Leadership | Excellence | Achievement | Diversity
As we proceed with the Women’s LEAD Initiative, we are asking women in the community to answer questions around their own LEAD experiences (Leadership, Excellence, Achievements & Diversity)
Tassan Sung draws on her decades-long experience in finance and philanthropy and shares what she has learned in the areas of leadership, excellence, achievement, and diversity.
Tell us about a time you experienced bad/good Leadership:
I have had experiences with both effective and ineffective leaders, and I was able to translate some of that learning to my own evolution as a leader later in my career. I would say that effective leadership is predicated on exceptional communication; however, where I think I got it wrong in my youth is that I believed the onus was always on leaders to initiate effective communication with their team members. As I progressed in my career, I learned that this assumption is the root cause of misunderstandings and false narratives, and that effective communication initiated by team members bridges the gap with less communicative leaders – we can explain our contributions and efforts and make accomplishments known to leaders.
In Sally Helgesen’s book, How Women Rise, she discusses the female expectation that leaders will spontaneously notice and reward us for our achievements and that we are often reluctant to promote our own accomplishments. These tendencies can cause leaders to overlook women and stymies our efforts at career advancement. In my 20’s, working as an investment advisor, I can say that I suffered from this tendency towards over-modesty and the expectation that all communication would be top-down, and that my efforts and accomplishments would be noticed and rewarded. I was left feeling that non-communicative leaders who did not recognize my accomplishments were simply ineffective, and perhaps they were in many respects; however, when a leader is not initiating communication, and cannot interpret and assess team member contributions, much can be gained by clearly illustrating our accomplishments and how we benefit the leader and the organization. I wish I had understood this earlier in my career.
When I look at effective leadership, I see clear systems and processes around communicating with team members — there are specific scheduled dates and mandates around one-on-one meetings with team members, whether those be in-person, over the phone, or virtually. On the other hand, I’ve also experienced leaders who talk too much and spend very little time listening – this can be equally ineffective, but again falls into the category of communication.
Ultimately, the leaders I have admired in my career were excellent communicators and that is the learning I have applied to my own career as I have advanced into leadership roles.
Tell us about a time you experienced excellence:
This question is an interesting one as my tendency – arguably a socialized female tendency – is to shine the spotlight on someone else’s excellence instead of my own. Again, this tendency falls into Sally Helgesen’s observation that women are often reluctant to claim their achievements. However, I will resist this tendency and share my own experience with excellence.
I have spent a great deal of time considering why I achieved excellence in my career and why my results in the financial industry became exceptional. In retrospect, I can see that I achieved excellence when I combined what I had learned about communication early in my career, with replicable systems and processes that made communication easy. Furthermore, I had become confident in my own methods and “uniqueness” and emphasized and leveraged my strengths instead of trying to be like somebody else. Excellence followed my ability to trust my beliefs about what would work and the strategies that would be effective, and then to communicate those beliefs and execute on the strategies. Early on, I would not have had the confidence to be myself and take risks, but it was the calculated risks, and ultimately bringing more of “myself” in my career that led to excellence.
Your Greatest Achievement?
There are many achievements I am proud of, but looking at my career trajectory, I would say my greatest achievement was building a successful career in the financial industry without outside support. As a young woman from a financially unsavvy family who could not offer support, I entered, demystified, and succeeded in an industry that I found intimidating in my youth. I developed an incredible sense of agency in understanding financial instruments and financial language and gaining investment expertise. I also gained a sense of accomplishment in achieving a high level of success in a male-dominated field.
Tell us about Diversity in your own life/career:
When I started my career in the early ‘90s, diversity was not considered as thoughtfully as it is today. Most television shows during that time featured all-white, heterosexual characters and art seemed to imitate life in terms of workplace and social norms. I look back and wonder how any of us thought that was ok. As a Caucasian woman, my own lived experience with issues of diversity included experiences with unconscious gender bias – perhaps having my ideas ignored or appropriated by men who dominated my field.
As I consider diversity now, my main concern is promoting more inclusive and representative assemblies within a variety of forums. Through my lens, we can all contribute to this through greater levels of communication, particularly listening to and learning from others’ lived experiences of marginalization and lack of inclusivity. I constantly remind myself that I had the privilege of “diversifying” the workplaces I entered in the financial industry, and I also remind myself to be sensitive to those who have not been afforded the same privilege.