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How to move into leadership

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Sabrina Lui, Vice President, Mobile and Platform Services Engineering at ServiceMax, delves into being a female leader in tech, advancing careers and her advice on moving into leadership.

“EVERYONE HAS A PERSONAL BRAND BY DESIGN OR BY DEFAULT,” ACCORDING TO BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, TEDX SPEAKER AND MANAGEMENT COACH, LIDA CITROËN.

Sabrina Lui, Vice President, Mobile and Platform Services Engineering at ServiceMax

In this article, Sabrina Lui, Vice President, Mobile and Platform Services Engineering at ServiceMax, delves into being a female leader in tech, advancing careers and her advice on moving into leadership.

IN MY OWN CAREER, I LEARNED EARLY ON THAT I HAVE TO PROACTIVELY PROJECT WHAT I WANT PEOPLE TO SEE AND UNDERSTAND ABOUT ME.

I had to decide what my personal brand is and project it. So do you.

As an Asian woman in business, for example, I have a petite frame, I speak politely and I have routinely come up against exaggerated and outdated stereotypes. I remember before I graduated university interviewing for a role with a panel of three men at a tech start-up. One of them asked me a technical question. As I was thinking how best to articulate the answer, he asked me if I was going to cry. The other two men on the panel began laughing. That was a turning point for me. I knew I’d have to proactively project both competence AND strength as part of my personal brand. My ability alone wasn’t enough.

Regardless of your own ethnicity, if you’re a woman, you’re often not afforded the luxury of assumed competence, especially in a technical industry. Stereotypes of any kind make it harder for women to get into leadership. If this has been your experience, then I’m writing this blog for you to spell out some of the advice I wish I had earlier in my career about moving into leadership. 

I did an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degree at University of California Berkley, specializing in Software Development. At the time, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I graduated. I just knew I enjoyed building software. As my career progressed, I found myself wanting to build something bigger than the software itself. I wanted to bring people together around a project and get everyone working in sync. I wanted to lead people towards a common goal and deliver result through collaboration.

But how exactly do you move into leadership? You may be familiar with the LinkedIn research findings a few years ago that showed men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, while women apply only if they meet 100% of them. In short, women need more faith in themselves.

I didn’t tell my manager at the time that I wanted to be a supervisor. Instead, I decided to demonstrate my leadership qualities. I showed I was a safe pair of hands, I demonstrated how I’m a natural leader and able to easily bring people together. It worked but looking back, I should have done both as I would have gotten there faster. Competence in your field is important, but you also need to advocate for yourself.

It’s important to take risks and stepping up to lead when you feel ready is one of them. I know that sounds like a cliché, but most clichés are true for a reason. In my last company for example, I had a mentor and also went on to mentor others. My mentor was the Vice President of Engineering. She was a shining example of a busy, confident woman and not something I had encountered before at that stage in my career. At the time my confidence was quite low. She encouraged me to take risks. Seeing her do the same really opened my eyes to what’s possible and her encouragement and example were invaluable to me.

I HAVE FIVE KEY PIECES OF ADVICE FOR WOMEN LOOKING TO ADVANCE THEIR CAREERS AND MOVE INTO LEADERSHIP ROLES:

  1. Ask yourself what your personal brand stands for. Think about what you want people to be saying about you when you’re not in the room and then incorporate it into your daily life.
  2. Get a mentor, become a mentor, and engage with both Women’s Networks and any specialist groups that appeal to you. Make connections and build relationships – not just with other women. There’s so much wisdom to be shared and a strong mentor will help you navigate your own limitations as well as the politics and culture of your company.
  3. Articulate your interest in leadership to your boss and to HR. State the role you’re looking to secure and why. Ask for their support. Advocate for yourself and what you bring to the table.
  4. Demonstrate where possible that you’re already capable of doing the job you want. In other words, you need to both show and tell.  For example, I am not afraid of unknowns and welcome challenges.  Whenever there is project with many unknowns, I volunteer myself to lead those projects.  With much focus and teamwork, my team and I deliver with great result.
  5. Be a good listener. Taking the time to properly understand someone else’s perspective is important – whether that’s a boss, a colleague or friend. Active listening is hugely underrated as a skill and a great leadership asset.
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