Insight into the “Key Success Factors of Asian Americans”

Recent research published in the Asian American Journal of Psychology identified factors of success for developing minority leaders, and several are particularly germane for healthcare leaders.

Past Chair of the Asian Healthcare Leaders Forum Committee, James Y. Lee, FACHE, reviewed the comprehensive scholarly research article and distilled key practical tips and insights.  Here are a few of Jim’s observations (his full review available here.)


A Social Determinant of Success: CULTURAL ACUMEN—knowledge and awareness of the similarities and differences between Ethnic and Western mainstream cultures that influence leadership behaviors. Asian Americans must understand the Western mainstream culture and the behaviors that are culturally endorsed and expected as well as their own Asian cultural heritage and how it shapes their thoughts and behaviors. Examples include direct vs. indirect communications, deferential vs. proactive followers, and to speak or not to speak up at meetings. Have you ever caught yourself thinking that you should have chimed in or mentioned your idea before the meeting ended?


A Technical Determinant of Success: Rules of Success—knowledge of unwritten norms and rules for advancement in the workplace. The authors identified: (a) awareness of the existence of unwritten rules of success and (b) access to unwritten rules of success. This sounds like a double whammy. First, we need to be aware of unwritten rules, and then we need to find out what they are. At a recent workplace, my boss told me that nothing gets done unless the guy down the hall approves. I thought my boss was in charge.


Selected Recommendations

  • Focus on Attitude: To effect change, executives emphasize the importance of developing the right attitude. Attitude is hard to teach. Mentoring is one way we can teach attitude. We can coach our mentees on what, when, and where they need to exhibit the right attitude.


  • Integrate Cultural Identity: The development of effective minority leaders may require the cultivation of cultural flexibility and adaptation, with the goal of developing Asian American leaders who integrate their ethnic and Western cultural heritage. This cultural frame switching is defined as the “shifting between two culturally based interpretative lenses in response to cultural cues”. This is way above my head. However, the tools I reach for are sports and food. The ability to engage leadership on subjects of interest is important. What water cooler conversation doesn’t include the latest game or place you ate at?

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