5 steps to motivate your team

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Helen Yu (@YuHelenYu) is an experienced leader with a track record of transforming organizations, whether it’s accomplishing a turnaround within a Fortune 1000 organization or coaching a startup to profitability.

Known for her passion and sharp strategic thinking, Helen is able to operationalize her vision and oversee successful end to end execution, from building brand awareness to landing significant customer deals.

Helen is an enthusiastic networker and connector. She thrives on bringing people together, forging alliances and identifying ways to increase the impact of individuals and organizations. She invests her personal time and energy in supporting young companies, emerging executives and community organizations. Helen is sought out for her practical advice and is currently coaching a number of startup CEOs and organizations.

Helen Yu is an #EverydayLeader.

What are you passionate about? And what are you doing to deliver on this passion?

I am passionate about 2 things. One is being a multiplier who makes positive social impact at scale. Two is driving diversity to the Board room.

Serving as a subject matter expert (“SME”) working with VCs such as a16z, Open View, I have been mentoring and coaching startup leaders in my spare time over the years. I just conducted “bootstrapping startup” workshop at 1871 Chicago in early November. I am also engaged with icstars in Chicago. It is a non-profit organization using project-based learning and full immersion teaching to provide opportunities to low income adults with potential to be future leaders. In addition, I am involved in fostering and supporting music education in the suburb of Chicagoland.

On advancing female executive to the board room, I started as a Pioneer working with the Athena Alliance last year, and recently launched the Chicago region and joined their Board of Advisor. The mission of the Athena Alliance is to drive diversity of thoughts and advance women executives to the board room. The experience has been rewarding, having connected with the brightest minds in the industry through the Athena Alliance network. We co-hosted the Chicago Regional Launch event with MorningStar October 3. The positive feedback was overwhelming. I had the opportunity to meet more than 30 senior female leaders in Chicago during this event. The opportunity brought me back to the Midwest Tech Ecosystem, as I spent most of my career working for companies headquartered in Silicon Valley.

How do you go about leading? And how do you use your passion to align people to your vision?

I consider myself as a servant leader.

Leading means that you take the pride in team’s success.

You take the blame when things go wrong, and give the credit to team when there is success to be celebrated.

Leading is to teach your team how to fish, not to give the fish to the team.

As a leader, the most important trait is your ability to motivate your team to work toward the same goal and deliver what’s promised. I take a few steps to ensure this happens:

  1. Know your team well. The connection with your team on an individual basis is critical. Everyone is unique when it comes to communication style and learning agility. Assembling a team with complimentary skills will pay dividends.
  2. Set up clear expectation with the team from the get go. This requires articulation of what the team goal is, how it is being measured and how each individual can contribute to the overall success.
  3. Reward the top performers. Earlier my career, I spent more time with low performers. Then I realized that was sending out a wrong message to the team. I decided to spend most of my time with top performers. That worked out much more effectively.
  4. Always look out growth opportunity for the team. There were times when top performer on my team needs more challenging tasks. I have recommended some to find another role within the company or even outside of the company. They eventually came back to work with me again.
  5. Stay connected with the team. I have been fortunate to work with many bright people in the past decade. Some of them worked with me for 2 to 3 companies. We stay connected with each other over the years. The continuous networking benefits leaders greatly.

Is there anything in your background not directly related to being a leader that has had an outsized impact on the way you lead?

My grandmother who raised me has made the most significant impact on me. She never had the opportunity to go to school, yet was one of the most admirable person I have ever known.

She always puts others ahead of herself, and is honest, loving, hard-working and humble. Before she passed away 15 years ago, she said that she was proud of me knowing that I set my heart to make positive impact on others.

The other outsized impact on the way I lead, is the fact that I grew up with 10 cousins. Being the only girl who was raised as a tomboy, made me extremely comfortable in the high tech world.

What’s your philosophy on building a team? What do you search for? How do you go about selection? And how to do you approach managing performance?

Building a team is like building a house. You need to have solid foundation. There are 3 things that’s important to the team foundation: Positive Attitude, Teaming Spirit and Drive to Succeed.

Leveraging internal referral has been most successful when it comes to recruiting.

When it comes to performance management, setting up expectation up front along with measurable milestones are the key elements. As a leader, it is equally important to provide constructive feedback as recognize top performer. Letting team members own certain initiatives will give them a sense of ownership and opportunities to be creative. I am always there when they are in need of my direction. I certainly won’t be under their nose all the time. Trust and Respect among the team are the most critical factors to succeed.

What data do you use to ensure you are leading effectively?

We have used “leadership challenge and LPI” and leadership survey to measure leaders on the team on a quarterly basis. 360 degree feedback on leaders seems to be effective. We gathered feedback from their peers, direct reports, their managers, the executive team and customers. In addition, I gather feedback from team members through my skip level 1:1.

What are some of the biggest mistakes today’s leaders are making? And how would you go about fixing it?

The biggest mistakes I have seen is the lack of respect for others. A good leader is to help the team learn from the mistake, not to humiliate team in front of others.

If you work at a company with toxic culture, leave and find a place where you are being respected and appreciated. Don’t waste your time trying to fix company culture.

However, you should always invest in developing your leaders. Leading by example is the best way to develop new leaders.

What do you see as the 2 or 3 greatest opportunities for leaders over the next several years?

The top 3 opportunities come to mind are:

  1. Learn to become a modern ethical leader. The composition of the workforce will be drastically different. It is critical to be technology savvy and digital oriented.
  2. Take part in driving diversity in the workforce.
  3. Be prepared to lead human + machine with integrity.

Do you have any final words of wisdom for Everyday Leaders?

People want to believe you are sincerely interested in them as persons, not just for what they can do for you.


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Are you a superstar performer at work but feeling stuck?

If I were to personally guide you through building a customized plan to reinvent yourself and recharge your career, sharpens your leadership skills and multiplies your influence, would you be interested?

I’m talking about a complete change in career trajectory that breaks through the perceived plexiglass ceiling that may be holding you back.

If I offered to work with you 1 on 1 for 8 weeks:

  • To clarify your vision
  • To develop your weekly roadmap action plan
  • To upgrade your skills.
  • To be your personal accountability partner so you get the transformation YOU deserve.

…would you take me up on this offer?

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