Why are we in the business?

August 30th, 2012 by Celia Young 6 comments »

Someone said it brilliantly, what keeps us apart from all our competition is not what we do but why we do it.  The “why” has everything to do with our value as a company.

In his book, “Fixing the Game”, author Roger Martin talked about how businesses have gotten confused about their priorities and values as a result of over-practicing Capitalism

For decades, we have been indoctrinated to believe that our business goal is to maximize shareholder return.  This becomes a short-sighted game we play.

Actually if we put customers first, we will be able to make our shareholders happy.  But often we get our mission backwards.

Martin described two kinds of markets:  Real and Expectation.  In the real market, businesses strive to find a way to satisfy customers’ needs, solve their problems and delight the customers with solutions.  Real market represents our real performance.  When customers are happy, they are willing to pay for the goods and services.  As a result, businesses will grow and be able to share their profit with their shareholders as a reward for their investment in the business.

In the expectation market, shareholders buy shares with an expectation that the share price will go up.  Often, their expectation does not take into consideration the business cycle, which can cause the ups and downs of stock performance.  So in order to make shareholders happy, businesses need to constantly show that they can offer the kind of returns that are expected.  To do this, they end up cutting expenditure in areas such as capacity building that will hurt the business in the long run.

Peter Drucker said, “There is only one valid definition of a business’ purpose:  To create a customer.

In Martin’s book, he cited stories about two CEOs who made very different decisions.  In 2010, after the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico hit the news, its CEO Tony Hayward took quite a long time to finally apologize for and acknowledge the severity of the disaster as a result of the blown-out oil well.  By that time, almost 5 million barrels of oil had been released into the Gulf.  The damage was done on several fronts.  What was his reason for the delay?  Perhaps by downplaying the problem, he intended to minimize the impact on BP’s share price.  What was the result?  It cost so much more money not just to clean up but also pay for the multiple lawsuits that followed.  Human and environment tolls were beyond calculation.  What did it do to the morale of the company?  What did it do to its reputation among customers?  At the end, was he able to make the shareholders happy?  Was he able to keep his own job?

Comparing to BP, Martin pointed out a different case where Johnson & Johnson had a Tylenol poison crisis in 1982.  CEO James Burke immediately ordered to halt all Tylenol production and advertising, distributed warnings to hospitals and announced a nationwide recall.  He made a very difficult choice in facing this crisis head-on.  In the short run, it cost Johnson & Johnson quite a bit of money to recall its product and their shares did suffer.  However, from this experience came their temper-proof packaging that has since become an industry standard and won the loyalty from the healthcare industry and its customers.  Their share price came back higher than before.

Martin asked: What was the difference between these two leaders?  You can say it has something to do with their personal characters.  But looking closely we noticed that the two leaders were merely carrying out their companies’ mission.  BP is in the business to be competitive and performance-driven that generally is interpreted as protecting shareholder value.   J&J believes their first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, patients, mothers and fathers who use their products and services.  In a word, they put their customers first.  On the surface, both missions are legitimate.  But in practice, their priority can either uphold or compromise the company and its leaders’ value and integrity.

Being overly concerned with shareholders’ interest, leaders and companies might try too hard to appease the stock analysts.  They might cut corners and withhold spending on capital investment for research or capacity building for the long run just so that they can make their profit look good for the next quarter.

On top of it, executives are compensated by stock options.  If they can show profit, their own portfolio will look better too.  This has very little to do with satisfying customers’ needs.  When leaders try too hard to make Wall Street happy and in turn fatten their own pockets, they run the risk of sacrificing their personal authenticity.   Their tenure maybe short but they get paid well on the way out.  Everytime top leaders make a decision, it impact the people at the bottom.  Imagine turning the center of the wheel just an inch, the spokes that are on the far outside of the wheel will have to move a few feet just to keep up.  When leaders make a wrong choice, the “rank and file” will suffer greatly.

Then we have the hedge fund crowd that is there to gamble on the up and down of the stock market.  Sometime they even create artificial volatility just to profit from it. When the real market gets hijacked by the expectation market, it is like professional athletes playing for the bookies.  Where is the integrity?  Where is the value?

The United States has had 11 economic crashes since WWII.  These economic meltdowns came more frequently and more deeply as the years went by. Why is it?  All the government regulations and safety measures have not prevented these disasters.  Out of many complicated reasons, one has to do with the fundamental agenda of many businesses.  If we are here to make money for our shareholders by any means necessary, we might decide to withhold spending on upgrading the equipment, hiring more people or training and developing more talents, so that in the short run, our company value looks really good for Wall Street.  At the extreme, some leaders and companies even fixed their books or used illegal accounting practice to make their numbers look good.  The underbelly of the extreme capitalism is the moral decay.

In the last few decades, many smart people chose careers on Wall Street because they felt they could make much more money and faster than working in a field of building something.  But how do you feel by just manipulating the money game? Did you contribute to the real performance of the market?  Did you make a difference for the consumers?  Did you do any good for mankind?  Did you build anything? Did you save any lives?  Is money the only measurement you have for your hard work? Is there any soul left in this game of money?

When a business loses the true meaning of its mission, the customers will experience the lack of care for their needs.  The employees will detect the hypocrisy in the espoused mission and lose their faith and commitment.  This game will not sustain itself.  Eventually the shareholders will leave you too.

We need authenticity in our leadership and our corporate culture. When we put in an honest day’s work improving people’s lives with our products and services, we feel whole and complete.  We feel proud to be working.  When a company is doing the right thing by really trying to make a difference for the people they are serving, then the company is aligned with its authenticity.

The truth is:  If businesses focus on making sure they provide the best value to their customers, they will have happy employees who are willing to give their best to make sure the company continues to innovate and turn out the next generation of products that will keep their customers happy.  By improving its performance in the real market, they will reward their shareholders with a decent return on their investment.

Leaders are flesh and blood human beings just like the rest of us.  So, the question is:  Are we courageous and do we have enough honor to stand up and do the right thing even if it will cause pain in the short run?  Are we willing to put our personal integrity on the line?

Right now, it seems that many leaders in politics and business have lost their value compass.  We all have been talking about the problems of working for short-term gains.  Our culture has been measuring its progress in three months increments for years.  Just knowing this reality does not make us shift to long term thinking and actions. There seems to be real shortage of courage to reform the way we run a business or our country.

Most of us who go to work just want to contribute our ability, make a difference and raise a family.  However, when we have a small percentage of people who play the zero-sum game and win big while the rest of us watch our life’s saving dwindle and end up having nothing to show for it when we retire.  What kind of world are we living in?

I don’t believe in the Darwin theory of “survival of the fittest”.  I believe we human beings should have more compassion than animals.  And even animals take care of their own kind.  When did the world become obsessed with making money only?  When did we measure ourselves only by the dollar amount we accumulate?

It does not matter who our next president will be, this capitalist system on steroids cannot continue without some calamitous consequences.



Celia Young helps her clients reconnect with their true purpose to be in the business and restore integrity for sustainable business success.

Mastering The Cross Cultural Competency

July 5th, 2012 by Celia Young 3 comments »

A Key Quality of a Successful Global Leader

For the last 26 years, I have consulted with many major corporations that have expanded their businesses all over the world.  They have invested millions of dollars in manufacturing, sales, R&D, distributions, etc. in order to achieve their competitive advantage.  Not every company succeeded or managed to keep winning the game.  One of the significant reasons has to do with whether they have sufficiently competent people in the all the key positions to carry out their business mission.

One of the many qualities, experience and skills that make a successful global leader is their cross-cultural competency, which is the ability to successfully manage cross-cultural relationships, and capitalize on the cross-cultural advantage and achieve sustainable business results around the world.

I gave a presentation in the SHRM (Society of Human Resources Management) annual conference that just concluded on June 27 in Atlanta.  My subject was “Mastering the Cross-cultural Competency.”  One of the questions that got a lot of audience interests was “How do we assess the cross-cultural competency in our executives?”  For decades, organizations have relied on psychological tests and type assessment to gauge the hire-ability of new job candidates.  And for similar number of years, we have used 360° feedback tool to measure leadership competencies.  Since we have been sending leaders on global assignment, we also found the need to assess their ability to manage and do business cross national and cultural boundaries.   However, no assessment tool alone can help executives acquire a global mindset and eventually become globally competent.

Three days ago, you found out that you were going to China to look at possible site to build a plant that can provide the closest supplies to your client that just expanded its China market.  Now you are standing in an old abandoned weapon factory in the outskirt of Shanghai.  Nothing looks and smells familiar, your head is swelling, your jet lag just kicked in and you feel the fast moving traffic is swallowing you up.

You are in a “culture shock”.  At this moment, you have two ways to make sense of what you are experiencing.  One way, you might say, people are just people; as long as your contact in China speaks English, you don’t see how business dealings will be any different than anywhere else.  The other way, you let everything overwhelm you.  Street signs and store names are all in Chinese.  Without the ability to read Chinese, you are not sure what to order for dinner. On the streets, cars don’t yield to pedestrians.  The crowd stands too close.  You are frozen and immobilized.  You wish you could go home now.

It is between “being in denial” and “being totally lost” where the majority of us struggle to find the most effective way to succeed in the global business.  Our rate of success depends on the following competencies.

  • Curiosity

Curiosity is the ability to stay open to possibilities and surprises.  With curiosity, we have a chance to learn something new about ourselves and our environment.  Some people have very little curiosity because perhaps they were born this way, too busy or too occupied with the tasks at hand to be curious or they have decided that they already have the answers.

With curiosity, we start noticing our environment and our internal reactions.

  • Scanning and Tracking

In addition to curiosity, a potential leader must have the ability to scan his or her environment and notice what is going on.   They also need to track cultural patterns in the environment.  It is easier to find things that are familiar to us when we go into a new environment.  But once we have found the similarity, we often stop looking, assuming that we know enough to move forward.  This is when we run into trouble because we are not prepared to face situations that are not familiar or different from our past experience.  So, the more challenging and rewarding thing to do when we scan our environment is to move toward things that are different.  This requires our sharpened senses to see and experience cultural differences.

  • Opening to Multiple Meanings

The most challenging thing is when we notice differences and discover how uncomfortable and hard it is to accept these differences.  This is when we really need to withhold judgment and reactions and stay suspended till we do some further investigation and research.

The way we make meaning of any data we collect often is based on what we have learned from the past.  An adult sees a table and the child sees a building block for his or her castle.   Our cultural upbringing constantly colors our lens thus impact the way we make meaning   Often, we react to the meaning we make, not the raw data we collected.  What happens when each of us attaches our different meaning to the same business circumstance?  An effective leader has the capacity to hear and see possible different meanings.

In some cultures, “yes” does not mean “agreement”.  It just means “acknowledgement”.  Without understanding these different meanings, we might react negatively when “yes” did not turn out to be our “yes”.

  • Empathy

To have empathy is to put ourselves in someone else’ shoes.  We won’t be able to do this until we have fully understood others experience.   For decades, Japanese auto makers studied their customers’ personal habits when they are in the car and for what purpose they used the car.  They basically put themselves in their customers’ daily life and discover what would make their life easier and build these conveniences as standard features in the car.  When China first opened to the West in the 80’s, majority of its populations lived and worked on the farms.  In order to keep most of the then one billion people employed in the countryside, the last thing they wanted to do is to replace manual labor with machine.  So, I noticed many families rode their John Deere tractors on the country roads instead of using them in the field.   If we want to be responsive to the market needs, we must have empathy for the social and cultural factors impacting the market condition.  This ability to empathize starts with our leaders.

  • Managing Ambiguity

The higher we go in the organization and the farther we journey into the global world, the more complex business problems we will encounter where there is no one best solution or one right answer. Every choice we make, we will have intended and unintended consequence.  Around the world, business is being conducted very differently because of different cultures or different business norms.  We cannot possibly have all the necessary information or explanation to help us make that one best decision.  The market is full of ambiguity.  The most effective leaders are the ones who can manage the dilemma and live with the “not knowing” and make the best decision they can.

  • Marginality

When I first migrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, I knew I was 100% Chinese.  Then one day after 12 years here, I realized that it did not matter how hard I tried, I would never be a native-born American.  At the same time, I could not go back to be that 100% Chinese again, especially after I started to think, to dream and even to feel in English.  I vacillated between the two worlds and felt genuinely lost.  Then after the next twelve years, I learned to embrace the marginal part of my “self” that did not belong to the U.S. or China.  This marginal part of me has become my third identity that helped me navigate smoothly in and out of different cultural environment.  I have truly become a global citizen.   Successful global leaders need to stop struggling between their two worlds, discover their marginal self and claim their global citizenship.

  • Reconcile Differences through Dialogue

After we have recognized and understood that there are cultural differences among people in this world, so what?  We still need to find a way to work together in order to achieve business results.   For too long, we tended to see differences as “right” and “wrong”.  We would spend too much energy and resources to defend our “rightness” and to silence or beat down anything that is different.   This is a very costly power struggle where we might win the war, but will not win the “peace.”  If we accept the notion that “it is not right and wrong, but right and left”,   we might find a new and more mutually beneficial way to deal with our differences.  Global leaders must have the ability to help reconcile cultural differences.  The way to do this is through Dialogue*.

Buddhist practice has taught us that if we want to be understood, we first have to understand.  So the first rule of Dialogue is Inquiry before Advocacy.  Historically, we tended to have done too much of advocacy before inquiry.

If we invest enough time and effort to truly understand other cultural point of view, we may find that others have good ideas that we can incorporate.  At the end, we will have found a win/win solution to an otherwise very complex business problem.*”  On Dialogue” by David Bohm, 1990

  • Reaching Common Grounds

By going through the above seven-step struggle in managing our cultural differences, we can finally build the true common ground where real global collaboration and innovation can have a chance to sprout and grow.

When we optimize our global leaders’ cross-cultural competency, we can uplift human lives on earth while achieving global business success.




Celia Young develops and coaches global leaders to optimize their cross-cultural competency.  Learn how Celia Young & Associates can help you succeed in the Asian Century by visiting here.

Isn’t Anyone Listening Anymore?

April 19th, 2012 by Celia Young 5 comments »

Last week, I lost my cool after a series of incidents while working with my personal trainer Mary.     I don’t remember if I have ever done this in the 62 years of my life.  Afterwards, I realized that maybe I was reacting to more than just these immediate experiences.

Here is what happened.

First, she transposed her calendar wrong so she missed our appointment.  Instead of just acknowledging that she messed up, she tried to explain what she did.  When I said I understood the mistake and was ready to move on, she kept on explaining until the next session.  I had to wonder: Did I seem confused?

Then, while she was working with my quads in the following session, I commented on how I would not be able to do this exercise without her help since I could not see my legs’ positioning from behind.  She immediately tried to explain that she knew what she was doing and she was really just trying to help me.  I said to her that I was just frustrated with my lack of ability to work this routine on my own.   But she was too busy defending her competency that she could not hear me.  Did I say she was not helping me?

Finally, she tried to get me to drink a protein shake that she swore by.  I said I did not want to because it contained sugar.  She said, just because I did not want to use it, it did not mean the shake was not good.  Did I say the shake was not good?

What just happened?  If I look beyond these exchanges with Mary, I started to notice the pattern of behaviors that seems to be common among younger people, including service providers, students or employees.  They seem to have no hesitation to stand up for themselves and argue their points of view.  Maybe this is what their parents have taught them.  If this is true, their upbringing certainly is different than mine and generations before me.  We were taught to play with the cards that are dealt to us without protest, while the younger generation seems to want to change the deck.

While many people are very good at advocating for themselves, they tend to miss the art of listening.  If Mary did, she might have found that there was nothing for her to defend.

As a professor, not a semester would go by where I did not have one or two students argue that they deserved a better grade.  They would present all kinds of reasons but none of them had anything to do with their performance in class.

There also seems to be a pattern in this younger crowd who talk so fast that I often cannot understand half of what they are saying.  And they tend to interrupt me when I am still talking.  So, is it because their brain is so much faster like the computer they were trained to use since they were children?  Is it because they live in a world that data is instantly available?  Or because they just did not know how to listen beyond bits and bytes?

In the meantime, the fast-paced life in our current culture forces us to constantly move at light speed and bounce like pin balls.  The multitasking trend does not help either.  All it does is to create a distracted generation that misses the most valuable lesson in life.  That is to be a fully present human being.

Mary is superb in her technical competency as a personal trainer.  What she lacks is the ability to be fully present in her relationship with people.  She is too busy following her own impulse.  The computer in her head puts her on a constantly reactive mode.  She has no ability to sort out the external stimulus and decide what to respond to or not.

As a customer, a teacher and an employer, I have a set of expectation.  I want to see more than technical competency in my trainer, my students or my employees.  I want a working relationship with a mature human being so that I don’t have to teach them how to grow up.

This is just my hunch.  Maybe people in the younger generation have been pampered so much as children that they were never allowed to have any “failure” experience.  And they never learned to have a more appropriate emotional response to the outside world.  Or maybe, all those computer skills have not helped them develop socially.

Many of my major clients in the U.S. and around the world used to tell the new hires that they were lucky to work here.  Now the new hires tell the employers that the company is lucky to have them.

The center of the world has shifted.

This is wonderful and worrisome as the same time.  What is positive is how self-motivated and confident this new generation is and will keep their employers on their toes.  Today’s employers would need to make sure the work environment provides enough stimulus and learning opportunities in order to keep these young people engaged and help them bring their best talents here.

What is challenging is about the same qualities above.  Sometimes overly self-serving and confident people tend not to take in feedback well.  They tend to want to skip a few steps on their developmental journey without paying the necessary dues.  Computers do not have the moral or emotional compass because they are not built that way.  Maybe one day, all computers will have this compass in their artificial intelligence.  But human beings should always be more developed than computers.  We are running the risk of raising a whole generation who act like computers but lack emotional and relational skills that are absolutely essential in order to be successful in this world.

Do we only measure our success based on how much money we have made or how brilliant we are in business?  Did we get here all by ourselves? If not, what happens to our ability to be humble and appreciative of others?

But is this phenomenon only happening in the younger generation?  I think not.  When we stop listening, we are no longer present.  We are quickly becoming a society of talking heads as if, lights are on but nobody is home.  We are not really here.

Listening is more than just hearing through our ears.  Spoken words only represent 25% of the total message. Listening is also about observing non-verbal ques.  It is about scanning our internal and external world.  It is about awareness.  Even when we do listen, we are too busy attaching our own meaning to what we heard or observed.  I have coached many brilliant leaders and found that they have something in common.  Brilliant people tend to walk around with their expertise on their forehead.  They talk over people because they want to tell and teach what they know.  But by over-telling and over-teaching, they have no awareness that they have just alienated people around them and lost the credibility that they passionately want to demonstrate.  Also, people with any kind of expertise are often too busy preparing their answers or rebuttals while listening to others. They do not really take in other people’s point of view.  Since they often believe that other points of view are not as brilliant with theirs, they tend to ignore and not show enough appreciation for them.  This does not help build a cohesive relationship at work.

In David Bohm’s work “On Dialogue”, he talked about how we each bring our assumptions and opinions to the public square.  In the battle among opinions, there is always winner and loser.  If we rely only on competition to go on as a planet, we will never get to a harmonious place where all of us can live peacefully.  Truth does not emerge from opinions.  It must emerge from something else.  It comes from the unspoken and collectively understood places within us.  In “Dialogue”, when we learn to suspend carrying out our impulses and our assumptions and just take in all of them, we will find out that we have a common consciousness and we are all part of the same human race.    If we know we have a shared future, why would we need to spend so much energy by winning the talking war?

True dialogue has two parts:  advocacy and inquiry.  In our current society, we tend to over-use “advocacy.”  Many brilliant executives fall into the same trap.  Since they are very intelligent and accomplished, they often over use their strengths.  They can turn any meeting or exchange into a debate or lecture where they would kill you with their data, thoughts or point of view.     What happens to humility and empathy?     The more they talk, the more they sound like there is something they need to defend about.  The true genius has no need to defend them.

Why do you need to explain or defend so much?  What is your hurry?

Buddhism teaches us that if we want to be understood, we first have to understand.   Inquiry skills allow us to understand others so that we do not hasten to attach our meaning to what we heard or observed and end up creating unintended consequence.

Several weeks ago during a networking meeting, a man I met spent our time together telling me what he and his business were about.  Never once did he ask about my business.

Years ago, on a first date with a man, he spent the first hour and half telling me his life story.  After I came back from the lady’s room, I asked him if he liked to know anything about me.  He said, “Yes, what do you think about us?”

Now I know why I lost my cool last week.

Celia Young coaches leaders to listen fully with their presence.

Are We Free as Women Yet?

March 31st, 2012 by Celia Young 4 comments »

Reading “The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights” (by Worden) , I felt the convulsion in the pit of my stomach that manifested because I was angry, pained, sad and scared for the persistent violence against women on this earth.

The book examines the impact of the Arab Spring and found that there has not been a direct correlation between the new found freedom and the increasing level of equality for women. In many cases, the same group of women who worked side by side with men in the struggle to overthrow the dictatorial regime ended up being shun from the decision making table. During the struggle, many of them were brutally raped, beaten and even killed. For the price they paid, they did not gain the same respect they deserved as the men.

The following is a quote from an article published by the Amnesty International, “Violence against Women”.

“Living free from violence is a human right, yet millions of women and girls suffer disproportionately from violence both in peace and in war, at the hands of the state, in the home and community. Across the globe, women are beaten, raped, mutilated and killed with impunity.

Gender-based violence stems from the failure of governments and societies to recognize the human rights of women. It is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women’s bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Every day, all over the world, women face gender-specific persecution including genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and domestic violence. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.”

Reading books and articles and watching TV news, I often admire those women activists who continue to be on the front line fighting for freedom and justice. Their bravery has me re-examining my role in the fight for equality as a woman. While we may not be able to single-handedly wipe out all the violence and injustice in the world and before we rush out to condemn those countries for their mistreatment of women, we should at least continue to fight for women’s equal rights in this country.

The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. After 2 days of discussion and debate, 68 women and 32 men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined grievances and set the agenda for the women’s rights movement including equal rights in education, employment and rights to vote. Women were finally able to vote in every state of the Union in 1920. This was a 72-year battle.

Today, more women have Bachelor degree or higher than men between the age of 25-44. Consequently they will have better employment prospects than men. However, according to the Census data analyzed by the National Committee on Pay Equity, women on average earned 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by men holding the same full-time and year-round job. While white women’s pay has improved a little bit, pay for women of color has not changed at all. Survey by Catalyst, a non-profit organization focused on women’s progress, indicates that women lose out on more than $400,000 in salary over a 40-year career to men with similar qualifications.

Pay or glass ceilings are not the only issues. Although we don’t have honor killing, bride burning or female circumcision in the U.S., one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew. Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police. In addition, we still don’t have a “just” way to protect women who were raped or stalked. Finally, there is the under-reported sex trafficking that the society often does not want to see.

If we women are too quiet, our voices will not be heard. If we stand up for our rights, we often get called bitches, whores or branded as militant. Just look at what happens to the feminist movement. Furthermore, since the 60’s, women of color have continued to subordinate their grievances for their lack of equal rights for the sake of civil rights movement. Like their sisters in the Arab Spring, they fought along with their brothers of color for racial equality but they still cannot get to the big table without being branded as bitches.

Too many men make jokes during gender discussions. Too many women go along so that they would not get beaten up verbally or physically. Every time we laugh at a sexist joke or a joke that subtly demeans women, we continue to help keep sexism alive.

In still many corners of this society, violence is just a thin layer of bad language away. A portion of the population not only applauded when an opinion leader called a female law student a “slut” but also wanted to strip women of their reproductive rights along with the right to control their own health. Too many forces continue to silent our cry for help. Where is the freedom? Where is the equality? This is not some KKK rally where the rhetoric and banners are the product of some very extreme and fringe movement. This crowd represents the underbelly of otherwise law-abiding and charity-giving model citizens. The violence this group potentially can cause is bigger and more dangerous than any direct killing of women.

So, what business do we have criticizing and judging other countries for their bad cultural or religious practices that abuse women?

Why are so many of men silent on this assault on women? Don’t men realize that 50% of the population are women and they cannot avoid sharing this world with women? Furthermore, what are they willing to do to stand up for their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters?

Why don’t we hear from more women? Sometime it is even more painful to face the deafly silence from women. I often hear women, young and old declare that they don’t like working for a female boss or they rather be friends with men. They avoid supporting other women. Many women even make sure they are not seen as feminists. Our silence and act of omission continue to stop us from gaining the equal status as our birth right in this country.

In the diversity work we do, we have a term called “internalized oppression.” It describes how a subordinated group, such as women, oppress themselves either because they feel inferior to the dominant group, such as men or they want to avoid further abuse.

For the last few decades, we have spent a lot of energy to encourage girls to raise their hands in class and to empower them to reach for the stars. We have helped them play the game well in order to succeed in a still male-dominant business world. However we have not helped our boys develop more fully because as long as women try to be like men, men don’t have to change. In many instances, we have produced a population of men and women who do not have enough empathy for women’s plight as if statistics of women’s abuse are just academic data, similar to the way we see the wars as episodes on TV. These thick concrete walls and glass windows of our office buildings have somehow insulated us from our feelings toward injustice.

Decades after the women’s right movement, we have serious eating disorder issues among teen age girls and 3 out of 10 girls become pregnant before they turn 20. We still have a large population of young women who sell themselves short in their relationship with men. What happened to all the work done to raise their self-esteem?

Since 1848, we have come a long way to achieve the advancement for women. However, can we turn a blind eye on the work yet to be done from the gated community all the way to some back alley?

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2011 said, “Women are not free anywhere in this world until all women in the world are free.” This bold vision reminds us of those women’s shoulders we have stood on to get here. Women’s rights are human rights.

In order for our society to advance to the next level and become truly a beacon for freedom, both men and women will need to wake up and get fully involved in the work to achieve gender equality.

The TV camera followed this young woman activist who sprayed graffiti on the wall in a dark alley of Kabul, to remind people the fate of Afghan women. Her black eyes beamed from her hijab-framed face. Her blue paint glowed in the dark with determination. She said she chose this alley, infested by abandoned drug needles, syringes, and polluted by the smell of urine because that was the only place that she felt safe from the soldiers and thugs who would kill her on sight.

Can we afford to look the other way?


Celia Young works as a diversity consultant with businesses and communities to achieve gender equality.


What Are We Ready To Let Go Of?

March 21st, 2012 by Celia Young 6 comments »

In the movie “Love Happens”, the motivational speaker worked to help the audience grieve their loss and take a step toward self-renewal.  However, he had never grieved his wife’s death as a result of a car accident.  After too many things have happened around him to remind him of the incongruity between what he preached on the outside and what he practiced in the inside, he finally let go of his guilt and loss and began his own healing.

Life seems to be a series of “letting go”.  We need to die a thousand deaths in order to let ourselves reborn again and again.  But we often hesitate when facing endings.  So, we either hang on too long or we live with regrets too long after we let go.

When the doctor said to me that the only way to keep my mother alive was to put tubes in her for her to get nutrients, I made the most excruciating decision to let her die, because I know she did not want to live life at the mercy of a machine.  Then for the next 6 days, I watched her slowly fade away.  I never knew ending could be like this.  I watched her eyes close but her mouth still moved as if she was talking to someone.  I played her favorite Chinese classic opera and let the music trail into the hospital hallway.  By the third day, I could not stand the pain in my broken heart and I wanted this whole thing to stop.  Then a very wise friend said to me, “This is your mother’s journey to the end, not yours.  Just appreciate that you can witness this very sacred process.”  I sat down and realized that my mother’s life was no longer in my control or the doctor’s hands.  It was time for me to surrender.

Recently, I met a man who used to be an opera singer with quite a fan base and a lucrative contract.  All of a sudden, one day the phone stopped ringing.  His contract expired without renewal and the fans disappeared.  A wise friend said to him “You still have the song in you.  Just sing it because it is a gift.” Then he found ministry.  He was able to let go of the cheering crowd but keep his song.

In the contemporary Western world, parents tend to give children lots of praises for the purpose of building their self-esteem.  Then as adults, many of them become too dependent on the positive feedback and recognition from the outside world and wrap their self identities around their achievement. The trap we often set for ourselves is the need to hear the cheering crowd.  When all is quiet, do we still sing?  Can we still make a difference in this world even when we don’t get a fan mail?  Is it time to reset our measurement of success?

For 26 years, I worked to become a very experienced and successful consultant.  I know I have made a difference in many people’s lives.  In the last three years, when the economy went bad, the phone became quiet and clients had less budgets to invest in the real change work, I felt like that opera singer who just lost his cheering crowd.  But, I have been learning to let go of my old identity and keep singing because I still have the “song” in me.

In the Gestalt practice, we have a tool that allows us to help our client identify and clarify the “what is” in their situation.  When we let go and surrender, we can really embrace the “what is”, not the “what could have been” or “what we wish”.  My work is about stopping the fight with my own “what is”.  In a TV commercial, a black woman standing in the field looking out at a landscape and said, “I don’t know how much money I will have when I retire.  But I do know I will live with whatever I have.”  That is the ultimate act of accepting the “what is”.

Life is a series of re-calibrations.  When my mother started to show signs of dementia, I realized there was no point of correcting her memory or reminding her that she just went to the bathroom.  I decided to follow her mind.  Whatever story came out of her mouth, I not only followed but also built on it as if it was true.  I found such relief and freedom when I stopped struggling with her.  I accepted the “what is”.  When friends or relatives looked in on her, they usually would ask “Is she getting better?”  I would say, “That is the wrong question.”  There is no “better place” for her to be.  All I did was prepare to adjust to whatever stage she moved to.  Even after trying to let her be, I still could not just let her go without my personal struggle.   Two years after her passing, there is not one single day goes by that I do not miss her and cry for her.  This proves to me how hard it is to surrender.

Last week, I celebrated my birthday by attending what turned out to be a powerful and spiritual workshop.  During the workshop, I cried as I let go of my old measurement for success and shouted out loud my anger for not being able to call the ending on my own term.  But as I cried from the depth of my belly, I felt free and released as if my soul was howling.  At that moment something much bigger had taken over.  I had a sense of true “surrendering.”  For the first time, I felt the spirit soaring through me.

I have found myself moving closer to my true calling.

When asked, many of us would say that it is our calling to help others and make a difference in the world.  But what can we offer?  Beyond our knowledge, our skills, the most powerful contribution we can make is the experience of our whole “self” – body, mind and soul.

Until we experience the healing and mend ourselves, we cannot truly make a difference the way we are called to make.  Just like the motivational speaker in the movie, could he really help others become whole when he was wounded and broken?

The real power of the “Use of Self” or the “Self as an Instrument” in our work, is to truly accept  who we are, even including our shortcomings, grief, loss, guilt, regret, etc. and surrender to something that is bigger than ourselves.  I call the path of moving from the small “s” to the big ‘S’”.  The small “s” represents our individual selves.  The big ‘S’ represents the all-encompassing spirit of the universe.   When we work from the big “S”, there is no need for reasoning or attempting to control.  We are just being cradled by the mystery of the universe.

If I am the instrument for what the spirit is meant to be, then when I work with my client, I am not there to use my individual brilliance but I am there to channel all of our brilliance.  I need not claim any credit for it.  This spirit that runs through me does not belong to any church.  It is not supposed to be cut up and become privately owned by any institutions.

I used to date a French artist.  He said when he first painted, he painted for himself.  But after that, he painted for the world.  It meant by the time the painting was finished, it belonged to the world.   He would stand back and walk away without looking to see if anyone liked it.

In a TV show called “The Voice”, groups of aspiring artists competed for a chance to get chosen for a big career break.  But what they were required to do was to own the music, the lyrics and original intent of the song writer with their body and soul.  When they did, all the glory that resulted in a recording contract became secondary.  They sang for the spirit.  They moved people not because they were the best entertainers but the best instrument that channeled the spirit of the universe.

Regardless the titles on our business cards, what are we really doing here on this planet?  We say we are here to make a difference.  Do we truly feel it in our soul?  Every time we use the wrong measurement for our achievement, did we sell out our soul?

What went wrong with all these corporations that broke the ethic code and cheated on their shareholders, customers or mistreated their employees?  Have they followed what they said were their values and principles?  Or have they gradually depleted their souls and ended up with a beautiful but empty glass tower?

Just like the corporations, we cannot truly be great leaders if we betray our internal spiritual compass.  Profit without conscience is like worshiping the wrong God.  Sooner or later, we will be caught wondering around in the desert.
In the true Zen practice, no one will be there to give us praise or criticism.  Our work is not good or bad.  It just is.    This is total surrendering.  Our spiritual work needs to expand way beyond our “ego.”  A friend of mine went to Japan to learn pottery.  For the first two years, her master had her sweep the floor.  In the Buddhist tradition, this is called “emptying and quieting the mind.”  My teacher called it, “Coming back to zero.” Then when she was finally allowed to touch the clay, she would put all her finished work on the windowpane every night.  And her master would examine her work every morning.  Without a single word, he would break all the pots and have her do them again.  This is the ultimate learning from within.  There was no external encouragement or judgment.  She would have to rely on her own resolve and internal guide to teach her.  Feeding her “ego” would not have helped her at all.

For whom do we sing our song?

“Dance as though no one is watching you.  Love as though you have never been hurt before.  Sing as though no one can hear you.  Live as though heaven is on earth.”  

This quote from an unknown source means so much more to me today than when I first saw it on a poster a few years ago.  How do we get beyond the rhetoric and truly live the meaning of the words from our soul?  To truly live there, we will have to let go of our needs for external or internal gratification.  Too many leaders including religious ones fell from grace when they believed in their own greatness after people have put them on the pedestal.

When we buy into our own brilliance too much, we become narcissistic.  When we reject and withhold love and compassion to ourselves, we become self-loathing.

To truly use our “self” to do our work, we must own the experience in our “self.”  In their attempt to help others, many people can be very clever because they were taught well in asking all the right questions.  But to truly have empathy, we must be able to sit in others’ experience and see the world through their filters.  The best song writer writes about real pain or heart break and the true beauty they have experienced inside.  We are here to channel something greater than ourselves.  When we can achieve that, we will touch the underground river where the water of the sacred flows through.  Whenever I watched the movie “A River Runs through It”, I would get teary not just for the beauty of fly fishing but the beauty of the vast universe.  For having such a privilege to be alive as a human being, how insignificant my personal aches and pains and disappointment have just become?

Ancient Chinese wisdom says at every cusp of change, we need to shed our skin.  I remember at the end of a long vision quest, I drew a snake on a piece of paper, folded it and put it in my notebook.  Next day when I opened my notebook, all the dried-up colored crayon on the snake’s body fell off into little pieces just like the snake shedding its skin.

I am at that moment of shedding again.

Celia Young coaches her clients to become who they truly are as a leader and a human being.


Where Do We Go From Here?

March 8th, 2012 by Celia Young 9 comments »

I am going to be 62 this Wednesday. My personal trainer’s computer program that calculates my Body Mass Index says my body age is actually 43. I like her computer’s answer.

The government and my driver license say I am a senior. The movie theater sells me senior tickets. I am also qualified to get the “blue plate specials” for seniors at the restaurants. But I feel like a middle-aged woman who should have another half a life to live. But how would I live? Up to the age of 50, I was so busy pushing forward my life chasing the American dream and never gave the rest of my life a second thought. Now I find myself in a swirl of thoughts.

What is the American dream? Mostly it is about the freedom to start something new. Then it gets translated into having a good job, owning a home with a white picket fence and having a big enough nest egg to retire comfortably on.

Talking about our work, many of us spent the first half of our lives climbing the career ladder. We have learned to define ourselves by “what we do.” We often greet each other by asking first “what do you do?” What happens when we don’t have a “doing” part of ourselves anymore? Often not too long after their retirement, many men will die. Many couples end up having nothing to say to each other after they have retired. My girlfriend retired last year. Her husband, although at the retiring age, chose to keep working not because they needed the money. If he were to retire too, they could have travelled together and spent more time together. Perhaps this is one way for them to maintain harmony in their married life.

Talking about our home with the white picket fence, most of us don’t really own our house. The bank does. We buy into a house hoping that someday its value will appreciate to the point we can cash in or we will be free of the mortgage. The reality is that most of us in this generation and younger will probably never own our properties out right. We will end up making mortgage payments until we die. This is one American dream on credit we cannot cash in.

In the same American dream, we have learned to measure our life’s achievement according the material possessions we accumulate. As a matter of fact, these worldly possessions and others still in the store have helped create a false identity for us. Then the economy went into the toilette and the real estate market crashed. The mortgage we owe is bigger than the value of our house. For those of us middle-aged and seniors, the nest egg we have been building is shrinking. The retired life is quickly becoming a bad dream. All of a sudden those things that used to define us are not dependable any more. There is a tremendous amount of sadness and regret when one watches his or her livelihood disappearing.

How do we recover from this?

Local coffee houses are full of middle-aged men in Dockers pants carrying laptops. They are there to network for new business and career opportunities. How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other? How do we keep getting up from a night of bad storms and go out into the world to make our dreams come true again?

Many people in my generation either cannot retire or do not want to retire. We still have obligations and better yet, dreams. The question is: What kind of dreams should we pursue now?

At mid-life, we think we should have already made it and do not have to struggle any more. But every day is like a rookie day that we have to go out and prove ourselves one more time.

Perhaps this time, we can learn to find a different kind of measurement for our happiness and sense of achievement. Maybe it is always there in the rich blessings we already have, such as health, friendship, love, family, and the ability to make a difference in the world one corner at the time?

How do we re-compose the next phase of our lives? We will need inspiration, meaning, courage and determination. Mostly we need to find our hearts in a different kind of dream.

When a person died in the Ancient Greek time, people would usually include answers to these two questions on their tombstone: Did this man have passion? Did he die as a fool for love? To translate into modern terms, I think they meant to challenge us to see if we have been true to our hearts and souls.

In many corridors of corporate America, there is a whole bunch of walking dead’s who have trekked so far away from home and lost themselves. In order to come home to ourselves, we need to get back our passion. One way to do it is to get into an internal dialogue with ourselves which is much more important than getting our clues from the external world. The question is: Are we quiet enough inside so that we can hear ourselves? When one door closes, hopefully it means other doors will open. But do we have eyes to see where the opening is?

Many years ago, I traveled to Bora Bora, one of the main islands of Tahiti. I noticed that the local people lived in houses with thatched roofs. Children ran around bare-footed. They raised chickens and grew coconuts to supplement their daily diet. You could hear the mixture of chickens crowing and children laughing every afternoon. They relied on the French satellite to get their TV channels. Life was simple. They did not seem to be impacted by what went on in the world.

Like many people, I fantasize about moving to an island and living a simple life. But here I am still chasing my American dreams. I still measure my success by my income and my worldly possessions. As a practicing Buddhist, I have to do better at “letting go of my attachment.”

At 50-60 years old, how do we rediscover ourselves and reclaim our lives? Some people still want the next pay day. I want more time. Somehow, as we get older, time seems to fly by faster.

Once in a while, I have this panic feeling as if I am running out of time. I do not want to kick the bucket and still have unfinished dreams. Like they say, yesterday is gone and tomorrow is promised to no one. All we have is today. My Zen teacher always says, “Don’t waste time.”

This down economy had all of us running out of breath. We need to find a way to slow down the time and give us a bit of breathing room so that we can regroup and start the next chapter of our lives.

Watching a singing competition show on TV called “The Voice” a few nights ago, I was so moved by the artists who put all their hearts and souls into the music for that one chance to move one step closer to their dreams. The coaches’ advice has been consistently “Be true to yourself.” Most of them would be eliminated at the end of the show. But tomorrow morning they would get up and start again.

When I die, on my tombstone, I want them to say, “She gave it all she got.”


Celia Young helps her clients rediscover their passion and help them reach their full potential at work and in life.



Is Our Soul for Sale?

February 27th, 2012 by Celia Young 3 comments »


In a cheesy little movie, a young woman activist just found out that the bill she was lobbying for up on Capitol Hill was defeated because an older woman senator, who was supposed to help her champion the bill, has traded it for a bill that the senator’s corporate backers had wanted to pass.  Confronted for this perceived betrayal, the senator said; “I cannot do any good if I am not here on the Hill anymore.”  The young woman activist said, “But you are not doing any good here.”

This seems to be a common argument that many politicians carry with them as if getting re-elected is their primary purpose.  They have neglected to ask if they sell themselves to the highest bidder in order to stay in the office of power, what good they would do.  And who would they become?

For over 25 years, I have been working as a change consultant for major corporations.  I have witnessed many initiatives that started with great purpose but failed to produce the intended results at the end because too many people looked the other way when the need for real reform ran against the need for individual career survival.

For example, the work of “Diversity” has become an industry in the last few years.  Now there is even a position called the Chief Diversity Officer.   The Office of Diversity has a budget and a few staff.  But what is its purpose?  Has it found its voice?  Or has this work become a million dollar “box to check”?  A true diversity initiative is meant for an organization to fully utilize its diverse talents to support innovation in turn, to increase its competitive advantage in the marketplace.  In order to do this, we first have to have the diverse workforce from which to draw diverse talents.  In order to have a diverse workforce, we have to do more than just recruit different people.  We cannot capitalize on our people’s diverse talents if we don’t appreciate their differences.  In order to appreciate our people’s differences, we must have an organization culture that is open and receptive to their diverse ideas, styles and values.

But after years of doing the “diversity” work, many companies still have not seen enough diverse people in every level of their organizations. And most of the work was done to help women, minority and other underrepresented groups to succeed in the organization by teaching them to master the existing “success formula”.  In another word, this is the work of “assimilation”, not “diversity”.  We have not designed or implemented a process or a path to capture their differences.  If the organization culture stays the same while trying to recruit diverse talents, there is no capacity to absorb the differences.  It is like the body continues to reject the transplant.  At some point we ought to stop blaming the transplant for not fitting in but the body that is not ready to fit the transplant.  This is when we need a cadre of true change leaders internally, that has enough courage to tell the truth and challenge the status quo.  However, too often I’ve noticed that the people who were put into the position to lead the “change”, ended up towing the company line instead of standing up and speaking out for “change”.  They helped the organization stay the same while climbing their own personal career ladder.  Often they did not know that they were put there to window dress for an organization that really was not ready or interested to change.  So all they do is move the food around on the same plate while the diner starves to death.

The same can be said about training.  Many organizations spend millions of dollars sending their managers to training but never had a clear expectation or attach specific accountability to their deliverables.  While a percentage of the individuals indeed were impacted and changed because they were already open to change, the majority of them went back to their desk and did their job as usual when the glow from their faces faded after a week.  Did the organization have an intention to change by having these managers lead the change?

Talking to a potential client on the phone the other day, I told her I was interested in doing the “real” work of helping her people and organization change.  I knew I ran a risk of not getting any assignment from her but I also knew that after 26 years working in the business, I am tired of supporting clients to push the same food around the plate again.  And I also know that as an external consultant, I cannot do any work without the help from the internal change agent who is willing to champion the change.  It is often easier for me to stay true to myself as an external.  But as an internal staff, people often think they need to bend and camouflage themselves in order to get along.  I believe when a person assimilates too much, they will become irrelevant to the organization they just assimilated to because at that moment, they are no different than the person sitting in the next cubicle and now replaceable.  Even if we think we need the job, to add value to our job, we need to maintain our differences and marginality, which means we need to stay true to who we are.  Otherwise, we are not doing any good here just like that woman senator on the Hill

To become a true champion for “change” is hard work.  We have to be willing to pay a price to stand up for what is right and beneficial for the whole.  Every single day, we go to work and have to make a decision whether to go along with the status quo just so that we can have a job.  When we overdo this, we have become so assimilated that we are no good to ourselves and to the cause we say we believe in.

Many years ago, I interviewed for a potential executive coaching assignment with a woman in a major national agency in Washington DC.  Not too long after we were into our conversation, she said she worried that her people didn’t come to her for advice or mentoring.  And she was under the impression that they did not think she cared or was capable of nurturing them.  As she talked, she started to cry.  While we had not yet agreed on the coaching assignment, I thought I would use my coaching skills to help her put herself back together before she would face the world for the rest of the day.

A few weeks later, I found out I was not chosen to be her coach.  I am sure many factors played into her decision.  But one of them stood out loud enough for me.   For a moment, she let her guard down, became vulnerable and showed her intimate self to me.  Somehow this frightened her as if she could not afford to let anyone see that side of her.

I wonder how high a price she has paid to get to the second-in-command position of the agency.  The price probably included her ability to nurture, or her femininity that her employees were missing.  This might have caused them to lose their trust for her.

Is it her fault to become so camouflaged?  Not entirely.  If the organization did not demand that she fit into a “hard hitting”, “sharp focused” and “charging up the hill” type of leader, in other words to become more like a man, would she have been more of who she really was?

Many of us changed and adapted ourselves so much in order to come to work, after a while, do we still know who we are?

Many men I worked with have also suffered long with this dilemma.  They don’t usually discover this loss of self until they hit 50 years old and realize that they are not going to be the president of the company.  Their health turned bad.  Their marriage fell apart.  And they did not know how their children grew up.  Many white men especially can feel the sharp pain since they were the first to get on the career ladder in most of the business organizations.  White men, as a group, like to think of themselves as only individuals. And they believe that they got to where they are in their career totally because of their individual hard work.  So when their world falls apart, they have no one to turn to.  They have woken up to see that the years they put in to be good soldiers and good company men had not gotten them the true happiness they longed for.  By that time, they became so lost.

Change is hard work and it takes time.  It often requires a significant portion of the organization to take on the role of internal change agents with a lot of courage to sometime go against the existing trend in order to champion for change.   Yet too many organizations still think that change will happen in a 2-hour training class.  However when no one is willing to stop the train, challenge the path we are on and advocate for alternatives, we all have just become sheep following each other over a cliff.

Steve Job at his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech said “…Find what you love to do.  Don’t stop until you are truly satisfied in doing what you believe as great work….Live as if there is no tomorrow.  Avoid the trap of believing you have something to lose…Don’t waste time living others’ lives…  Stay hungry.  Stay foolish.”  This is not just a job.  If we cannot be ourselves and are not doing what we love to do, why are we wasting time doing it?

Finding our passion and staying true to ourselves are two sides of the same coin.  Even if we need a job just to pay the bills, we can still find pleasure and passion in it so we will feel better about ourselves and our performance will be better.  Why should anyone sell themselves short?

In order to find pleasure and passion in the work we do, we better align our core values to it.  Every time we chip away a little bit of our true self on the job, we moved a little farther from our passion and our core.  We have basically created a deficit in our soul’s bank account.  I don’t want to live this way.  I don’t want to conclude at the end of my life that I have sold out before I close the book on myself.

Hiro and his wife Miho own and operate a running shoe store called “Run More” in my little town.  The other day, I went in their store for the first time, Miho bowed to me several times and smiled broadly.  When Hiro finished with his last customer, he came over and shook my hand warmly and proceeded to get an imprint of my feet.  Next thing he did was to get down on his knees and observe the way I walked back and forth.  Afterwards, he pointed to a section of the product display called the “structured cushion” and recommend that I choose a pair of sneakers from this section.  He then took out two pairs of insoles and had me try on to decide which fit me better in order to help correct the way my right foot is overcompensating for my left foot due to knee injuries.

I was so struck not only by his knowledge but also his intensity.  In those 20 minutes, I was totally convinced that Hiro believed in the shoes that he was selling and in his work of helping amateur athlete like me to keep doing what I love to do without causing more damage to myself.  Hiro and Miho are just ordinary people.  They came from Japan not more than a year ago.  Their English was far from perfect but their enthusiasm has trumped all the obstacles they might have encountered in this new land.

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I were in the local Starbucks to get coffees.  Somehow when she opened the lid to add cream, the hot coffee spilled onto her hand.  We asked the young woman behind the counter if they had an icepack to stop the burn.  She answered no but offered no help to us.  I had to keep asking what else she could do.   She said she could give us some ice but she had no plastic bag to put the ice in.  Instead of standing there, I had my girlfriend run to the bathroom and quickly rinse her hand under the cold water.  We finally got some ice in a plastic cup from the young woman as we walked away.

What do you think Hiro and Miho would have done differently if they worked behind the Starbucks counter yesterday?  They probably still might not have an icepack.  But I am sure they would run a bit faster and try a bit harder to find the next best solution for my girlfriend’s burnt hand.  What is missing in the young lady at the Starbucks?  Is it lack of training from the company?  Or is it lack of passion for her job?

What does it take for people to care, knowing it is not just a job that they spend their most precious lives on?

What does it take for that woman executive to reclaim her whole self?

What does it take for us to renegotiate our worth based on our core compass, not some big paycheck and big title alone?

How ready is your organization to accept your employees as who they really are, in order to encourage innovation?


Celia Young helps her clients to be true to themselves as individuals and as organizations in order to achieve their highest purpose in life and in business.


Where is the Humor?

February 21st, 2012 by Celia Young 6 comments »


Just when the sports world and the fans got swept up in the Lin-sanity where Jeremy Lin, the first Asian American player in the NBA generated so much excitement for the basketball game and became the “overnight sensation”, the excitement also stirred up the shadow side of our society.

Right after Jeremy Lin’s team New York Knicks lost to the New Orleans Hornets and interrupted its seven game winning streaks; ESPN headline included a racial slur, “chink in the armor”.  Earlier, MSG Network had the cartoon of Lin jumping out of a fortune cookie.  Boxer Floyd Mayweather said Lin is receiving attention on the scale that he has because he is Asian. Mayweather, a black man, ought to remember when Chuck Cooper, the first African American player who got into the NBA in 1950.  Did he think Cooper’s achievement was all about his race?  And then, Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock posted a Tweet that perpetuated a stereotype about Asian men full of sexual overtone.  Although ESPN quickly erased the language, fired the employee who created the headline and suspended the news commentator for using and repeating the offensive language, this is not the first time the Network or other major media committed such racial offenses.  And the deeper problem remains unresolved.

Often when an offensive remark is made either about gender or about race, people around the offender or the offender himself/herself would say that it was just a joke and there was no ill intent behind the remark.  Some might even say, “Lighten up.  Don’t be so sensitive.”  The question remains, “Why is it ok to continue to make jokes at the expense of others?”  Who gave these people the license to freely express themselves without any regard for others?

If we look back at the days when they lynched black men on a regular basis, we can say that the U.S. has certainly come a long way.  But you would have thought that blacks like Whitlock would have more sensitivity not to commit the same offense against another group of racial minority.   But we still have so far to go to arrive at a truly diverse and civilized society where using “Chinks” or “Gooks” is as equally offensive as using the “N” word.

The real issue lies beyond policing our language or manner in this society.  The real work is to eliminate the deep rooted racial bigotry that still exists in this country and this world.

In 1992, when Christie Yamaguchi, representing the U.S. won the Olympic gold medal for figure skating, a talk show host in Los Angeles openly questioned, “When are we going to have a real American skater in the game?” Yamaguchi, a U.S. born and raised Japanese American who brought home the glory for our country, not only had to endure many similar remarks but never gained as many commercial endorsements like some of the white women figure skaters.

As a group, we Asian Americans continue to suffer from invisibility.  But when we are visible, we often are confronted by the old but persistent indignation of our society.

They say that if we don’t learn from history, we are bound to repeat it.  During World War II, one of the fiercest fighting groups of American soldiers was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team with the 100th Infantry.  They were awarded seven Presidential Unit Citations.  This is the highest award that a unit can earn.   The “442nd” was a group of Japanese Americans, born and raised in the U.S.  While they were fighting for this country on the front line, many of their families were rounded up back in the States and sent to the internment camp.   By the time the war was over, most of them had lost their properties and their community.  Most of these men and their families carried their suffering in silence.  It was not their culture to complain.

The term “Chink”‘ started to appear when the first wave of Chinese immigrants came over to the States in the1800’s to work in the gold mines and on the railroad.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Chinese immigration was perceived as a threat to the living standards of whites in North America and other similar nations. The Chinese were seen as invasive, and this mounting xenophobia culminated in Yellow Peril hysteria. In the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, banning Chinese immigration, within a few years after the first recorded use of chink. The dehumanizing use of the word is argued by one author to be a racist justifier for the passage of the Exclusion Act. (Wikipedia)

These are parts of our country’s ugly history.  If we don’t remember them, then we will not understand why a little racial slur can hurt so much.

We Asian Americans have another layer of suffering where our culture encourages us to endure and adapt to our environment so we don’t make waves or lodge loud protests like the African American community when racial slurs or racial profiling are used on them.  Sometimes, when blacks protest too loudly, they get blamed for using the “race” card.  This is one more reason that we Asian Americans have learned to look the other way when something offensive happens to us.  We often swallow the injustice or throw our hands up and said, “That is just the way it is.”  Our silence shared by many non-Asians often helped keep the same racial oppression alive, generations after generations.

Some of us Asians avoid and run away from ourselves.  Our reasons could be as wide and as deep as the sky.  If we have been treated unfairly many times, it might be easier just to pretend it does not bother us, or pretend that we are not Asians. Many Asian Americans who grew up in this country like to tell you that they think of themselves as Americans, not Asians.  My Hispanic and African American friends often cannot understand this sentiment. In a diversity workshop I facilitated, a white man said to a black man, “Why can’t we get beyond the race talk?  I just want to get to know you.”  The black man said, “Being black is part of me.  What is it about my being black you don’t want to know?”  What is the benefit of denying our Asian identity?  So perhaps we can hide or blend into the background and not get into the spotlight.  However, we can try all we want; we will not turn into whites.  And people do not see us as just individuals, as long as we have an Asian face.  So why not own “ourselves” completely?

UC Berkeley professor Ron Takaki, in his book “Strangers from a Different Shore” told a story.   A man walked up to him in a store and asked him “Where are you from?”  Takaki said he was from Sacramento.  The man said, “No no, where are you really from?”  Takaki then spent the next few minutes recounting how his grandfather built an orchard in Oregon and how his parents were born there and he in Sacramento.  Before leaving Takaki, the man said, “Boy, you speak very good English.”

How many generations do we have to have been here in order to be seen as real Americans?

When a person of color fails, he or she often carries the burden of the whole group.  I have never heard any racial remarks about a white player or celebrity when they failed.  When the Knicks lost to the Hornets, I would not have minded if people had criticized Jeremy Lin’s turnovers and the mistakes of the team.  But this is beyond the passion for the game.  This is like putting a person of color in his place and reminding him of who is still in charge.  Evidently, Jeremy Lin has suffered as a result of racial insults ever since he decided to play basketball.

The first Chinese American governor, Gary Locke, for the State of Washington, (1997-2005), had a promising political future and was viewed as a vice president candidate for the Democratic Party.  Right after his rebuttal to President George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, he announced that he would not seek re-election.  Many people speculated that his decision was mainly due to the threats he received.  These racial slurs, insults and death threats were aimed at not only him but his family.

In this society, if we don’t agree with what someone said or did, we are free to register our objections.  But if the target of our objections happens to be a person of color, a woman, a gay/lesbian, or a Muslim, all of a sudden, there seems to be an arsenal of bigotry that is easily unleashed against not only the individuals but also their groups.

At one of my workshops, “Doing business with Asians” for a local realtor association in the 1980’s, I actually had realtors picketing outside.  Although I was invited to help them learn to enter the Asian market and develop more business, their signs were full of racial slurs.

Someday, no wonder some of us just want to pull the cover over our heads.

Jeremy Lin said ESPN has apologized so he has moved on.  Perhaps he has more important things to focus on, such as winning the next game or he has trained himself not to let this experience bother him.  Or he truly has forgiven the offender as he claimed.  Whatever the reason is, as an individual he is entitled to make his personal decision to cope with the bad experience.  However, as a group, shall we Asian Americans just keep quiet? And as a society, shall we continue to let things slide?  If we think because we did not experience or did not see the racial oppression and we do not need to get involved, we just helped keep the ugliness in place.

The more powerful way to help this society to open its arms so that all citizens can claim their rightful place is for men to get really upset when a sexual remark is made about a woman and for whites to get offended when a racial remark is used on any group of racial minorities.  Otherwise, the power inequality will continue.  Women and people of color will continue to be forced to swallow or left to fight the injustice on their own.

Many of us believe in the Golden rule of “Do onto others like we want done onto us.”  This might be quite a good rule to follow but it is not enough.  If we only apply the Golden rule, it means that what works for us must work for others.  So if the jokes don’t bother us, then they should not bother others either.  What we need is the Platinum rule that says, “Do onto others like they want done onto themselves.”  It means, in order to treat people right, we first have to find out how they want to be treated.

The only way to change our society is to take a stand and do something to stop the insensitivity and the injustice.

What is it that you can do within your personal range of influence?  How much courage do you have to be that change agent?  What are you willing to do to stand up for justice?


Celia Young champions for social justice in every part of the work she does as a diversity consultant.



Can You See Me? – An Asian American Experience

February 13th, 2012 by Celia Young 8 comments »


Last Friday night, New York Knicks beat LA Lakers 92-85. I am not much of a basketball fan but I got swept up in the game because of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks’ point guard. Lin alone scored 38 points. To his fans, he represented a true “Cinderella” and an “Underdog” following a long road to the NBA. In New York, they call him “Lin-Sanity”. To me and all my friends at the dinner table, he represented the first Chinese American who made it to the NBA. When I saw his number 17 jersey, I cried.

During last Friday night, hundreds and thousands of iPhone, text and e-mail messages overloaded the network from both sides of the Pacific Rim. Our excitement for Lin was different than that for Yao Ming who was a Chinese player, sought after and drafted by the Houston Rockets. As a Chinese American, Lin was never drafted. Universities that are well known for their basketball programs did not want him. Finally Harvard took him in. From playing in the summer league, to the Golden State Warriors, getting cut and finally getting into the Knick’s development league and back up team, it was a long road that almost ended because his contract was to expire in 10 days.

The real story is not just about basketball. It is about how invisible Asian Americans are in the U.S. landscape. When I watched the Beijing Summer Olympic on TV in 2008, I danced up and down and cried at the same time with pride. Although I was not born there, I felt the cellular connection to the mother land. But China is far away and its glory might not have helped us Chinese Americans very much when it comes to making it in our careers in the U.S. When the movie “Joy Luck Club” came out in 1993, it stirred up so much emotion among many Asian Americans. Although not all their ancestors were Chinese, they celebrated this Chinese story because it was the first time that a movie was written, produced and acted in by an all Asian American cast. Since 1993, it has been a long time we Asian Americans saw the image of ourselves on the main stage of our society.

In the national dialogue on race, we Asian Americans are often not included. When it comes to minorities, people would think of Blacks and Hispanics first. Perhaps they do not think we need representation. But what happens to a kid who wants to be in theater or sports, or just wants to be a leader when there are not too many role models that look like him or her.

Just like when Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton and Earl Lloyd broke the color line as the first African Americans that got into the NBA in 1950, this time the excitement belongs to the Asian Americans. Until the day when it is not unusual to see Asians or any other racial minorities in any line of work, people like me will continue to get choked up about the news.

Here is a deeper issue: There is a difference between being Asian nationals and being Asian Americans. Average folks in the U.S. just cannot see it. Working with so many major U.S. corporations in the last 26 years of my life, I have not seen too many Asian Americans in the senior ranks. As long as we still measure a person’s career success by how high they climb on their career ladder, to be missing from the senior ranks is not a good success indicator. Very often, when we do see Asians in the senior ranks, they tend to be the Asian nationals who had succeeded in Asia working for either Asian companies or multinational companies with operations in Asia. They then got helicopter-ed back into the U.S. headquarters and landed in executive positions. In many cases, white management would pat themselves on the back to think that they did very well promoting Asians. But these Asian nationals did not grow up in the U.S. or climb the typical American corporate ladder. They did not experience the organization cultural bias and the glass ceiling. Often it is not easy for them to be the role models for their fellow Asian Americans.

While we cheered for Yao Ming’s success for getting into the NBA, how he got there did not necessarily help build the ladder for Asian Americans who were born or raised in the U.S. and aspire to be professional basketball players until Jeremy Lin.

We Asian Americans often live a double-edged dilemma. On the one edge, we have been raised and influenced deeply by our cultural upbringing that encouraged us to get into a “professional” career. Playing sports and getting into the theater certainly are not seen as real professional career choices by many of our parents. On the other edge, when we do try to break out, we are seen through a stereotypical lens by the society. If we show up as anything beyond our stereotypical profile, such as being good at math and science, we are seldom taken seriously. Perhaps those other universities did not see Jeremy Lin as a good enough athlete either.

It is wonderful to see an underdog on his way to becoming a superstar. Americans love an underdog because most of them see a bit of themselves that way. Cheering for the underdog gives them hope that someday they can make it too. This is how this country has been founded. However, Jeremy Lin is not just an individual. He represents a group called Asian Americans who most of time are not seen as minorities but are not whites either. So, where are they in this society? Maybe one day, race won’t matter. But at this moment, it does. For a white player to be a superstar or get promoted in a corporation, he or she just has to be better than everyone else. And he or she would only be seen as an individual. Whites are already in. This is why their whiteness never needs to come up.

Asians in corporate America have an inherent disadvantage because of the cultural gaps. Whether we are immigrants or born and raised here after so many generations, we still have our cultural traditions in our genes. We were raised not to stand out and not to self promote. Our communication style tends to be more indirect. With this indirect communication style, our strength is in our ability to listen and observe in order to capture other’s messages. Except in Corporate America, we are expected to speak up more often, speak well and come to the point more directly. Otherwise, we are not seen as leadership material. Asian Americans who do not fit this profile would tend not to be noticed. And we often do not get the promotion we deserve. Statistics show that we Asian Americans certainly do not have difficulties getting hired. But where did we go after we get hired? In any major U.S. corporation, potential leaders are encouraged to constantly build their network, market themselves and work on perfecting their personal “brand”. This is so opposite to the values that we Asians hold dear to ourselves.

But can you say that Asian Americans are not good leadership material? Just come to Silicon Valley, California. There are so many entrepreneur companies that were founded and led by Asian Americans. We just lead differently. The question is: why can’t the large companies see that and value us more as who we truly are?

At the Friday night’s dinner, my friends wondered out loud if Jeremy Lin’s life would have been different if he actually got admitted to one of those major basketball schools. If he did not get dropped by the Golden State Warriors, would he have become a superstar much sooner? Perhaps he had to take such a long and lonely journey, risking losing his contract in 10 days to get to his “superstar” performance on Friday night. Good for him.

What lessons did we learn from this? We learned that individual perseverance against all odds can work. We also learned that the environment needs to open its eyes and create opportunities for people who normally might not have been the obvious choice for the next job or the next promotion.

In his book “Outlier” Malcolm Gladwell wrote: “…The University of Michigan law school, like many elite US educational institutions, uses a policy of affirmative action when it comes to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Around 10 percent of the students Michigan enrolls each fall are members of racial minorities and if the law school did not significantly relax its entry requirement for those students – admitting them with lower undergraduate grades and lower standardized-test scores than everyone else- it estimates that percentage would be less than 3 percent.” In fact, Gladwell went on to write that the University’s affirmative action program became a case disputed in front of the US Supreme Court. But a few years ago, when the school decided to track their students after graduation, they found that there was no difference in the rate of career success among the white graduates and the minority graduates. Perhaps it is not as important as to how the minority students got in the school. It is more important to provide opportunities to a group of people who otherwise might not have a chance to succeed in life. Jeremy Lin might not be from a disadvantaged background, but he was perhaps disadvantaged because no one recognized his true potential.

“Players don’t usually come out of nowhere,” Kobe Bryant said after Lin helped New York snap a nine-game losing streak that dated back to February 2007. “If you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. But no one ever noticed.” (USA Today) Jeremy Lin did not get that chance until Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Soudemire and Baron Davis were out injured. It is like all of a sudden the understudy got a chance to step into a Broadway play. Sometimes you might have worked very hard and all it takes is a bit of luck and to be given a chance.

Asian Americans often don’t stand out as obvious choices for leadership. Because of their lack of visibility, they don’t often get the kind of assignments that present career enhancing opportunities. When they don’t brag about their own achievement, senior management doesn’t usually have them on the radar screen when it comes to career advancement. Should the corporation ask its Asian employees to do all the changes in order to assimilate? If yes, we will not only force them to become who they are not but also lose all their unique and different talents.

In order to capture all the diverse talents, organizations need to be open and welcoming to these talents instead of changing them. Remember, sometime all it takes is giving people a chance.

People said that ever since they got into the NBA, black players have changed how the game is played. I hope that Jeremy Lin and the other Asian American players that come after him will change the game with their unique talents too.


Celia Young consults to major corporations in maximizing the values of their diverse workforce. She also specializes in Asian American Leadership Development.


Why Do We Call Them “Soft Skills”?

February 7th, 2012 by Celia Young No comments »

Sitting next to a young man on a flight from LAX to New York one day, we automatically opened our greetings with “what do you do for a living?”  He said he worked for one of those big management consulting firms.  When I told him I am an Organization Development Consultant, he twitched his nose a bit and said they did not focus on the “soft side” of their clients business.  Having heard the terms, “soft side” and “soft skills” so many times in the last 26 years, I decided to examine what they really mean.

There seems to be a perception out there that the real business is run on its functionality in Finance, Manufacturing, Engineering, IT, R&D, Sales, etc. These are the hardware of the business like a machine.  It is easier to measure output of a machine but what keeps the machine running is the energy, which is harder to measure. Energy comes from the people. Most business people would agree that the people side of the enterprise is very important to the success of the business. However, they don’t often think of the business as a human system, built with such “software” as organization culture, workplace relations and leadership.  And many of the same business people tend to view the skills that deal with these “software” as “soft skills” and believe these “touchy feely” issues should belong to HR.  “Soft” is certainly not seen as powerful as “hard”.  And we tend not to assign equal value to anything soft.   Many of us privately think that no serious business career ought to focus on the “soft” side of the enterprise.  Yet, historically, these “software” have proven to have the power to either make or break a business.

On one of the many trips I took to Washington DC on client assignments, I found something was not quite right after checking in at my usual hotel and called the front desk for assistance.  The housekeeping staff freshening up the rooms on my floor saw the problem and called the front desk again to suggest that they move me to a different room.  She then followed up with a bottle of wine and a plate of fruits.  I was quite impressed with the actions she took.   I did not think this was part of her job beyond cleaning the room.  When I asked her, she pointed to the big bright orange button on her lapel that said “Customer First”.  She had pride in her smile.  On that same trip, we had a sudden ice storm.  I found out I had locked my keys in the rental car.  By the time the rental car company’s representative came to open the car door for me, there were several inches of the ice and snow already accumulated on top of and all around the car.  The hotel doorman and the valet went out there and help me scrape and shuffle the snow so that I could get in the car.  And they all had the same big buttons on their lapels.

I did not believe this hotel paid their staff more money than other hotels.  And this was not even the most expensive hotel around the area.  So what made the staff so energized to stand behind their slogan?  I believe this had something to do with their organization culture.  Housekeeping staff, the doorman or the valet, just like the company receptionists are the front line or the face of our business.  They can expand or destroy the brand image of our business that took millions of dollars to build.  So the question is:  How does a company make sure its mission and vision are shared all the way to the bottom level of the organization?  And can we ignore this “soft side” of the business?

Another time, my colleagues and I were in a different town to do some executive training for an auto company.  First thing we found out when we got into the training room was that many of the training supplies that they agreed to provide, were not there.  When we inquired, the support staff said they did not have the supplies and we would need to go to the company store and buy them.  When it was time for lunch, we discovered a shortage and asked the kitchen to bring in more food.   The kitchen staff said they were not told that more people had attended the training than planned and did not have enough food to cover the extra attendees. It did not matter that this training class was for members of the top 100 senior management staff, and the kitchen staffs work for their executive dining room.  At three O’clock, the company announced the largest mini-van recall for its history.  Most of the participants had to leave the training to attend to the urgent matter at hand.

So the question is: Was there a direct correlation between how the support and kitchen staff behaved and the product recall on that day?  What made them behave so negatively even in front of the senior staff?  They could not have had this attitude from the first day on the job.  Otherwise the issue has to do with this company’s bad hiring practice.    But not all bad employees are bad “hire”.  Once again it is fair to say that this incident had a lot to do with the organization culture of the client company.  To find out about an organization’s culture, all you need to do is to discover what behaviors are rewarded and what are punished.  A new employee will often find out very quickly after they are on board.

So, what is in the work environment that causes employees to become “apathetic” and “uncommitted”?

Many companies assume people are just soldiers who are supposed to follow orders and do their job.  Many company cultures believe “work” is supposed to be “hard” and the employees are supposed to be self-motivated.  In this kind of culture, when people find out their “hard work” did not get rewarded, they will begin to lose their enthusiasm.

Many managers believe the employees should learn to adapt to the system.  They would even mentor and teach the selected few how the “game” is played.  It is not likely that these types of companies will adjust themselves to the employees.  If a young recruit asks too many questions, and is told to shut up and learn the company way first, he would quickly learn to keep his fresh ideas to himself.  When employees feel their opinions are not valued and their voices are not heard, they would stop caring.  And the company will lose the innovative value of the employees that they spent so much of their resources to hire in the first place.

When employees notice that there are double standards being practiced in the company and leaders are not “walking” their “talk”, they will think the mission and values on the wall are not worth the paper and ink they are printed on.  At that moment, people will begin to sound very cynical.  Cynicism is a very serious contagion that generally kills the spirit of the company.

“Apathy” is not the only hindrance to our business success.  Let us examine the “lack of courage.” Since employees act like good soldiers, they have learned to follow but not challenge the rules.  They learned not to speak up even when they know it is the right thing to do for the company.  Often, they choose to keep their job instead of doing their job.  In addition, managers are reluctant to give real feedback to the employees because they were afraid of dealing with difficult issues or they lack the “soft” skills.  Eventually they end up with mediocre staffs that create mediocre business results.  Finally, senior leaders are not willing to accept feedback, so no one around them will give them any.  Many big decisions at the senior level are made without up-to-date and honest data.  This can have a huge business consequence.  Many companies made merger and acquisition deals that failed and cost thousands of jobs.  These jobs were lost among the employees who were not in the position to impact the fatal decisions.

Since there is no room for truth-telling up and down the chain of command, can you see how the mini-van recall happened?

And, can we afford not to pay any attention to the soft side of the business?

Tom Peters, a popular author and management expert once said, “You cannot treat your customers better than your employees and succeed in business for very long.” Whether you are a superstar because you made a lot of money for your company or you brought in a lot of fame as a brilliant doctor, you cannot succeed without the help of others.  Currently many business schools do not offer more than one or two courses to teach the future managers to be “human”.   These human skills are the so-called “soft skills” required to create a workplace where people are willing to come to work every day and give you 120% of their energy.   This is not rocket science, but it requires all managers to commit to practicing the skills, not just leave it to HR.

On last Thursday night’s panel hosted by Executive Next Practices (ENP), every speaker said the best way to “brand” our business is to express clearly why we are in business and what our passion is.  For Disney, it is about creating the “happiest” place on earth.  While conducting employee focus groups, I often ask the group what keeps them on the job with their current employer. If they could honestly say it was about the company value, not just for a paycheck, I would quietly make three cheers for the client company for getting on the right track to build a positive work culture.

To create an effective human system for business, we must have:

  • – Top level leaders who not only have the vision but who can also turn the rest of the company on with this vision.
  • – Top level leaders who are willing to be the role model for change.
  • – All leaders who are willing to take in feedback and spend more time developing their employees so that they can be freed to think strategically and build the future.
  • – Increased level of trust among teams as well as along the chain of command.
  • – Clear and collective passion as the foundation for business success.

To accomplish all the above, we need soft skills.  To discover if your business culture needs improving, a suggested organization health check list can be found here.

Good luck to all of us, 21th Century business leaders.



Celia Young & Associates, Inc. provides tools and skill sets to transform businesses as human systems.