian exemplified in running simultaneous divisions impressed me.  Sensei Butch and I split our time between walking the floor and resting and reviewing the seminar format together.  Jet lag crept in every hour or so, we tried to catch cat naps throughout the morning. While out on the floor, we met an enthusiastic competitor.  She cheered everyone on in the rings by yelling, clapping, and sending tons of positive energy.  I pointed her out to Sensei Butch and he said, “She’s an awesome hype man.  We should bring her to all of our tournaments LOL.”  Her enthusiasm was noted by others and pointed out to Sensei Brian.  He recognized her by presenting her with a special “spirit” award.  She found us at the end of the tournament and asked to take a photo with both of us.  Look how her spirit shines through in her smile.

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This tournament had numerous examples of how martial arts influences young lives.  The atmosphere felt supportive and loving and still competitive throughout the day.  It struck me that martial arts tournaments should always feel family-friendly, rather than cut-throat competitive.  We work to build character in our students through discipline, respect, courage, and fun.  Becoming a tournament champion does not have to be the outcome in order to build up our students’ character.  World Championships, trophies, black belts…none of that makes a Champion.   Students living their lives by showing respect for others, acting with integrity, and staying physically fit is the ultimate goal.  Martial arts training never stops.

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As the tournament wound down, I heard tid bits of stories of first-time adult competitors making their debut at the Carolina Martial Arts Open and examples of children showing love and support for one another.  Sensei Brian referred to his event as an “investment in the future.”  A father of one of the participants wrote a “thank you” note to Sensei Brian because his son was crying at the end of the  tournament.  This young competitor was overcome with tears of pride because his sister had won Grand Champion.  Sensei Brian recognized and rewarded this young competitor with a trophy, as well.  But in fact, what that young man gave all of us was a greater gift.  Love and support for our family members and dojo Ohana is the ultimate goal.  Sensei Brian encouraged all spectators to cheer for all competitors and the dojo roof was raised by all the positive energy and Aloha throughout the tournament.

Next up, was the karate seminar with Sensei Butch Togisala.  About 20 or 25 students attended the seminar on Saturday.  The game plan consisted of a brief stretching session to prep the participants for the first activity – stances.  Strong, low stances are a signature for Togisala Shorin Ryu and the foundation of our style.  Having a low base is critical to executing our kata correctly.  Sensei Butch selected Pinan Godan as the kata to teach during the seminar.  And we wanted each student to be able to learn the entire kata during the seminar, regardless of belt rank, and be able to perform it.  I will note that Sensei Butch thought I was being too strict during warm-ups but I protested that as I conducted a very short stretching session to prepare their hips and legs for doing basics, just as I do in our dojo every night.  But I digress..

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I have written about one of the mantra of our Sensei, the late Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, “Basics are Everything.”  The stance is the foundation for karate.  Not all Japanese karate schools take as a low of a stance as Togisala Shorin Ryu.  But I believe that the beauty in kata is taking a low stance.  It might be from my years of studying hula kahiko, my Kumu Hula taught us that our energy comes from our classmates and from the Earth.  Being connected to both improves the spirit or mana in a dance.  The same can apply to kata.  When the karate-ka applies the movements within a kata, it is a self-defense technique or offensive attack.

Sensei Butch began the seminar with running the participants through exercises to practice:  kiba-dachi (horse stance), zenkutsu-dachi (forward stance), and neko-dachi (cat stance).  We had students as young as six years old, all the way up to adult aged and yellow belts up to second degree black belts participating.  Everyone worked hard to adjust to the style of Togisala Shorin Ryu to learn a new kata, Pinan Godan.  This is a required kata for advancement to purple belt in our dojo but it isn’t taught at The Karate Dojo so it became a nice addition to their kata toolkit.  One of the black belt students in the seminar stated, “So very impressed with Sensei Togisala.  He captured my family with his calm yet strong patience.  He led a seminar with a 6 year old all the way to us older folks and NEVER lost our attention.  We all left not only being taught a kata but also being taught a lesson in humility and strength.  Thank you sir for graciously giving us your time and energy this past weekend!  Deep bow of LOVE and RESPECT!”

Personally, I learned a lot through the process of helping to teach our kata during the seminar.  In addition, it became clear to me that Sensei Brian teaches all of his students how to be Champions in life.  His dedication to teaching the martial arts is a gift.  Sensei Brian runs The Karate Dojo as a very special school, filled with exceptional students.  I humbly bow to him.

After the seminar, Sensei Butch and I went to the Club Lounge to relax with appetizers and a glass (or two) of wine.  He felt pleased with the outcome of the seminar.  We chatted with the lounge hostess, a student from USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) and discovered something that Sensei Butch found amusing.  A big old school hip hop concert was held nearby and Salt N Pepa stayed at our hotel the night before.  They were hot during the early 90s, the height of my clubbing days.  Sensei Butch and I sang a bunch their songs, most of which the hostess had never heard of because she was an infant at the time.  And, unfortunately, it was revealed that Coolio was also staying at our hotel! BThat means Sensei Butch did see Coolio the day before and he reminded me over and over throughout the rest of the weekend that I blew a fantastic photo opportunity for him.  Ugh.

At dinner time, we walked about a mile down the road to a restaurant ironically named, “California Dreaming.”  It came highly recommended by the nice man sitting next to me on the flight from ATL to CAE, that recommendation was co-signed by our lounge hostess and others.  They were right!  We had a fantastic walk and a lovely meal.

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After dinner, we called Uber so we wouldn’t have to take the one mile walk uphill.  A tricked out GMC SUV on 22″ tins rolled up, bumpin’ some hip hop. We looked at each other and laughed. Our driver was so chill, we talked about USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) being on summer breaks. Then we asked about the concert and I had to hear how I blew an opportunity for Butch to take a pic with Coolio. Again.  They both laughed at me about that. Every person we encountered in Columbia, SC was gracious and welcoming. We had such a lovely time.

On Sunday, Sensei Butch was in his element, working one-on-one or in semi-private groups with students on their kata.  His innate talent for performing kata spills over into the incredible gift in customization and teaching.  Sensei Butch excels at making subtle shifts to sequences and moves that suit the individual’s strengths to transform a dojo kata to a winning sport karate kata.  Let me have some of the participants speak for themselves.

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“What an incredible experience to be instructed by Sensei Togisala, honored to have the opportunity, I hope to see him again one day to Thank him once more (or a thousand more) for helping me with my competition Kata.  He is an exceptional man.”

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The photographs above are from a semi-private lesson with two black belts.  They perform the same competition kata but Sensei Butch provided direction for each of them to customize a section of the kata to make it their own.

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“Very cool to have met someone I’ve only ever heard about (and seen in kata videos).  Sensei Togisala embodies who a leader and instructor should be – knowledgeable, caring, and patient.  Respect!!”

Sensei Butch started the morning off with a private lesson refining a kata specifically for competition.

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In this private lesson, Sensei Butch shared a few tricks of the trade to make this Sensei’s competition kata really stand out.  His strength could be amplified with a few tweaks at key points in Go Gi Shi Ho, which happens to be Sensei Butch’s signature open hand kata.

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Three private lessons were with junior colored belts.  Each of these students worked very hard and earned a lot of praise from Sensei Butch.  He reinforced the importance of basic stances and precision in strikes for competition.  As intense and serious as all these photos look, there was plenty of laughter and smiles during these private lessons.  Best of all, each of them asked questions when necessary, took the gentle criticism to heart, and applied their learnings in real time.  It was a delight for me to watch.

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The last lesson for the day was a semi-private session with two junior blue belts.  Each of them paid close attention to Sensei Butch.  Their high energy sustained him as he closed out the long day of teaching.  These two are well on their way to a bright and shining career in sport karate competition.

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Sensei Brian’s Team Dojo will “Never Give Up.”  The future of karate lies in our children continuing to learn and train from experienced instructors and competitors like Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch.  Being open to new lessons and learnings was my key take-away from the weekend. Hard work is nothing to shy away from in karate or in life. As instructors, we need to be open to receive the lessons that our students teach us every day. On behalf of Team Togisala, I send a deep bow of respect and gratitude to Sensei Brian Pena and all of his students, staff, and parents at http://www.thekaratedojo.com.  We were honored and humbled by the experience we shared with all of you during the 2016 Carolina Martial Arts Open karate tournament.  Sending much respect and Aloha to Sensei Brian Pena.

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Brain Drain and Pain – Why Inclusion Matters

When a human being is born, their brain weighs one pound. If you are reading this blog, your brain probably weighs about three pounds. Through normal human development and physical growth starting as a swaddled infant to toddling around as a toddler to tip-toeing through life as a tween/teen and eventually, achieving adult status, your brain gained two more pounds. Every life experience, jump rope jumped, schoolbook read and to a lesser extent, television show watched, has contributed to your brain’s development and weight gain. Every human being is unique because no one has had exactly the same life experiences. Even identical twins bring diversity to a conversation because genetic make-up aside, they are not exactly the same person.

That was the gist of the first two minutes of a presentation I heard this week by a woman who is a UCLA professor in the Psychology Department and the Anderson School of Management. Because my career has been focused on creating work environments where people can bring their full selves to work and contribute freely in a safe environment, I became intrigued with every word Dr. Iris Firstenberg spoke. Diversity is so much more than race and gender, that I understood and tried to communicate in all of my presentations and interactions at work. But to learn about how neuroscience creates diversity in each and every human being was truly a “mind blown’ moment. And I do not find myself shocked or surprised by much at this stage of my career. Pi’ilani’s mind went kaboom.

Here is what I learned about the brain.

 

 

Near the center of the brain exists the Limbic System. According to Wikipedia: “The limbic system was originally defined by Paul Broca as a series of cortical structures surrounding the limit between the cerebral hemispheres and the brainstem: the border, or limbus, of the brain. These structures were known together as the limbic lobe. Further studies began to associate these areas with emotional and motivational processes and linked them to subcortical components that were grouped into the limbic system. The existence of such a system as an isolated entity responsible for the neurological regulation of emotion has gone into disuse and currently it is considered as one of the many parts of the brain that regulate visceral, autonomic processes.”

So, what does that actually mean? The limbic system is responsible for both emotions and memory. Consider an experience from your life that was highly emotional, maybe you were PISSED at your best friend for borrowing your favorite sweater or perhaps your favorite pet passed away unexpectedly and you cried for days, aren’t those memories burned into your mind? In your brain (and every other human being’s brain), the emotional center is right next to the memory center. That means that highly emotional experiences are highly memorable experiences. Much to my delight, I also learned that food and alcohol directly impact the limbic system. That satisfaction and gratification can elicit an emotional reaction and create lasting memories. For an Asian Pacific Islander like me, every social gathering must revolve around food and drink. For example, holiday get-togethers in my family consist of multiple rounds of food starting with loads of appetizers, followed by a hearty meal with both ethnic and American dishes , ending with delightful desserts and all accompanied by fine wine, hand-crafted cocktails or fancy sodas for the kids and/or teetotalers.

Another thing to consider is that people need to constantly stimulate their brains. Because your brain is constantly sculpting itself and growing and changing through experiences such as traveling, reading, dancing or playing music. This sort of on-going learning stimulates growth in your brain and can help stave off Alzheimer’s, even if you have a genetic disposition for the disease. So encourage your elderly family and friends to read, do crosswords, play cards, exercise and stay social to keep that brain sculpting going.

But what about when people are experiencing stress? They are being driven by their emotional brain – fear, danger, nerves, anxiety. When there are lots of connections going up to that area and not enough connections coming down to placate that brain, the emotional brain is overwhelmed.  Emotion trumps logic every time. Human beings absolutely need to calm that brain down to think logically. Think about when you’re arguing with your partner or sibling or child and you’re both so sure that your point of view is the right answer. As you build your argument and elevate your voices and blood pressure, it becomes harder and harder to truly hear the other person’s point of view. If you are trying to end the argument or calm the situation down, remember this little tip. Louder is not better. The limbic system hears in a nonverbal manner. So take a breath and sit next to the person, not across from one another, to make it easier to calm them down. Feel free to give them a drink or some food. Because a sense of touch is calming, it may be appropriate for you to gently touch the other person, place a hand softly on their shoulder, or hold their hand in yours. This can all help calm down the limbic system and allow the disagreement to begin to dissipate.

So how does this relate to one’s work environment? You risk charges of sexual harassment if you place your hand on a work colleague. And it is rare that a disagreement would escalate to a yelling match at the office. But what happens when you don’t include people at work. Maybe you walk around and look at your shoes or your phone because you’re a bit of an introvert like me. Or perhaps you really are so busy that you forget to say Hello to someone in the hall or people who sit near your desk. Exclusion, even when it is not done with any intention of hurting someone, can directly impact morale and productivity. In fact, neuroscience has proven that being excluded or rejected can be as painful as being socked in the stomach, people elicit the exact same brainwave patterns in each case. Whether it is a person who never gets invited to lunch or a person who just got dumped by the love of their life, it all hurts the same in their brainwaves.

Consider a time when you felt social rejection as a tween or teenager. We all have stories of being rejected or excluded and we probably all remember how much it hurt, despite our well-intended parents telling us that “you’ll get over it” or “this too shall pass”. These rejections stay with us as adults and definitely impact our decision making and socialization.

I grew up in a fantastic neighborhood where I could walk to my elementary school and all of our neighbors were very friendly. I was lucky to have kids across the street who were close to my age, who cares if they were mostly boys, I learned how to throw a tight spiral in 5th grade. Around the corner, my best friends lived and we roller skated and played together all the time. But one thing was missing, there were no other Filipino kids in my neighborhood. My besties were also children of Asian immigrant parents but none were Pinoy. At around 12 years of age, I wanted to learn more about Filipino culture and asked if my mom would take me someplace so I could learn Filipino folk dancing.

The national dance of the Philippines is called the Tinikling, which pays homage to the movements of a much-loved bird, and is a graceful and athletic challenge of dancing and jumping in between bamboo poles that are being struck together to keep rhythm. It looks similar to playing jump rope, except that the dancers perform the steps around and between the bamboo poles, and the dance becomes faster until someone makes a mistake and the next set of dancers takes a turn. It looked like fun and I really wanted to connect with my culture so my mother took me to the Filipino Community Club across town so I could join their youth group.

I walked in wearing my Izod polo shirt, jeans, and Birkenstocks. The other kids from this neighborhood were in baggies, MaryJanes and Chucks. All of girls wore lipstick and used hairspray and looked so much more feminine than me. They were polite to me when the supervisor walked me around to let them know I was going to join their dance classes. However, as soon as we were left alone, one of the girls stage whispered to her friend, “What IS she wearing? Hippie shoes, ugh, gross.” At that moment, I decided that I wouldn’t come back and I never told my mom why. It became really hard for me to make friends with other Pinay girls after that because I thought they would all reject me in that way. Thankfully I had awesome cousins who were like my best friends so I did get large doses of my culture that way. But unfortunately, I never learned about Filipino folk dancing until college.

Inclusion is fundamental to all human interaction. When you include people and treat them with respect, they feel engaged and trusted. People need to be welcoming and honest to build friendships. Leaders have to be vulnerable for employees feel trusted. When someone feels excluded, the brain reacts to it in the same way as when the body is kicked in the stomach. Do your best to behave inclusively in all of your relationships. And keep in mind that logic cannot be achieved if emotions are running high.

Mentoring & Sponsorship @WMConferences

Last week, I spent time at Working Mother Media’s annual “Multicultural Women’s National Conference.” This event has provided me more personal development than any other conference that I have attended. I’ve even made a couple of new friends because of my participation and that is an extra special bonus. Imagine being in a room with 500 ambitious, driven, and successful women. The invitation to this conference is especially targeted towards women of color and Working Mother takes this opportunity to create a safe and honest dialogue about what is really going on with women in the workplace.

This year’s theme was powerful: “Vision and Impact: Charting What’s Next.” A brief website description read: “Together through collaborative conversation and vision planning we can launch real progress and ignite action in our careers and in our lives – thus positively impacting the future for the advancement of multicultural women in the workplace.

Our vision, values and goals shape the way we work, along with the expectations we have for our careers, and our lives. Knowing what we want – and being able to articulate that – is vital to live lives and build careers that have impact.”

Given the circumstances that my company has thrust upon the employees, it seems more than fitting. What is next in my career and my life? This conference presented me with time and space to evaluate my current professional career path. I set out very deliberate intentions to consider all the possibilities ahead of me, in the back of my mind. Externally, I agreed to play the role of a “Thought Leader” in the same race and cross race discussion groups.

Participants were asked to choose two topics related to a professional area that they needed to strengthen. My role became “facilitator” and I helped the guide a discussion to explore how the participants approach this area, how the power of their belief system shapes and influences that behavior, impacting career decisions and possibly impeding advancement.

We used a technique loosely based on Open Space Technology. No formal structured agenda existed in the beginning, each group had a topic area and began the conversation from there. The desired outcomes were simple: to raise issues that were most important to the participants in the group, engage everyone in the discussion, and share the findings in the cross-race discussions on the same topic. The six topics were based on six critical components for the career advancement of women:

EXECUTIVE PRESENCE
BRANDING
MENTORING
NEGOTIATIONS
WORK LIFE BALANCE
OFFICE POLITICS

What I want to share came out of my same race conversation circle on the topic of Mentoring and Sponsorship.

We were given a few questions to begin our discussion:
Do you have a personal board of directors? A mentor? If so, what is the value add? If not, what are the barriers to enablement? Do you believe someone in your organization is your sponsor—someone who is telling others about your value to the organization?

Questions:
Do you have a broad range and influential level of mentors and sponsors?
In what ways are you – or are you not – sponsorable?

Goal 1: Ensure race is part of the conversation—how does this group uniquely experience the topic at hand?

Goal 2: Encourage timely and actionable focus—is this something they’re dealing with right now and can impact in the near-term?

Goal 3: Avoid redundancy—seek to build on others’ thoughts, in the same conversation and from the session prior.

Goal 4: Go beneath the surface—use probing questions to uncover the “why”, “who” and “how” of the experience.

As always, I elected to start our dialogue with brief introductions: name, company and why they selected this topic. I find that this helps the participants hear their own voice in the room and therefore, “warm them up” to participate more fully. As an Introvert, I know this tiny step helps me. If I had more time, I would have asked each participant to share one thing they are excited about this summer. Having people talk about something they are excited about helps to elevate their levels of engagement. Adults really enjoy talking about themselves. Little touches like using an adult’s first name when addressing a question to them or following up a comment they made does wonders for an individual’s enthusiasm. This isn’t an ego thing, it is a human thing. Also, I’ve found that the higher one moves up in the organization, the less “human” their interactions become. People seem to lose their minds when speaking to high ranking executives and don’t give them honest and candid feedback for fear of harming one’s career progression. Also, people don’t treat high ranking executives the same way they would treat a person who doesn’t sit in the corner office. This is a ridiculous way to function in corporate America. The world is shrinking and communication needs to be transparent. We do not have time for politicking anymore. Work needs to get done through authentic and meaningful dialogue. Everyone adds value to the workplace -regardless of title, age, race, level of education, sexual orientation, gender and any other aspect of being a human being that people use to divide us into groups. Just keep it real and cut out the bullshit, people. We will all get a lot more accomplished.

Back to my Thought Leader same race discussion group…

We, as a group, decided to define “mentoring” and “sponsorship” before we went any further, I offered two very brief definitions: Mentoring is talking TO someone about career development and that someone is NOT in your direct reporting chain of command. Anyone can find a mentor or a mentor. Sponsorship is when someone is talking ABOUT you when you are not in the room. This usually happens during talent review or when leaders work to identify participants for stretch assignments. Sponsorship is usually earned through showing consistently strong performance and building a reputation for delivering solid business results. Interestingly enough, participants in both of my small groups said that they had never had a problem with finding mentors. However, only a handful of them knew whether they had a sponsor or not. In my mind, that is data worth exploring further. Why don’t Asian women know if they have sponsors? Or do they not have sponsors? Is there a cultural component to this? Is it because across corporate America, most of the key decision makers are still straight, white men? These are things to consider in the future.

The same race groups who were discussing Mentoring and Sponsorship had five key points to share with the cross race groups. This is what the Asian women wanted the other groups to realize about us, as a collective group. I own these findings, as an Asian American woman.

1. We are usually the only woman, the only Asian, and the youngest looking person in the room. Because we look younger, we need to build credibility early in the meeting to establish that we are NOT the junior person on the team. Many of the women reported wearing glasses or very professional attire to look older. And everyone said it was critical to note their tenure with their company so we aren’t ignored or overlooked in the workplace.

2. Being Asian may get in the way of our own self-promotion. Bragging or at least talking about our achievements is very counter cultural to Asians. However, this skill is a critical one when finding a sponsor.

3. As we move up in our careers, it becomes more difficult to find mentors and sponsors who are key decision makers. In numbers, most organizations have less women and less women of color and even less Asian women at the top.

4. In order to be promoted, we must build cross-functional skills. It seems that we Asians are very skilled at being individual contributors and are not usually tapped on the shoulder for key assignments in the sexy departments like marketing and sales. Most of us received messages from our well-intended parents that hard work pays off and the nail that stands up gets hammered down. Well, in corporate America, one needs to learn how to stretch outside one’s comfort zone, take risks and stand out. We must be intentional in asking for coaching and career development.

5. Different Asian cultures have varying levels of comfort with speaking out. We enjoyed a lively discussion about how Indian women seem to have a lot less challenges in asking for coaching and feedback. Many of the participants were not U.S.-born and that adds a layer of complexity to the discussion. The long and the short of it was, not all Asians are alike. One size does not fit all.

The discussions did not bring any new revelations to my mind about being Asian in corporate America and trying to find a mentor or sponsor. The value I gleaned from this conversation was just in being surrounded by people like me. We all shared very openly and freely, things that came easy to us in the workplace and a few things that are barriers to our success. I feel like my course is still uncharted in terms of what’s next but I do feel like I own my responsibility to continue to help other women be successful.

Seven Things NOT to Say to Asian Americans

I am contributor to this article but I am removing the name of my company from it.

Written by Stacy Straczynski for DiversityInc

Confronting subconscious biases and stereotypes about race is a frequent occurrence for many professionals in the workplace—in particular, those from traditionally underrepresented groups. While many comments and questions are raised merely out of curiosity or ignorance, it doesn’t lessen the offense.

“Stereotypes make people feel like they don’t belong, like they’re an outsider looking in,” according to Linda Akutagawa, a Japanese-American and CEO and President of Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP). “It’s not necessarily the phrases or comments said, but the insinuations and how things were said.”
What can your organization do to improve cultural competence?

According to Pi’ilani, a Filipino-American and National Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for some company, everyone has a choice of how he or she addresses negative comments. “In a case where there is a personal relationship and a certain degree of trust, I encourage people to have a private conversation to explain the negative impact,” she says.

Educating employees and exposing them to diversity is “critical to addressing comments born of ignorance,” says Dr. Rohini Anand, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer of Sodexo, who is Indian-American. “These impact how Asians are represented in the workplace.”

7 Things NOT to Say to Asian-Americans
1. “You speak English well. Where did you learn it?”
Typically meant as a compliment, this is one comment that really “pushes my buttons,” says Anand. “Just because a person has an accent—and possible appearance—that’s different than the mainstream” results in the assumption that a person can’t communicate.

2. “You need to improve your communication skills.”
Akutagawa does note that with globalization, there are increasing numbers of professionals who speak English with accents. And this can become an issue during performance reviews: Many times, Asian employees are simply told they need to improve their communication skills but are not given any elaboration on what that means.

“No one wants to come straight out and address the accent,” Akutagawa says. “It’s a two-way street: The manager has to think about what they’re doing to listen fully and be present in conversations.”

3. “Asians are not discriminated against. All of my doctors are Asian, and the Asian kids in school are the ones getting top honors. It’s the white kids who are at a disadvantage.”
Even positive stereotypes are damaging: The myth that all Asians want a career in medicine, math and science is limiting. Additionally, you should never assume that an Asian employee is the IT person.

4. “Asians are good workers but seldom want to become leaders.”
There’s a strong stereotype that while Asians are good individual performers, they are not leadership material—and that’s OK with them, according to Akutagawa. As a result, she says, there is an unconscious bias that prevents Asians from being considered for more senior-level positions.

For example, Pi’ilani recalls an anecdote someone shared with her: “After voicing her opinion in a meeting, my colleague’s male manager said to her, ‘You’re not like my Asian wife. You speak up.’ It is hard to forget a story like that.”

Anand says the issue lies in a lack of cultural competence. Many Asian-Americans with strong non-Western cultural roots might have a quiet leadership style, more behind-the-scenes than what is considered mainstream. The solution? Draw attention to a variety of successful leaders and management styles.

5. “Can you recommend a good [Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, sushi, etc.] restaurant?” Or “Chinese food is cat meat.”
Don’t ask for dining recommendations out of context or assume an Asian has this information on hand.

6. “Where are you from?” “No, where are you really from?”

Aside from the fact that the question already implies that an Asian is an outsider, repeating it is even more offensive. Akutagawa says, “I get the question only every so often, but it’s frequent enough to remind me that stereotypes are there.”
“How often do you go home?” also should be avoided. Pi’ilani says her typical response is: “I am from the Monterey Bay Area. I can drive there in about five hours,” even though she knows this isn’t what the person meant.

7. “Asians are overrepresented at senior and C-suite levels.”
Despite a variety of data, including DiversityInc Top 50 data, that consistently prove otherwise, this is a comment Akutagawa heard a speaker say at a recent conference. “It was so blissfully thrown out. My thought was, ‘We have a few high-profile CEOs and all of a sudden we’re overrepresented?’ Maybe when people see the one, they feel like they’re being overrun.”

The actual numbers show that Asians, much like other underrepresented groups, are lacking representation in upper management: DiversityInc Top 50 CEOs are 8 percent Asian, and Fortune 500 CEOs are only 1.8 percent Asian.

5 Ways to Prevent Asian Stereotypes
Don’t perpetuate stereotypes—even positive ones.

Make opportunities available outside the stereotypical career track.

Assign cross-cultural mentors and offer stretch assignments.

Elevate the mission of resource groups beyond sharing cultural practices and celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

Draw attention to successful Asian leaders and role models.

More Things Not to Say
Any derogatory term

“You don’t act very Asian.”

“What’s your name again?

“You all look alike.”

“What kind of Asian are you?”

“Are you a bad driver?”

“Can you speak your language?”

“Were you a fan of Jeremy Lin?”

“Why do you only hang out with Asians?”

Leadership – Do our values change over time?

In 2003, I found myself invited to apply for a Fellowship Program with an organization called Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI).  The mission of APAWLI was to develop Asian American and Pacific Islander women for leadership roles in the United States. Founded in 1996, APAWLI’s signature Fellowship Program selected a group of outstanding women to take the three-week leadership training course which culminated in each individual developing a leadership impact project that would positively change the lives of at least 25 people.

The interview process consisted of written essays, collecting multiple letters of recommendation, and face-to-face interviews with APAWLI board members.  The experience helped me examine my hopes for the future and my career goals.  It also forced me to ask for help, something that I find to be a challenge, but I needed letters of recommendation from people outside of my work team.  When I read the letters that these well-respected leaders in business and the community wrote, I kept looking around and wondering if they were actually talking about ME.  It is very true that we do not see ourselves the way others do and being Asian, humility gets in the way of honest self-assessments.

Unfortunately, the APAWLI ran into budgetary challenges in 2003 and had to place the Fellowship Program on hold for a few years.  I found my application and decided it might be fun to read through it.  Before I started, I asked myself if our core values change through the years.  What I am about to share in this DiversityNerd posting was written over ten years ago:  before I earned my promotions at work, before I almost died from a ruptured hemorrhagic ovarian cyst, and before I developed my voice in Diversity and Inclusion.  How much have I grown since then?

APAWLI is a part of The Center for Asian Pacific American Women (The Center) is a national, non-profit, non-advocacy organization dedicated to enhancing and enriching leadership skills for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island (AANHPI) leaders.

Taken from their website:

“Our mission is to address the challenges facing us and to nurture trusteeship within our communities by expanding leadership capacity, fostering awareness of AANHPI issues, creating a supportive network of AANHPI leaders, and strengthening community.” 

2003  Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute
DiversityNerd’s Fellowship Application

Current Job Responsibilities

The goals of the Inclusion Strategy group are to:

  • Create lasting corporate cultural change that impacts our company’s future business success by attracting, retaining and developing associates and customers.
  • Ensure that Human Resource systems, processes and policies are inclusive of every individual and leverage the diversity that each associate brings to the workplace.
  • Build strategic partnerships across the organization so accountability and ownership is internal to each business unit.

    Major accomplishments:

  1. Developed a three-part process for creating lasting change, considered the benchmark diversity and inclusion strategy for my company.
  2. Established Business Partnering Groups (affinity groups).  My proposal and policy was also implemented at our manufacturing affiliate in the Midwest.
  3. Education of Officers on Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.

Career Goals

In five years, I would like to be managing a larger staff at my company and completing a post-graduate program.  The APAWLI Fellowship would provide me development and growth to achieve both of those goals.  First, I would obtain invaluable skills in becoming a stronger leader.  I would like to find my voice in the greater society, especially to aid the Pilipino community.  I have always felt like there were no Pilipina American role models for me in the private sector, I would like to be there for the younger Asian American and Pacific Islander generation.  Secondly, building my personal network with a group of high performing, community focused, Asian American and Pacific Islander will provide a challenge to raise the bar on my personal and professional goals.  There are so few Asian American or Pacific Islander people in executive positions in my company that I often feel alone.  Finally, although my skills are strong enough for me to thrive in my current position, a graduate or post-graduate degree will afford me a sense of accomplishment and confidence in my professional abilities.  If I am not selected for the APAWLI Fellowship, I will pursue other professional development opportunities.

Talents based on the Gallup Organization’s Strenths Finder:

Strategic       

This talent affords me the ability to see the larger picture.  In  addition, I always work to anticipate potential roadblocks and design strategies to address them.

Maximizer     
My greatest joy is in taking the best and making it better.  If I am working with an average performing individual or organization,
making them good is not as rewarding as taking a strong achiever to the highest level of performance possible.

Positivity        
This strength allows me to inspire others.  I have been likened to a “Pied Piper” in my organization.

Futuristic        
I am always looking to the future and stay excited about the possibilities.  Change is an exciting opportunity to make the world or the organization a better place for everyone.

Arranger       
This strength allows me to adjust my responsibilities and workload to achieve my objectives.  In addition, I have a talent for finding 
alternative ways of approaching challenges.

Areas for My Own Improvement
I have yet to establish myself as a force in the Pilipino American community.  Although my parents were very involved in the local Pilipino Community Centers, it was never clear to me how the organization was reaching out beyond the center and into the larger community.  Now that I am an adult and a single parent, I see that I have the power and responsibility to make an impact on my community, leaving it up to others does not equal commitment and progress.  However, I have to build my network of Pilipino colleagues in order to find opportunities to impact my community.
Another area of improvement is in my self-confidence.  It has been a struggle to work as an internal change agent in my workplace.  I liken my job to banging my head against the wall to create change.  If I achieve a little success, wall cracks, I rest and start banging away again.  As an individual contributor with no direct reports, sitting in front of high-level executives and insisting that they listen to my ideas and recommendations has never been an easy road.  Many individuals make it a point to equate competence with a job title.  Despite my success at work, there are times when I allow my lack of executive status hold me back.  Perhaps with more experience and maturity, this will dissipate.

Aspirations for the future
In the future, I would like to be working in a community-focused non-profit organization or as independent consultant where I can impact many different individuals or companies.  The best way to break stereotypes is to be out in the world, living the life one has always dreamed about.  I have always wanted to accomplish what others say is impossible.  My motivation comes from a bit of a rebellious streak, the challenge of achieving an elusive goal.  My power is felt by extending my knowledge and skills to other individuals and allowing them to grow to become their full and complete self.  To me, there is more reward in seeing others thrive than in receiving a larger paycheck.

 I cannot honestly say that organizational development/diversity and inclusion was ever in my career path plan.  Being able to earn a living by helping individuals and organizations build more inclusive work environments by leveraging their diversity cannot be labeled a “job” for me.  I feel so blessed to have this kind of impact on the world at a young age.

I am successful in my current role and I receive so much gratification from this work.  I would like to continue to impact organizations on all three levels:  systemic, group and individual.  The ultimate goal is higher performance, which only comes about when people are feeling valued, supported and respected for their individuality.

Personal
My role models for leadership are all in my family.  First of all, my paternal grandmother exemplified pride and strength in everything she did.  During World War II, as a young mother of four children, my grandmother found herself widowed.  A transplant from Manila, she lived in a province with my paternal grandfather.  Her training and education as a nurse afforded her great respect and her home was a haven for people and soldiers victimized by the war.  Despite having no medical supplies, Filipina did her best to comfort those who were suffering and cared for her four young children as best she could.

After the war ended, Filipina made the decision to leave her four children in the care of her sister and brother in law.  For many years, my grandmother corresponded with her children via hand-written letters as she sought out the “American Dream” in California.  She married a Pilipino immigrant, my dear grandfather who was willing to raise her four children, sight unseen, as his own, along with his son from another relationship AND have three more children together.  They saved enough money to bring her four children to the United States and created the Pilipino Brady Bunch.  Their family was filled with love and it was a hybrid of first and second generation immigrants under one roof.  Brothers, sisters, step-brothers and step-sisters, it never mattered, they were all family.  This extended to their children as well.  My cousins are like my own siblings, I could never fathom when my friends would say that they hated their cousins.

This relationship was the foundation for my core values – work hard, service, integrity, honesty and most of all, family first.  My grandmother showed incredible bravery while my grandfather exemplified unconditional love.  These clear messages shaped my perspective on the world.  I strive to find the win-win outcome.  I do not believe that anyone has to be a loser, when you extend the flame of your candle to another, there is always more light in the end.  Your candle loses nothing by sharing.  The light is actually doubled, not diminished in any way.  That is how I want to lead.  I believe very strongly in team first, if my team is successful, I am successful.  To me, a great leader follows her heart as strongly as her head.

Most significant learning experience
I can think of no other experience that has impacted me as strongly as becoming a mother, specifically, a single mother.  The father of my child was not ready for marriage or fatherhood and I knew that it would be my sole responsibility to raise my daughter.  My lifestyle changed the minute I discovered I was pregnant.  During my pregnancy, I became aware of how trivial my “stress” seemed.   I immediately lost 175 pounds by kicking him out of my house after our daughter was born.  Then, I grew up.
Becoming a mother taught me how to prioritize my life.  My daughter, her safety and happiness were the only things that mattered.  I made a conscious decision to leave the demanding field of advertising and find work closer to my home.  Being alone never scared me, I developed a sense of power and control by being forced into single motherhood.  I became keenly aware of my independence and my strength.  This reminded me of my grandmother, leaving her home and family in order to seek out a better life for her children.  If she could travel across the world, surely I could become a leader in a corporate environment to support my family of two.

Leadership – What kind of leader am I?
At this point in my career, I lead purely by instinct and heart.  Thus far, both have served me well.  My direct reports have told me that I made them feel empowered and protected to take risks, learn and grow.  I do my best to challenge them to take on stretch assignments and to never settle for less than their best performance.

When I think about the kind of leader I want to become, I have opportunities to develop new skills.  While I do believe that I have the talent to set a vision, I am very clear that my business insight is not as sophisticated as many high-level leaders in corporate America.  Because of this, I seek out partnerships with leaders who are very different from me in terms of work experience and education.  Actually, I do not have to look very far to find either.  Many leaders who I admire seem to have all the answers.  I would like to have a network of colleagues who can give me the answers that I need.

The APAWLI Fellowship and the organization as a whole will grant me empowerment as a professional Asian American woman.  Having the opportunity to apply for this Fellowship has already given me more self-confidence in my abilities as a leader.  The application process alone has taught me to ask when I need support and to lead when others have no direction.  I truly believe that the best way to improve is to surround oneself with greatness.  This can only raise the bar on expectations of one’s individual performance and achievements.  As I reviewed the list of past alumni and considered the incredible impact projects that each one developed, I felt my heart swell with pride.  I was proud of my Asian American and Pacific Islander sisters reaching out, proving our strength and exerting power.  In the end, I realized that I own and hold that same power, it just needs to be unleashed.  I would be so very humbled and honored to be associated with APAWLI, in any capacity.

Challenge
The most difficult leadership challenge I have faced is being young in a hierarchical company like the one where I work. Young in age, work experience and tenure means that it takes four times longer for me to build credibility in the eyes of key decision makers in the company.  However, despite this obstacle, I have achieved my goals to date at work.  In fact, I have also developed new skills, which I find to be extremely important as a leader:  patience and perseverance.  As long as one keeps her eye on the long-term strategy, one can stay focused on the big picture and the goal.  Patience and perseverance have been critical to my success.

Five key values
My five key values exemplify a common theme, service – making the world a better place.  Based on a self-assessment tool used during a leadership development course I attended, my five key values are:  Authenticity, Tradition, Vision, Advocacy and Consistency.  They are defined as:

  • Authenticity:  Being true to oneself
  • Tradition:  Honoring customs and practices of historical significance
  • Vision:  Creating compelling pictures of the future
  • Advocacy:  Passionately supporting an issue
  • Consistency:  Remaining faithful to the same principles and practices

As I consider how these values developed, two things are clear.  One, my family upbringing has built this foundation for me.  And secondly, my values compliment and support one another in both my personal and professional life.

First of all, I recall the sacrifice that my grandparents made to provide new opportunities for my parents.  I have already discussed my paternal grandmother’s journey as a young widow across the ocean on her quest for the American Dream.  Leaving her children in the Philippines as she embarked to an unknown country, exemplifies a strategic and futuristic mindset, which I model in my life.  In addition, my maternal grandfather survived the “Bataan Death March” as a Philippine Scout during World War II.  He persevered and became an officer the U.S. Army, a part of the military pull of talent out of the Philippines in the 1950s.  Knowing this recent yet rich history is a part of my family.  I appreciate and respect the sacrifice.  There is no way I can ignore that tradition and it drives me to excel in service.

 As I apply these values to my career, it is clear that I have a purpose in this world.  I own my values with pride.  In my mind, I have been given the opportunity to refine my five key values and apply them on a daily basis.  Building a more inclusive work environment within a successful company such as mine, challenges me to raise the bar on performance, both my own and the company’s.  Respecting tradition is an integral part of creating culture change, particularly in a Japanese owned enterprise.  I must understand the heritage that built this company in order to be most effective in impacting change. I am driven by hope for the future, advocacy for the under-represented voice and remain true to my integrity and authenticity.

For example, one manager to whom I have been providing education, leadership and support gave me a small gift from Hawai’i as a token of appreciation.  She was on vacation and found a bookmark with a quote:  “Po’okela (Excellence) Ahuwale ka po’okela i kau hana ia ha’i…It is through the way you serve others that your greatness will be felt.”  The fact that one of my customers/colleagues sees me in this light re-affirmed my values.  She said that she immediate thought of me when she saw the bookmark.  I keep it nearby every day at work.  The monetary rewards and material recognition pale in comparison to receiving this kind of feedback from a fellow change agent in my company.  I am motivated to create change for the greater good.  I always strive to find the win-win alternative, utilizing my values of service to others.

 

2014

Looking back, I see the core of who I am has not changed.  I have definitely matured and experienced a lot of living over the last 10 or so years.  Almost dying and raising a teenager will do that to you.  (Those two things are not directly related.)  My self-confidence has grown and I have an extremely strong sense of who I am and what I stand for in this world.  Reading this application has inspired me to think about my plan for the next ten years of my life and in my career.  More to come…

           

 

Lt. Dan Choi, Opening Keynote at #LinkageInc Diversity & Inclusion Institute

May 2014

Lt. Dan Choi. I said his name out loud and my boyfriend laughed. It made him think of “Forrest Gump” and the character that Gary Sinise played. That was Lt. Dan Taylor, a proud soldier from a long lineage of soldiers who had died in battle. Lt. Dan was a leader and fully expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. When Lt. Dan and his platoon fell under attack, he protected many of his soldiers, like a true leader. While under a bombing attack, he lost both legs and was waiting to die a hero’s death. However, Forrest Gump saved him.

This blog isn’t about a fictional hero named Lt. Dan, I’m going to write about Lt. Dan Choi, an American hero and leader.

Dan Choi grew up in Southern California, the son of a Korean-American Baptist Minister. That fact was evident when I heard Lt. Dan Choi address a room of 500 or 600 people for the opening keynote at the Linkage Diversity and Inclusion Institute. Even though it was 8:15am, the room was at attention to hear this speech. Lt. Dan Choi commanded the room, not like an officer in the US military but more like a preacher. He told a story that felt authentic and compelling, with more than a few life lessons weaved throughout. I didn’t want to miss a single word.

His opening words included a photograph of Afghanistan, from the mid 2000’s. Choi had graduated from West Point with degrees in Arabic and environmental engineering. There were only a handful of military officers who spoke Arabic. Choi became a highly valued member of the army and quickly aided in sorting through bad intelligence by translating conversations of insurgents and locals alike, real time. That, in and of itself, is leadership.

But Choi didn’t expect what was to come. He told the room what changed for him. He shared what had happened that gave him so much courage to speak his truth. It wasn’t a message from above. It wasn’t a life or death event. The simple truth was that Lt. Dan Choi fell in love. He stated that when he finally experienced what it felt like to put someone else ahead of himself, it changed him. Falling in love and having so much emotion and care for another human being sparked a new fire of courage and leadership. Choi realized that he could no longer hide from the fact that he was a gay man. This led to Choi coming out, in a rather public manner. He came out on TV, on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and began a fight against the questionable morality and wisdom of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In a letter to Congress and President Barack Obama, Choi wrote that the policy is a “slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated than an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.”

Because Lt. Choi showed such courage in standing up for what he believed in and not disparaging the US military,
I think he is a leader. Love is a force that brings bravery to the forefront. It helped Lt. Choi fight for what he deemed right. He attended the very prestigious military academy, West Point. He served proudly in the US Army. He didn’t find it fair that he had to cover up or “not tell” the military that he was gay. And eventually, the US government would agree.

What really struck me as I listened to Lt. Choi centered around his love and commitment to his faith. Choi continuously quoted the Bible. He spoke of his father’s service and commitment to his congregation with respect. My favorite moment was when Choi mentioned that his father was specifically a Southern Baptist minister (the ballroom in Atlanta did catch it’s collective breath.). When he asked his father why Southern Baptist was his denomination of choice, Choi lovingly imitated his father’s Korean accept with the reply, “because we are from South Korea, of course.” That drew quite a laugh from me. I think I almost snorted.

Despite his authenticity and candor, Choi seemed tired of the speaking circuit. He mentioned a desire to find a job and to live a quiet, settled life. Living in the public eye for so long, fighting against the system for what he believed in, these were both completely counter culture to his upbringing. Although he never directly came out and said it, I also got the feeling that his parents did not appreciate his activism. I understand that. Most Asian cultures place high value on protecting the family and saving face. And being gay is frowned upon by many Christians, including Southern Baptists. For Choi to step out in such a public way, it really must have felt like a threat to his family.

But the nugget of wisdom that struck me the hardest was a simple statement that Choi said. He said he listened to his father’s sermons growing up. Choi learned about the concept of unconditional love. He said that regardless of the conditions that his father might put on it, Choi will always love his father. That is both courage and leadership.