Yu Dan is a Principal Behavioural Scientist for CoachHub in APAC: a leading global talent development platform that enables organisations to create personalised, measurable and scalable coaching programs for the entire workforce, regardless of department and seniority level.
She has a Master of Coaching Psychology from the University of Sydney and is known for her ability to develop courageous leaders.
In 2019, Yu Dan published ‘Come Alive: Live a Life With More Meaning and Joy’. The book describes the internal struggles faced by those who consider themselves high achievers.
Yu Dan outlines her proven and research-based principles, which provide the reader with the necessary hands-on steps they need to initiate sustainable changes in their lives.
Yu Dan is sharing what the word EMPOWER means to her with The Corporate Escapists.
Thank you for joining us here at The Corporate Escapists. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They would love to know about you, your passion, and how you came to find and follow your passion for helping leaders grow personally and professionally:
My name is Yu Dan Shi. I am a Principal Behavioural Scientist for CoachHub, a leading digital coaching company. Essentially, I deliver the best practice in the field of coaching to our customers.
I found my passion through an early midlife crisis. Apparently, this is not an uncommon phenomenon; I discovered this when I started my research.
In 2008, I was a Chief Marketing Officer for a global technology company. While everything looked rosy to the outside world, I was feeling disengaged from work and life in general.
I started working with a coach myself, which sparked my interest in coaching. I then decided I wanted to learn more about this, so I went on to study coaching psychology; this eventually led me the work I do today.
As a successful business coach for CoachHub and behavioural scientist, do you believe that entrepreneurs are born or made? Why?
I believe it’s a skill and mindset that can be learned. What often holds people back is the uncertainty around running a business.
I am not a born entrepreneur. However, I ran my own consulting firm for many years before joining CoachHub. You will often find that once people are clear with their purpose and value, they can overcome their fear and insecurities.
Having a growth mindset is also critical. You will definitely fail along the way. However, a person with a growth mindset will view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, whereas someone with a fixed mindset will view failure as a reflection of their own self-worth.
Nelson Mandela once quoted – ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ What has been one fear you have had to overcome throughout your coaching career?
My biggest fear was not meeting other people’s expectations (I was a people pleaser in my 20s and early 30s).
Like many people, we build our world view based on what others expect of us. For the majority of us, we go through a stage in our life where we want to move from what’s expected of us to becoming our own person, with our own values, and definition of success. Dr. Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist and Harvard Professor, describes this as the self-authoring stage of adult development. This process can be confusing and daunting as it challenges everything you have believed in to date.
For me, exploring and affirming my own value was scary, but also empowering. Once you are able to do that, you can start authoring your own life with more confidence and resilience.
Tell us what the word, ‘empower’, means to you?
When I think about the word ‘empower’, I feel it means that I have the ability to make choices at work and in life.
In the 1970s, psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, developed the Self-Determination Theory exploring what makes people feel motivated at work. They discovered that there are three underlying drivers – autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Autonomy means that people have the freedom to do things, and this is empowerment to me. I think what can be a challenge in the workplace is when leaders are not sure about how to create an autonomous culture.
Many leaders are still using a traditional leadership style, by directing and instructing their teams, but failing to understand that people become motivated when they feel as though they have a choice. This may be through having the chance to speak up, create a new idea or structuring their daily work schedule. Given what we have been through in the past two years with the pandemic, having the ability to make choices also plays an important role in our psychological well-being.
What advice would you give to employees who are struggling to find the courage to challenge themselves to become leaders?
A leader isn’t just a title or status. A good starting point is to think about why we want to be leaders and having some goals that are bigger than satisfying our own needs.
Money was a key driver in my initial stage of wanting to be a leader. I came from a poor family so the need to earn a lot of money and provide for my family drove my initial desire. However, after a while, that was just not satisfying.
Once I re-evaluated my values and priorities, I realised for me that it is about creating an environment where everyone, myself included, enjoys learning and growing together, and that was far more satisfying.
Leading a team can be scary. Successful leaders need to harness the courage to inspire their employees. Are you able to share with us some of the tips you provide your clients at CoachHub?
At CoachHub, our holistic coaching framework focuses both on how leaders ‘grow as a person’ and ‘inspire as a leader’. This is because our professional success is directly linked to how we grow as an individual.
Leaders sometimes associate courage as being tough. However, the most courageous leaders are always courageous human beings first. To do that, we have to be open, willing to share both our passion and fear, and willing to ask for help. When we do this, we will create a psychologically safe environment for people around us. I truly believe that the workplace isn’t just a place for us to turn up to do work. We spend so much time at work, so it is everyone’s responsibility to make that experience an enjoyable one.
In your opinion, what attributes do you feel make a good leader today?
I think the ability to listen and ask good questions are important attributes in a leader. Sometimes, there is a misconception that a good leader needs to have all the answers, and this can put a lot of pressure on a person, as they feeling as thought they need to know everything.
Good leaders have the ability to make people feel valued and encouraged to make contributions; they empower others to be the best versions of themselves.
What is your favourite quote about empowerment?
‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive’ – Howard Thurman.
As a coach, what tips would you give to an employee who wants to advance their career?
Understanding your strengths is a great starting point. You will find that many people may start succeeding in their career early, but then will become stagnate after the initial growth stage has been reached.
Through my research, I discovered that many of us do not clearly understand our true strengths. Partially, it is because a lot of us focus too much on fixing our weaknesses, or alternatively, try to be good at everything. So over time, we lose sight of what is unique about us. Understanding our strengths can give us the confidence and clarity to continue our career path.