Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Comparing Leadership Styles of Duy-Loan T. Le and Laura Haas

In her keynote speech, Duy-Loan T. Le (Texas Instrument Senior Fellow) mentioned that face to face communication is important in building a relationship. She told a story of her went to Japan to train engineers for a new product. She was still 22 years old at that time (she is just 47 this year!)
When the first time she met the engineers – who were (not surprisingly) all men, she saw a shock in the engineers’ faces. She believed it was because she was a woman, and also because she was very young compare to them. At that time Japanese women were rarely found in the work place.
They did not expect the trainer would be a woman, and they could not tell it just by looking at her Vietnamese name. Days passed by without effective training going on because of the gender and age gap issues. Then at one point she decided to take a different approach.
She decided to spend some days to just talk to all the guys; talked about everything except work: family, hobbies, favorite books, movies, …. you name it. This was the time when she started getting respect from her trainees. Now they could see each other differently from what they did when the first time they met. They developed trust, friendship, and deep respect. Later, they managed to successfully collaborate for a long time.
The point she wanted to emphasize was relationship building requires communication. And in this context, she – as the trainer, i.e. the leader of the trainees, initiated an open communication with her subordinates.
The above situation was in contrast to Laura Haas’ situation. Mrs. Haas is a director of computer science at IBM Almaden, who won the Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award 2010. She said when it is the time for her to start on a new project, she does not really care who leads whom, she just focuses on the goal.
I would love to hear more about her opinion regarding the leader’s role in relationship building but her speech was short. She did not elaborate more since it was an award winning speech, which is clearly not a keynote speech like the one Mrs. Le delivered. I just assume that she did not really bother with all the chit chat mumbo jumbo, when she has to deal with others.
Looking at these two approaches, they are indeed very different. In fact, they are opposite to each other. But each has been proven to be successful in the hands of these two amazing women. I think there is no right or wrong choice in how to build an effective relationship to support collaborations. It depends on your personality, the situation, and the people you are dealing with. Mrs. Le might have needed to take the personal approach since she dealt with those who were culturally different from her who were even though Vietnamese born (so she’s as Asian as the Japanese) but grew up in USA. On the other hand, when delivering her speech, Mrs. Haas might refer to experiences when she dealt with people that did not really need any personal approach to establish collaboration with. The kind of people that Mrs. Le mentioned as the people with whom you have developed trust, friendship, and deep respect for each other – hence an intense personal approach can be skipped.

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