A Career Strategy for Public Service
Good evening, everyone, and thanks for that kind introduction, Dr. Kim. Philadelphia
is so blessed to have Dr. San Joo and Synja Kim. Thank you for who you are and
for your leadership. It is a special honor to be here tonight with your outstanding
award winners, and their families. Congratulations to each and every one of you.
Thanks to President George W. Bush and Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, it is
indeed an honor to be the first Asian American woman to be Director of the Women's
Bureau. Those women in my generation who grew up in Korea know how big this job
is. For someone who never thought she would work one day in her life, it is truly
awesome to be a PAS and work on 21st Century solutions to promote the status of
working women and their families.
With Secretary Chao's leadership, we have more APAs working at the Department of
Labor than at any other Federal agency. Secretary Chao represents many immigrants
who came to this country looking for a better life. She came to America with her
family at the age of eight, not speaking a word of English. She says, "I entered
third grade in a public elementary school. I would sit in the classroom not understanding
a word of what was being said and copied whatever was on the blackboard into my
notebook. Every night, my father would return home from a long day's work. Then
he would sit down with me and review and translate the day's lessons. That's how
I learned English."
Like Secretary Chao, so many of us are strongly influenced by our parents. At Women's
Bureau Leadership Forums, when we asked women across the country about who has made
the biggest impact on their lives, 90% of them said that it was their mother, or
the mother figure in their lives such as a grandmother.
Look at Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, for example. She was raised by her grandmother
from the age of five through high school. Her grandmother was strong-willed, and
had high expectations for her granddaughter. Justice O'Connor has certainly met
and exceeded those high expectations, and now she is holding onto her family values
by leaving her position as Supreme Court Justice (which she has held for 24 years)
to take care of her ailing husband who has Alzheimer's disease.
Sometimes I think it's nice to be older. You can look back upon all your life experiences
and the people you've met and see what qualities some people have that you really
admire, and those qualities that helped them to be successful at what they do.
In my life, I have had the chance to meet outstanding women leaders, and they all
seem to have the leadership qualities I am going to share with you now.
The first one is character strength. Character strength means holding onto your
core values – like honesty, integrity and loyalty. Many CEOs have fallen in the
last few years because of dishonesty and unethical behavior. Just image the embarrassment
to their families!
One thing I remember about my father is that he was an honest man with high integrity.
He taught us by his example: Be honest -- don't lie, and don't steal. The other
two values he tried to instill in us were to be responsible and to be loyal. These
values – honesty, responsibility, and loyalty – are very important for all jobs.
People with these values can weather the storm when faced with critical challenges.
The second leadership quality is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. For example,
when I was first married, I found out that I was not that good in the kitchen.
I was always dropping pots and pans and breaking glasses! Finally my husband K.
C. said something like, "Shinae, you may want to think about doing something outside
the kitchen!" So I went out and found a job. Now instead of breaking glasses,
I am fixing broken organizations!
Third, if you follow your heart, you will have passion and inner drive in your work
that will lead to success and happiness.
Take my son Greg. The only two things Greg really liked were piano and computers.
He went on to college, and two years later he came home and said he wanted to change
his major from computers to music. Being a typical Korean mother, I told him to
stick with computers because that would put bread and butter on his table. After
many, many arguments, Greg reluctantly went along. To make a long story short,
he graduated with a computer science degree in symbolic systems and artificial intelligence.
After numerous computer jobs, Greg and I had another engaging discussion. I finally
realized, who was I to decide what he should do with his life? Greg needed to follow
his own dream of composing music. I like to say, in my own defense, that his knowledge
of computers comes in handy in composing music!
The fourth leadership quality is having the ability to be an agent for change.
This means problem solving and thinking innovatively, outside the box.
The real joy of my job is being an agent for change at the Women's Bureau. I am
very proud to say that my wonderful staff and I have repositioned the Bureau to
be a valuable learning and resource center for 21st century working women who need
and desire knowledge and skills to improve their lives. The Bureau has become a
place for best ideas and innovative programs using e-mentoring and technology.
We have fulfilled the unifying goal of the President's Management Agenda, which
is to achieve results that matter to real people. The Bureau's projects have received
extensive recognition and served as models for projects developed by external organizations
The fifth characteristic of outstanding leaders is team building. Leaders tend
to not only surround themselves with good people to help them succeed, but they
also develop the people skills and soft skills they need to effectively work with
5000 APAs are working at General Electric. GE surveyed its APA employees last spring.
The survey results showed that: 1) Over 70% of the APAs aspire to be promoted to
leadership roles; 2) They believe that next to performance, soft skills are critical
to getting ahead; and 3) They feel that soft skills are what they are lacking most.
These soft skills include relationship building, communications skills, and networking.
As a first generation immigrant, soft skills are where I struggle the most.
Sixth, outstanding leaders come with wonderful life experiences where they learned
managerial skills like concensus building, crisis management, and managing difficult
people. In all the volunteer work I have done, I thought I was helping others.
It turned out I was helping myself as well because I learned so many important
You know, life is all about choices, and the choices you make have consequences.
I choose to look at life as a glass half full, not half empty – always more positive
than negative. Our worst enemy, as a minority, is our own notion that there are
things we can't achieve because we are a minority. This is a great country for
those who believe in themselves. If I can do it, you can do it.
I would like to leave you with some advice President Bush has given to his political
appointees: (1) Think big; (2) Be principled; and (3) Be inclusive.
Thank you for your time. May God bless you, and may God bless America
This page last updated 11/5/2005 jdb