“I didn’t choose management; management chose me”
Top executive turned international speaker and author, Joanna Tong founded the online business Bright-i that offers the best East-West blended business and leadership information in eBook and MP3 audio formats. Joanna gives presentation to international audiences at high-levels based on her book: Dragon Leadership: Eastern Wisdom for Modern CEO.
Joanna describes her career as colourful (no set formula), adventurous (full of surprises) and challenging (constant learning). Her achievement list looks pretty impressive: the first woman executive of a world-class performance venue, Director of £35 million economic regeneration projects, Winner of the first-ever North West Women Achievement Award and Radio presenter at BBC Manchester. She said modestly, “I didn’t choose management; management chose me.” Is she the woman who has it all?
Like many women leaders and entrepreneurs, Joanna’s journey to success is filled with highs and lows:
High: A scholarship took me from buzzing Hong Kong to tranquil Scotland to study the Master of Philosophy degree at the University of Saint Andrews (yes, think Prince William), and later Master of Science with a distinction. Soon after graduation, I was recruited into her first executive role (beginner’s luck?).
Low: As a young (twenty-something), ethnic, female executive working with the conservative board and fragmented team, I encountered the challenges that no textbooks or academic degrees had prepared me for. That was twenty years ago. In recent years, despite my dynamic outlook and professional demeanour, I still came across business people asking, “Which is your favourite Chinese restaurant?” It is fair to say that as well as MSG, I am allergic to “cliché”. Hmm.
High: Having experienced firsthand the “bad boss” symptoms, I understand fully why people say: employees do not leave their jobs, they leave their bosses. The main difficulty I faced then, as businesses are tackling now, was: how to bring people to work together towards the same goal? It has become my quest for many years. I turned to my cultural roots and made exciting discoveries in 3000-year old Chinese philosophy.
Low: Undertaking various executive roles across public, not-for-profit and social enterprise sectors, I had to make tough decisions, restructure teams and organisations and announce bad news. I know the good stuff, the bad stuff; the lessons to avoid and the best practices to endorse Working with dedicated teams and professional people, I have put robust processes and systems in place - the basic principle of organisation. I made sure my organisation was fully protected by disciplinary and grievance procedures – to be fair for all. However, policies can become inflexible and costly to implement and amend. Above all, people do not admire a leader because of his or her cumbersome procedures but their vision and leadership styles. Soon I realised that the process-driven Western approach alone would only warrant businesses at best, slow progress and at worst, dispirited employees. Something is missing.
High: Chinese philosophy studies leadership styles since Confucius and Taoists in 500 BC. It is a tradition that values integrity and relationships. In modern times, some calls these qualities “soft skills”, fluffy intangible “nice to have” stuff as opposed to the right-brain analytical, rational, technical skills. I hold a different view. In my experience, it takes steel courage, bravery and willpower for executives to admit that business is not doing well and management takes responsibility for putting it right. It requires utmost strengths and determinations for entrepreneurs to keep their ventures (large and small) going, in good times and bad times. It asks for immense flexibility and foresight to adjust and adapt to the ever changing market and technology. Above all, success is a team effort. Managing employee performance needs skills but it is an art to inspire people to be “in this together”. They are not soft and fluffy but challenging and critical areas to deal with head on.
Combining Chinese philosophy with business practices for more than 20 years, I am passionate about sharing with executives and entrepreneurs how it works. I decided to take another great turning point. I quit a high-flying job for life to become an international speaker, giving speeches in the US, Europe and UK. My mission is to make the business place a better place to work, to connect and to fulfil aspirations. Importantly, I believe that knowledge, like wealth, is created to be shared. In order to pass on the practical principles to as many people as possible, I have authored several eBooks and MP3 business training for the readers to download.
What is next?
Business is about innovation. I certainly have plenty of product ideas to be materialised. It is a journey. For now, I am happy.
Or contact Joanna on +447968129169.