Kyunghee L., Senior Director of Strategy and Implementation Success for PaaS and IaaS in APAC is a trailblazer. Rising through the ranks to become a senior leader within Oracle by doggedly developing her strengths and performing, she overcame deep cultural perceptions that affected her as a woman in the tech industry.
While still fulfilling traditional roles as a daughter, wife, and mother, Kyunghee makes no apologies for her determination that enabled her to pursue her career goals and growth. With her focus now on mentoring and coaching young women to invest and use their strengths to achieve their goals, Kyunghee shares more of her journey with us.
How did you identify and cultivate your strengths?
Initially, I didn’t recognize my strengths. It was one of my managers, and later on, a colleague who pointed out that I’m very strategic in my thinking, and that I’m good at seeing the big picture. I started to consciously develop these strengths by always asking for frank feedback from managers, colleagues, and team members. I also changed my mindset: I decided a long time ago that when I’m given a task or assignment, I won’t see it as a job. Instead, I always try to understand what my role is in the larger picture, and I ask myself, “What’s my responsibility?” “What’s the most interesting thing about this project?” “What can I learn from this work?” By approaching my work with this attitude, I’m invested in it beyond it being “just work.”
What would you say has been your most valuable strength?
In addition to being someone who thinks strategically and looks at the big picture, I’m also an activator. When part of a team, I make things happen.
How do you build on your strengths?
To develop, one needs a feedback loop. So I’m constantly asking people for feedback about my performance—I seek their thoughts not only at work, but also in life situations. I also always try to see things, and myself, from a third party’s point of view. This way, I get balanced, neutral insight and avoid having a narrow-sighted—or shall I say, self-sighted—view.
What have been the challenges that you’ve encountered in your working life? Tell us how you played to your strengths to overcome these challenges.
When I started working back in the early ‘80s, it was a big challenge for me to find work as a woman. It wasn’t in the Korean culture for women to work (especially not after they got married). And even if women managed to land a job, there would be many limitations, such as lesser opportunities for promotions. I had to deal with this cultural aspect. Thankfully, on the family front, my father was very supportive, as well as my husband later on.
In my career, I had to deal with my fair share of discrimination. Some of my managers—especially when I first started working—saw me only as a team member and never could accept that I had management potential. I also felt “alone,” as there were not many female colleagues around.
When I could not convince my bosses with my good performance, I moved to another team. I did speak up against unfairness sometimes, but when that got me nowhere, I would move to work for managers who recognized my performance and potential—and more importantly, were happy to mentor and help me develop my career. I thought long-term and didn’t just focus on one issue, in order to make the best decision for myself.
You describe your leadership style as being the conductor of an orchestra. How do you do this?
When I evaluate or work with people as their manager, I look at two parts: their performance and their potential. The performance is easier to assess, but potential is something that’s under the surface and not easily seen. Besides talking to my team members and getting to know them better, I also seek other people’s comments and observations to have a 360° view.
Then, just like an orchestra conductor would, I harmonize the strengths of all my team members. I don’t dictate what they must do or how they should develop themselves—they’re experts in their respective roles—but I offer guidance and advice. Individually, I explain to them their strengths I see, and I share how I developed my own strengths. When assigning projects, I always consider my colleagues’ individual strengths and task (challenge) them accordingly.
I always expect them to do better than what they think they’re capable of. If they fail, it’s also a part of their development. But eventually, with their perseverance and eagerness to learn, they will achieve their goals. At the end of the day, I want them to have growth.
What advice do you have for women who want to excel in the workplace of today?
Regardless of whether you’re male or female, I believe you first need to have a willingness to work on yourself, and have a yearning for improvement. So before an opportunity comes along, you need to be prepared—I call it “prepared coincidence.” If you’re weak knowledge-wise, or if you need to brush up on your skills or expertise, then study or learn from others better than you.
And when an opportunity presents itself, seize it. Don’t shy away from taking up added responsibilities or diving into a new role because you’re afraid or you’re overthinking your abilities. Have confidence and be ready.
Are you ready to ramp up your career? Oracle has numerous opportunities that can help you reach your goals. Explore today at our Careers site.
Senior Director of Strategy and Implementation Success for PaaS and IaaS in APAC