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Yang Lan on Success, Leadership and Supporting Women

June 17th, 2019

Yang Lan on Success, Leadership and Supporting Women

Don't miss Yang Lan at the 2019 International Simmons Leadership Conference in Dublin!

What does ‘success’ mean for you now, and how has that changed – or not – for you over the years. What specific measures of success have you set?

The very definition of success is experiencing a transformation or a significant change. In the past, success means the possession, the power over other people, possessing authority and resources and to be competitive and aggressive. But today success is more about inclusiveness and empowerment. The leadership itself is measured by how many people you can empower instead of you can control. The impact of success is measured by social change in a positive way.

What would you say is the most daring move you’ve made in your career?

The most daring move was at the end of 1999 when I decided to quit my job as a producer and an anchor from Phoenix Satellite Television in Hong Kong, and decided to create my own company-Sun Media Group, and started the Sun TV, the first satellite channel in Greater China area on humanitarian documentaries. It was a big move and involved a lot of risks at different levels. On the personal level, I didn’t have enough training in business administration and didn’t know much about financing and talking to capital, either did I have the experience to manage a company up to three hundred people. Secondly, it was a very risky move, because at that time most of the media platforms were dominated by the government-related institutions. So, as a private media company, entering a very regulated media industry also involved a lot of risks.

What are some traits you think great leaders possess?

The traits of great leaders, men and women alike, involved both mindset and skillset. In the mindset category, you need to have true passion about what you want to do. You have to stay very true to your own heart. Secondly, it is courage. It is courage to create new things and face new risks. Thirdly, I think it’s perseverance. Perseverance means you have to stand still and be very patient against the setbacks. Fourthly, I think it is the pursuit of excellence. Never stop halfway, and try to provide the best product or services to the society as you can. By the way, we also have to add vision. You need to have vision of the direction of the society’s development, the sense of future. Finally, we should also mention empathy which is the compassion for other people. That’s the essence of leadership. On the skillset, you need to have insightfulness to understand your industry or your course inside out. Secondly, you need to have the skills of learning, which also means adaptiveness to adapt to new environment, new situations and new technologies. Thirdly, you should have the capability of innovation and creativity. Fourthly, you need to have resilience, which means the capability to bounce back if you meet with setbacks. And also, you need to have communication and advocacy skills.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given along the way (and by whom if you could like to say)?

I remember in the first few years of starting my own company. I didn’t have any experience in managing a few hundred people. I was trying to treat everyone equally and nicely, but I found the efficiency of work was not good enough. And then, I was told by one of my managers that if you rewarded everyone equally, those who really worked hard and really contributed to the company wouldn’t feel fair enough. At that time, I had an interview with Jack Welch, the chairman and CEO of General Electric Company then. He told me the same thing. He said if you were a really good employee but your boss was treating you and rewarding you the same way as other people who worked less hard than you, you would feel unfairly treated and you would like to leave the company. So it was a good lesson to me to have a differentiated rewarding system to my staff. And also, as a more experienced leader, I know how to use a combination of financial reward, plus encouragements, advice and mentoring to your staff, so that they can grow in your company, not just laying back and getting the monthly payment.

Is there a woman you can tell us about who has made a big impact in your life?

I would always say my grandmother. I was very close to my grandmother, and I think she was an extraordinary woman with a lot of courage and perseverance. She, as an almost illiterate country girl, escaped from her hometown to the big city of Shanghai at the age of seventeen to get away from arranged marriage. And in Shanghai, she made a living by working in a sewing factory, and supported herself and her family. I think at her age it was very courageous to get into a big place with a lot of unknown risks, and started to be self-sufficient. It was in the 1930s, so it was a really different age. And then during the Cultural Revolution, when the little company that she and my grandpa created was confiscated by the government and the “red guards” ruined the house and took away everything that was valuable, she had a meeting with all the family members and told everyone to be courageous and not committing suicide. She said, we started by using our hands to feed ourselves and we could still do that with everything taken away, and we had our pride in work. So she has been a courageous woman in difficult times, in facing uncertainties of life, and she has always been an icon for my life.

If you could change one way in which women support other women what would that be?

I want to empower more women to enhance their capacities. We have passions for life, and many women are motivated to create their own values in business and society, but I think in their capacity, there’s still a gap. So, I have started Her Village Academy and Her Village Community to empower women through knowledge and skills learning. And this platform is becoming a leading both online and offline platform for women to learn knowledge on career, professional development, entrepreneurship as well as personal growth, family happiness and the workplace well-being. We are creating a very holistic, human-centered development plan for our community members. I think this is my way of empowering more women to advance their own capabilities to realize their own dreams.


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