Developing Women’s Leadership Potential
Palo Alto Networks has been running a project called “Women in Cyber,” and I’ve had the privilege to expand this initiative with my team in Taiwan, China, and South Korea for the past year. I’ve been fortunate to have great dialogue with the women in the industry from our various sessions. And one of the most memorable moments was when, after a speech I gave in Seoul, a young Korean Ph.D. student approached me and asked me a question I loved: “What motivates you, Wenting?”
I was always motivated to achieve academically and to accelerate my path to a career. I started to seek out sources of motivation on my journey, and I learned quickly that I am most motivated by the achievements of others — seeing them be inspired, influenced, and empowered sets a great example for me. In the meantime, I continue to discover new sides of myself, and I hope to continue improving and inspiring others in order to give back to society.
The Journey to Becoming a Leader
I started my career as an individual contributor and then, over time, developed into a manager and people leader. As much as I enjoyed the autonomy and flexibility of being an individual contributor, I was excited when I saw what I can achieve through others, and this motivated me to shift to a new gear in terms of my own work. The myth I had believed was that as a manager, I would simply be delegating work to others in order to meet the goals set forth within a team and company, not making my own contributions.
As my management journey continued, I saw that both of these scenarios were the case. We all eventually would like to achieve business goals; however, achieving with excellence is difficult, and the business continually needs more talent. I started to realise that, as a leader, I was an enabler, and as such, my singular objective was to identify and amplify the strengths of those with whom I worked. It’s about understanding what motivates your employees and improves their wellbeing, and it’s about making this the best possible workplace for them.
Advice to Women for Developing Leadership Skills
If you’re looking to enter leadership yourself, I would recommend taking these steps for professional development:
Get a mentor. It’s never easy to be self-aware enough to identify and confront your vulnerabilities. One of the ways to do this that I have found effective is to have a work or life mentor. A mentor is just like a mirror showing me who I am and how I can transform those vulnerabilities into strengths. Although it is never comfortable to face our weaknesses or the parts of ourselves that need improvement, you might feel you embrace this new chapter when you find you’re more able to contribute at work and discover that you enjoy the new you that arises from the transformation.
Get out of your comfort zone and learn new things. Resilience can be developed. Getting out of our comfort zones and putting ourselves in situations where we can learn new things can unleash our potential. I was born and raised in Taiwan. When I was in my late twenties, I decided to live in North Africa for a few years and simply challenge the way I had been living. I wrote a series of articles about my journey in Morocco, from the beginning, when it was so hard to immerse myself in the culture, to the end of my time there, when I had eventually come to respect and appreciate all those differences. I would say my time there was one of my best life experiences because it opened my mind to places and people I had never before experienced.
Have a growth mindset. Continuing to learn and having a growth mindset are critical. The very first product for me to sell, more than 20 years ago, was a load balancing, disaster recovery system, which today is built by default on a laptop or a server today. The technology evolves, and we need to continue learning to keep up to speed and reflect the way we can contribute to society. While I am writing this article, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting everyone’s life and the world economy. In order to tackle this, we must continually adapt to all types of situations, and making the best decision is never easy.
In my conversations with women leaders, for the most part, the views they’ve shared with regard to how they got where they are today and what their biggest challenges have been did not have anything to do with their gender. From my observations, the critical factors to their success have been their characteristics of resilience, adaptability, and a growth mindset — traits we should all develop on our own career journeys.
Everyone wants their voice to be heard, and everyone has a dream. If we can help others to fulfill their dreams and have their voices heard, that is a gift we all benefit from.