Not Just a Pretty Face

A new CFO visited my office for a run down.  After I walked him through our business and budget, he smiled and declared in a surprised tone “You’re not just a pretty face.  You really know your business.”

As far as backhanded compliments go, it wasn’t terrible I suppose.  He was nearly twice my age, male and white.  I, on the other hand, am a chubby, glasses-wearing, non-make-up wearing Asian girl.  I was running one of the biggest units.  I responded “Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.  Although, I don’t know if I would consider myself prettyCute, maybe, but not pretty.  Yes, I do know my business.  I’ve been doing this for 6 years. In any case, what I need from you is…”

It was only at that moment that I realized I was facing sexism and ageism in a way that I had never thought existed in my life.  That experience caused me to think about the training manual we receive as we move into managerial positions. (Or lack thereof…) See below for the Secrets to Getting On with It!

KNOW YOUR WORTH: Don’t sell yourself short.  If you are doing the work, get the pay, get the title. Negotiate for what you’re worth.  At least ask. Don’t just assume that people are going to pay you what you are worth.

NOT THE SECRETARY: Just because you are the most organized or the fastest typist, don’t do the grunt work for the group unless you have a strategic reason for doing so. Sometimes I like taking minutes because I get to influence the To Do List.

SEEK OUT MENTORS: Find higher ups you look up to.  Identify successful people who possess similar values.  You aren’t going to succeed trying to emulate styles that are not authentic to who you are.  Learn from them.  Seek guidance. Get coaching.

FEELING DISRESPECTED: When someone is going out of their way to disrespect you, determine the value of the relationship.  If it is one you cannot afford to lose, overcome them with professionalism, competency and lack of response.  (Bullies like the response.)

MANAGE UP, DOWN AND ALL AROUND: All relationships require nurturing.  When managing up, make them look good.  When managing down, help them succeed.  When managing around, be useful. A team player should be good at leading as well as following.

IGNORE THE JOB DESCRIPTION: A job description is out of date as soon as it is posted. Furthermore, each person will make the specific position unique based on their strengths and weaknesses.  Get the core work done, then flex your muscles and show your strengths.

FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT: It’s never a good time.  You’re never really ready.  You don’t have all the answers. Things are never perfect.  But you have to go for it, do your best, and learn while you are doing until it comes together.  Just do it.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF: If you have a tendency to be a perfectionist, you know that this trait is part of the reason why you are successful.  But if you are self-aware, you will also know that it will be the death of you.  Be as nice to yourself as you are to others.

The world can be a dog eat dog world, but you don’t have to be a dog.  You just have to understand who you want to be and figure out how to succeed while being yourself.


Don’t Be a Bad Boss

I will be presenting a workshop at a Professional Development day at work “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes! (A fun roundtable for new supervisors)”.  So I thought I’d share a little sliver of it with you here.

Having been a manager for most of my career, I think I can safely say that I’ve made quite a lot of mistakes, learned from them, and hopefully have been getting better.  I’m not doing this workshop because I THINK I’m a good boss, I’m doing this workshop because I KNOW I don’t want to be a bad one and I will make every effort to be the kind of boss I want to have (I’m so lucky right now, because I couldn’t ask for a better boss than my current one).  My goal is to help anyone who could use some shortcuts to make less mistakes than I did as a newbie manager.

After years of making silly mistakes like letting the negativity get to me, taking things personally, feeling threatened and being on the US side against the THEM side, I’ve come to look at my role as a manager quite differently.  Maybe it’s maturity?  Experience?  Or just an aversion to banging my head against the wall?  Maybe it’s kung fu zen!

Here are some of my mantras developed over the past few years.  They help me filter options, defuse tense situations and make better decisions (which can be difficult when there are many to make and conflicting priorities with limited resources).

We Start Where We Start

I like this one a lot.  It takes the drama out of everything.  It means that the problem isn’t the problem; the problem is how we respond to the problem.  If we stay calm and approach issues with balance and consistency, rather than with exaggerated exasperation, life can be a lot less stressful and better decisions can be made.  You reduce the risk of saying things that are unprofessional, unproductive and unfair.  It also re-frames each issue from being an excuse (why something doesn’t/shouldn’t work) into a challenge to overcome (how do we do this?).  We start where we start.  Decisions were made with the information and resources that were available at that time.  Then a path was taken and here we are.  The question is: how do we want to go forward?

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

This is a good one.  Whether you are considering your boss(es), your peers, or your team… I can’t emphasize how important it is to take the time to communicate.  Communicate the goals, the status, the rationale, the expectations, the praises, the challenges… Set the expectations and then hold everyone accountable, including yourself.  Tell people when they are doing well.  Let your boss know if things are going off the rails.  Say sorry when you’re wrong.  Help people understand the importance of their work.  Show them how it all connects together.  Celebrate the wins.  Don’t ever let your boss be surprised.  It’s not just the bad surprises (‘What?  This 3-month project is not going to meet tomorrow’s deadline?’) but also the good surprises (‘No dear client, I had no idea that my staff won this prestigious international customer services award.’). If you always communicate and ensure everyone is informed, then no one has to look bad and everyone can focus on doing their best to reach the goals.

Get On the Same Page

It’s not about how much work it is for this department or who gets the credit for what.  It’s about giving everyone the opportunity to do their best work in order to achieve a common goal.  The worst attitude that people like to have is the ‘us versus them’ mentality: They are always wrong, I have no idea what they are thinking, we have to fix everything they do.  We are the heroes, we do everything right, we are so much smarter.  That attitude has to go.  Always make an effort to understand where resistance comes from and then find the common ground.  Get on the same page.  Through communication, help everyone understand the common goals and the impact of their role.  Aim for win-win situations where everyone is on the same page about the desired outcomes and the values.

Be Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Great managers bring out the best in their teams.  These managers know how to inspire people to go above and beyond.  Team members feel proud of their work and feel empowered to do their best.  These managers remove barriers for their team members, resolve issues that cause frustration and bring people together on the same page.  These managers leverage everyone’s strengths and somehow compensate for weaknesses. This can only happen when team members are on the same page, trust each other and have each other’s backs.  Then suddenly you’ll find that your 3-person team can be as productive as a 10-person team!

Create a Positive Working Environment

A great boss is totally authentic and provides a safe place for people to be themselves.  Be fair and friendly, but not friends. No favourites, no double standards. Ensure that people know how to disagree passionately yet respectfully, help people become open-minded about different perspectives.  By allowing ideas to get poked at and challenged, you test the merit of an idea to get to the best solution.  Remember, you are probably at the office for more hours in a day than you spend with your family.  And… going into a workplace that is toxic will hurt your mental and physical health.  If you are the boss, make every effort to create a positive working environment.

Don’t be a bad boss… don’t be a boss you wouldn’t to work for… Be a great boss and make your corner of the world an attractive, fun and productive place to work.

How Do You Do It?

Recently I was asked to be on a panel at work to share my experiences about how to manage your career while having a young family. It’s a workshop run by the ODLC and Family Care Office at U of T and I think it’s supposed to help others answer the question “How do you do it?”.  I think what I say is supposed to help people with families do better at work. And frankly, I wonder if maybe should share what I ought to have done rather than what I HAVE done!

You see, the reality is that I don’t do it all.  I really don’t have it together.  Most of the time I think I’m doing a bad job at work (okay, maybe I’m a bit tough on myself, let’s just say… it’s not good enough… yet) and I definitely feel that I’m not a good enough mother, manager, wife, daughter, sister, friend (yes, in that order, sorry friends). Better mother than wife, better wife than friend… and so on.  (Yes… better manager than wife, you caught that, eh?)

I suppose I could share my learnings from the experiences of not quite doing it, but trying really hard to. This therefore a summary of what I’m going to present to my colleagues with young families for the workshop at the University of Toronto Mississauga in February:

#1: Your Health is #1

Everything else is #2, and I mean everything. Without your health, without self care, you can only do so much for so long.  I had a very massive breakdown earlier this year.  It was a physical, mental, spiritual, everything breakdown.  I could not get out of bed and I could not take care of my family. It was frightening to say the least, but… and I can say it now… it was preventable and I should have seen it coming.  Now I know, my health has to come first.

Put on your oxygen mask. Get your sleep, because sleep is NOT over-rated! Make time for yourself to breathe, re-calibrate, self-reflect, rest, laugh…

#2: Make It Easier

That means: make it easier for yourself whenever you can.  Make it easier for others to make it easier for you.  So, for example, if you find certain times of the day rough to manage, find the help, plan or prepare for it, reduce your expectations, reduce others expectations, delegate…

In the case of childcare, figure out what works for you now.  Some people have family in town, others have wonderful neighbours.  We’ve used nannies, we’ve helped out neighbours and they’ve helped us out, we’ve put the kids in daycare and then Bill quit his job to be a stay-at-home-Dad. Do what works for you and your family. Finances have a part to play in this too, but see #3.

Work with your boss to adjust your schedule, swap responsibilities, manage expectations… If you know you can make it up in the future, then allow yourself to shift your focus to your family for a bit.  Forgive yourself.

#3: Remember: Everything Changes

Remember that everything changes.  The chaos, the feeling of being out of control, the empty-headedness, the poocanoes, the 2 o’clock afternoon sleepies (ooh, I miss napping), the need for childcare, the flash of anger at everything, the frustration of not getting things done, the night-time peeing, the temper tantrums, the never-ending “mommy, mommy, mommy”… but also… the little arms choking you around the neck, the cuddles in the middle of the night, the bedtime stories, the flying leap into your arms, the  kisses, the songs… All of it.  There are many stages and you just make each stage work.  You plan for the next change and you manage through the one you’re in.

Someone reminded me that most people walk down the aisle potty-trained, so don’t get too upset that your kid is the only 4-year old at daycare having accidents.

Kids grow up.  They grow up fast.  Soon, it will be all in the past.  (Sorry, too much Dr. Seuss!)

#4: Don’t Lose Yourself

For many years, I completely lost myself in being a mother and making work work.  Other than my full-time job at work and then my other full-time job when I got home, I lost me.  I didn’t have a sense of who I was or what I loved (other than my children, who, to be frank, at moments felt like obligations rather than people that I adored.)  I didn’t do sports, I didn’t read books, I didn’t go out with friends to have long intellectual philosophical debates, I didn’t try new restaurants, I didn’t watch weird movies with my husband and critique them to death, I didn’t sing songs at the top of my lungs, I didn’t wander through bookstores, I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t.  And.  It. Was. Killing. Me.  Only I didn’t know it.

I think I was hanging out by a thread through my 3 am blogging and watching of crappy TV.  I’ve since found friends who can commiserate about similar things or who tell me that I’m doing okay and, of course, Kung Fu.  The stretches and stances have built strength and stamina. The meditation has a calming affect (I’m not even sure I’m doing it right)… all I know is I feel more balanced. I found me!

#5: Remember the Love

This one is self-explanatory.  Remember how much people love you.  They do.  They just don’t always have the opportunity, headspace, time, energy to tell you or show you  (sometimes they will Facebook you).  But they do love you.  So when you need a reminder, just reach out and get reminded.  Maybe tell them first how much you love them if you need to.  Just remember the love.  It’s all about the love.

#6: Make Decisions with Integrity

Keep in mind that you may not be at your best when sleep-deprived or stressed about picking up kids after work from daycare.

Try to make values-based decisions.  That is to say, don’t make rash decisions, don’t react impulsively and don’t take anything personally.  I think the biggest mistakes I’ve made it have happened because I let things feel personal.  You’re not a different person because you have kids, you just have to take into consideration a lot more other issues.  Not everyone is going to understand. If you are lucky enough to work at an organization that is family-friendly like U of T, that’s great, but the reality is still that we (by having kids) unequivocally do make things tougher for other colleagues who don’t have the same responsibilities.  So, understand that.  Make up for it when you can.  (By the way, family responsibilities are not always just about having children, but include taking care of relatives or elderly parents.)

I would add that working with people who share your values is the ideal situation.  So, if you feel that you are in a place that isn’t ever going to align with your values, goals and integrity, you may want to start thinking about making a change.

#7: Strategically Pick What You Will Let Slide and Forgive Yourself

Some people will be able to Lean In.  If you can, good on you!  Go for it, make your millions and do great things!  For the rest of us, we will have to choose our battles and let the others slide.


  • My hair – I need a low maintenance hair cut
  • The kids’ Chinese – they aren’t bilingual… yet, maybe one day
  • Christmas cards to friends – sorry, I’m thinking of you but…
  • Showers on weekends – yup, don’t stand too close to me on Sundays

#8: Consolidate and Find the Flow

Go with the flow, not against it. If you can find people going in the same direction, hitch a ride.  Don’t go it alone. If you something can be done by someone else because it’s convenient for them, let them help.  Don’t be a hero.  If the hard work you’ve done in the past allows you to ride the waves a bit without paddling so hard, rest awhile.  Reap what you sow and thank your past self as you gather more energy for the future.

When you find the flow, it’s great, because it takes a lot less of your energy and makes things easier for you (see #2). Give yourself head space, you’re going to need it!


#9: Be the Best You Can Be and Be Proud

At the end of the day, we are all human.  We are all flawed, but we all have a best we can do.  So do it.  Then be proud of it.

So there you have it.  My 9 points of advice.  Hope it helps!

Excuses, Excuses… No Excuse!

I’m a working mom.  I have a full time job that pays for our needs. Sadly, I don’t bake lovely cookies with my children or home school them or plant beautiful things in the garden with them.  Lacking the patience and calmness that most of my stay-at-home counterparts possess, I’ve always known that I was going to be a working mom.  That’s not to say that I don’t try to spend quality time with my kids. In fact, my 8 hours away from them a day probably ensures that I can be my best self around them.

However, this lifestyle gives me great excuses for not taking better care of myself.

Oh, I had such a hard day, I’m too tired to do anything but veg in front of the TV until I crawl into bed.

Well, I didn’t really eat lunch, so that’s why I’m starving at 10:45 pm and need to hoover in all the leftover fried rice.

If I’m not at work, I’m dealing with the children.  When can I possibly find time to work out?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to do better: eat better, sleep better, handle stress better… I care an awful lot about the physical and mental health of my kids, but find it hard to do the same for myself.  It’s been difficult to have the where with all or head space to get with a program and then stick with it.

After we found our Shaolin Kung Fu class, I noticed that I would bring the kids there and then sit there for an hour and a half… I wasn’t working, nor was I spending quality time with the kids… So.  When our Kung Fu instructor set up adult beginner Kung Fu classes for the same time… I no longer had any excuses not to do the work!

I found Kung Fu!