Vanessa Bryant in the news made me think of #girldad – a hashtag that gained popularity through her legendary husband Kobe Bryant. Being at a recent extended family event, I observed many of my cousins (by birth and marriage) with their daughters. Watching their interactions and thinking about the ways they engage with the next generation of #girlpower in our family, I thought about my dad. I thought about what was different for me … maybe the same for their daughters … and how that all came together in my bi-lingual and various bi-cultural worlds.
The difference between speaking and being heard – My dad speaks with an accent. It wasn’t unusual for him to be asked “Do you speak English?”… while in the middle of a conversation in English. In my early career – while speaking without any trace of an accent – that came back to me through experiences with men who only seemed to register what I said when another man delivered it. That taught me things I both embraced and had to un-learn in my career … more on that in a future post.
There’s no substitution for hard work – My dad worked three jobs (while mom worked too) to provide for us. His work ethic taught an unspoken but impactful lesson: things will not come easily when you’re different so show up / work hard / and earn your steps forward. Entitlement and complacency leads to stagnation…and probably a bunch of other not-so-happy things. On the flip side, diligence and consistency opened doors of opportunity for me.
To make change you need to become one of them – My dad was intentional about assimilating me and my sister into American culture. He knew what he didn’t know so he embedded us among those who did know so we could learn from them. It could be confusing – and as I matured it became a source of tension – to live in my Filipino culture at home while being American everywhere else. So while I can’t remember when he said it…I know he did. I needed to become “one of them” to help others who look like me succeed as well.
Taking #girldad lessons to work
Where did these come into play in my corporate life?
- I needed to learn to hear others. Sometimes the message is in what my teammate didn’t say or the tone they used irrespective of their word choice. It doesn’t matter if you’re an individual contributor, manager, or leader – improving our hearing opens the doors to new ideas / understanding when people are code-switching (communication styles) / and allows you to encourage others to use their voice.
- I needed to remember that I was always an example. Didn’t matter if I was the newest person on the team or the most tenured leader, if I didn’t show up every day … if I didn’t do my part … then I couldn’t expect others to want to work with me – never mind follow me. Bad days happen – so own them! Then pick yourself up and continuing to move forward.
- I needed to open doors for women / BIPOC / diverse talent. There were doors I didn’t even know existed … informal rules of conduct … and dynamics I would have been oblivious to if not for the guidance of mentors and friends like Richard and Bradley from my Enterprise days. With a seat at the table, I needed to advocate for those who had the talent / ability / and drive to elevate their careers but who may have been in the shadows or were being overlooked. It’s my turn to make change.
Unspoken but powerful lessons
If my dad read this … I’m not sure what his reaction would be. Part of me thinks he’d probably say: I didn’t realize I was teaching all that … but I’m glad you learned from it! For the leaders reading this: what are your people learning from your spoken and unspoken teachings? For managers, what skills or behaviors do you need to refine if your ambition is to elevate into leadership? And for everyone: how good are we at hearing those around us … learning from them … and leveraging everyone’s unique abilities toward success?