Understanding the perspectives of others is key to breaking through the Asian Leadership Ceiling.
Jim H. Lee, founder of B-SPOKE, highlights their unique coaching platform and offers insights on leading and effectively leveraging your team’s power.
Jim also shares his secrets to fully hearing and knowing your team.
- 1:18 – Jim’s background and how he got started in coaching.
- 4:48 – What is B-SPOKE Coaching?
- 9:36 – It’s very hard for people that haven’t walked the same shoes as you to understand why you keep slipping.
- 12:54 – The story of a Korean-American friend who learned how to talk to leaders that he disagreed with from his neighbor.
- 17:59 – The importance of hearing stories from different perspectives.
- 20:31 – How to leverage the power of your team as a leader to get other people to perform better.
- 24:08 – What are the four spaces that are experienced from the participant’s seat?
- 29:15 – Jim’s secret to fully hearing and knowing your team.
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Connect with Jim Lee
Jim Lee’s leadership experience emerged from traditional large corporate top-down management.
During his 11 years working for several Fortune 10 telecommunications companies, he strove to bring out the best in his teams through empowerment and organizational health.
He has helped start many companies, non-profits, and business units using these principles effectively and moved into consulting so that now everyone can be successful with his help.
Jim’s focus is helping people break through their barriers of influence so that they can “Be Heard, Be Seen, and Be Known”. Everyone has blind spots, and he helps people that see that they tend to rely on their strengths too much, creating a breakdown in team building.
Episode 34 – Full Transcript
Aaron Lee 0:00
Jimmy H Li is a remarkable leader, coach and friend. His own leadership experience emerged from traditional large corporate top down management. He worked for several Fortune 10 Telecom businesses. And he always worked hard to bring out the best in his teams through empowering and building organizational health. Now, as the founder of bespoke, Jim is driven to build a platform for leadership transformation, and continue his personal mission of helping business leaders finally reach their goals by effectively showing and competently coaching them through their blind spots. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with Jim and the beasts boat team since 2021. And it’s exciting to see the work Jim and his team are leading across the globe. Here’s my conversation with my good friend and bespoke leadership founder and coach Jim Lee. Welcome to the new generation leader podcast, we’re giving you the tools you need to lead in the digital world ready to reach your true potential. This is the new generation leader podcast. Hey, welcome to episode three of the bespoke leadership podcast on today’s show. I’m excited for us to welcome Jim Lee, the founder of bespoke, Jim, welcome to the show.
Jim H. Lee 1:18
Thank you. So good to be here.
Aaron Lee 1:20
So Jim, is we’ve been working and collaborating together, looking ahead to the future, we are kicking off the bespoke leadership podcast right now. So I’m excited to have you on the show today to give a glimpse into the history, the story of bespoke, but I want to go back even further to dive in. And give us a little bit more of your background and your story and what got you into and started in your career.
Jim H. Lee 1:46
You know, when I look back at my career, and the common thread that kind of brings all the roles that I’ve done and where I’ve really executed well was in a way helping people’s dreams come true. My first job was helping small businesses using telecom as a way to launch their business, having conversations with different type of customers and clients all over the place when phone systems to data networks designing intricate ways that people’s computers can speak to one another. And since before the internet, it was really amazing to see how I was able to help people to use technology in a way that made their dreams come true. From Telecom, I moved into working in the medical devices, industry, helping operating rooms, and surgeons really helped create the outcomes that they were looking for, for their patients. And they would tell me a vision of what they had seen and they what they wanted. And I would help them to create a solution based upon what I had available as a resource to make those happen. And it was great to see new operating rooms get launched with all my devices in there, doctors are able to have better outcomes, because they’re using the products in a way that would help them to get the intricate modalities, especially for plastic surgeons the things that they were looking for. And you know, go on and on in the different type of jobs that had had what it really brought me joy was when I helped connect not only the businesses, visions and dreams, but also the employees vision and dreams are the people that I was leading. And when I came to the point, when I decided to launch my own business, I said that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to help more people to be able to have their dreams and visions come true. And how I could use coaching to bring that for their own success.
Aaron Lee 3:37
It’s great. And looking back even in some of our coaching clients that we’ve worked with, over the last few years. I know I hear story after story after story of people’s dreams coming true because of the investment that they’ve made in themselves. And the investment our bespoke coaches who have made in their, we have an opportunity to see them realize their dreams and take steps and keep moving forward. And that’s exciting to be able to have a front row seat to that.
Jim H. Lee 4:07
It’s amazing. You know, one of the things about coaching, I go back to my earliest experience of it personally, when I joined the football team in high school, I had no idea what football wise, I had no idea of what positions were what I just watched it, but I really didn’t understand it, because I didn’t grow up with it being Korean. And one of the things that I remember a coach did was helped me to know the things that I didn’t know and guide me along the way to be able to execute and to perform tactically and strategically, the goal of winning in that way. And I think that’s the important part of coaching. A bespoke is a coaching platform. We coach people we coach organizations. And the goal is that we walk alongside with you. I think there’s a lot of great opportunities He’s for people to watch podcasts like these, or to watch YouTube videos. And there’s a lot of media out there that tell people what to do and paint pictures. And think a lot of us have great pictures in our mind. But when it comes to what it takes to actually make them happen, and I think a lot of times we have an idea. But sometimes we need someone to have a relationship with, to communicate with and to have conversations to help them to get to their goals, and also help reconcile the things that they see that they may not see. But as a coach, you come alongside and you affirm the things that they do see. And sometimes you help adjust and calibrate what they don’t see. So that they can start seeing the things that helps them to get to that vision that they’re trying to create.
Aaron Lee 5:49
What vision Did you see that really brought together the vision in your mind of what bespoke would be? What propelled you forward to get bespoke off the ground?
Jim H. Lee 6:03
Well, bespoke first started, when I had five Google employees come up to me and say, Jim, we’re kind of struggling here. I think there’s a lot of impostor syndrome. There’s a lot of things that we know we’re supposed to be, but no one’s really helping us to get to where we need to go. And there really isn’t the my experience a true mentorship program that’s out there. For a lot of companies. I think there’s a lot of times when people are trying to help others, to help them the way that they would do it themselves, but not realizing the situations for the actual person that needs to help me be a little bit different. And these five Google employees were actually Asian. And they understood this dynamic that tends to happen called the bamboo ceiling. That was a term coined by Chang Jung. And what that really says is, there’s a glass ceiling out there for Asians that it looks like you should be successful that you get the education, you get the job, then your career should just skyrocket and launch forth. But statistically, we found that that vision of what people feel like they should have obtained is not something that is really occurring. And Asians tend to have a disproportionate number of people in the employee workforce, representing them in the executive and leadership roles. And so I just knew they needed a coach, they just needed someone to help them to get there the way they need to get there not necessarily tell them Well, this is what I did. And I think that’s the posture is a little bit different. Most people say, Well, I can get there, why can’t you get here, and they want to like pull people up. And that comes from the best of heart. It comes from just seeing that their strengths are what got them there. And they want to make those strengths evident in the people that they’re leading. But what I found, just through my own career, when I got mentored by someone was they came alongside me and said, I see the vision that you had, and I see where you want to go. And I see what you need to get there. And they come alongside that person in that journey. And so when they’re times of difficulty when their strengths aren’t necessarily up to the task, and maybe they need to elevate some of their weaknesses, that the coach is there to help fortify those areas, and give them the confidence that they will see their vision and get to their destination. And I didn’t see that out in the marketplace, I didn’t see it, where we could get groups of people at a price that is affordable that it’s not, you know, $500 an hour or $1,000 an hour, but really make dreams and visions for people and organizations accessible to everyone.
Aaron Lee 8:55
From having a front row seat myself and watching your work. Watching the team work in coaching and guiding folks, it’s obvious that there is a hard drive to this a personal motivation. And you highlighted the key with those Google employees being that they were Asian and had that bamboo ceiling. Can you talk a little bit more about some of the work that you’ve done specifically with Asians beyond day one of bespoke and, and the platform that bespoke has grown into in elevating Asian leaders across sectors? It’s very
Jim H. Lee 9:36
hard sometimes for people that haven’t walked the same shoes that you have to understand why you keep slipping or why the things that should be so simple to them are so difficult for you. And you know, I think back to a time in my high school. I’m 48 years old, so I’m going back it’s About 35 years now, right when I was starting high school to realize that I was a horrible reader, I was terrible academically when it comes to understanding how to read books, how to write reports, and English was not my strong topic. And I’m starting to understand that when I read books, I had no concept or idea what the author was talking about, because it came from a culture and a language that was totally different. The essay t when it comes to like short stories, I could take something from that idea, and do well on a test. But when it comes to like reading comprehension, and really understanding what the author is talking about, I didn’t realize until now that I don’t have similar cultural experiences. I don’t have similar frameworks. When people give anecdotes or stories, or even simple colloquialisms that are just foreign to those that have not grown up in America. It’s hard. And I think a lot of people don’t realize what is very easy for them may be difficult for others. And so just even culturally for Asians, I remember, in 2006, sitting across the table, Billy Drake, one of my, my first mentors that really understood where I was coming from. And he challenged me said, Look, I know, in Asian culture, you say everything, as a yes. And you’re supposed to do everything I tell you to do. But that’s not what I brought you in for, you need to help me to help you execute what you need to do. And I’m here to help you along that way. And that’s when those two registers started to click, that I realized that my cultural background did not create a framework for me to present things in a way that in the western culture of companies where a lot of things are moving towards, didn’t receive it the way I had intended to. And a lot of that was a barrier. And that’s why it transcends different industries, it transcends a lot of different facets of background have to come from a technology background, which come from an arts background, a lot of us are trying to express ourselves and share the vision that we have for one another. And it always comes from a good place. But unfortunately, when that’s not communicated well, and often gets rejected. And that’s often why I find that when you’re a minority, that challenge of really connecting with the majority is because we share different experiences, those experiences we do as a minority seem insignificant, maybe or it seems wrong, because it’s not what everybody else is pushed to believe or pushed to go into. And so it’s really hard, I think, for a lot of minorities, and for me growing up Korean to parents that came to the country without much and with college degrees that didn’t turn into much. And they had to scrap and to kind of survive in that area. And for a lot of agents that are really trying to survive and do well feel like they’re still in the survival mindset because they can’t see their career flourish, because they’ve hit that glass ceiling.
Aaron Lee 13:26
You know, one of the stories I’ve heard you tell is about one of your friends and neighbors growing up. Can you unpack that story? Because I think that story is a narrative that helps clarify even more I know it helped clarify for me in sitting in some of our bespoke workshops, hearing you tell that story, tying it together with the all the concepts that you’ve just described, helped me start to connect the dots.
Jim H. Lee 13:56
Yeah. And I think there’s two different types of biases that I tried to illustrate with this. One is there is a bias that I felt like my own Asian culture was better than Western culture. And I had a bias and how I looked at Westerners in a negative way, thinking that I was better. And on the flip side, there are biases that come towards Asians that looks like they’re better, but in the reality, it creates a struggle, long term for them. And so the story goes that I grew up, I was like one of very few Asians in my neighborhood. I think there are only three of us growing up that I recall. And on my street, I grew up with a lot of white people. And I would go to their house, a friend of mine across the street. I remember going we would play all day, we’d have a lot of fun. And about 530 was dinnertime, and the dad would come in and say hey, it’s time for Jim to go home. And it’s time to go for dinner and let’s get ready he, and he would just have a big melt as a No dad, I don’t want to throw some of the toys down. And he would just be like, all exclusive. And I was like, Matt, I’m glad I’m not that kid. That’s a house kind of like without order. And I remember just thinking, I’m the better son, because I would never do that at my house, you know, I would never disobey my parents. And what it didn’t reconcile until about, like, 30 years later, was that my friend, having that tablet environment where the father provided psychological safety for his son, to have a difference of opinions, and to take these moments as teachable opportunities to calibrate an immature response into a mature and acceptable way to talk to hierarchy to talk to leaders that you disagreed with, was something that was a lifelong lesson that he learned that I never got. And so when I looked back, you know, 13 years ago, and working with my mentor, that’s what he was trying to help me to see that me always obeying, and doing everything my boss has told me to do was a direct reflection of how I was raised. And I think in Asia, the culture is totally different, and is totally acceptable, and it works there. But when I’m trying to take those Asian leadership skills into a Western culture, where it’s totally different, I didn’t know how to speak to my managers in a respectful way, disagreeing, and still trying to fight for what I thought was a better way to get to the company mission and goals that we had. And so my friend learned, he knew how to talk to managers. In fact, he knew how to be a lot more when we say equalitarian, treat like parents, like friends, you know, hang out with and want to spend time with them. Those are not things that you typically see in eastern culture. And so even going to my jobs, and I remember seeing my co workers sitting down with with our manager, and talking about things that weren’t business related, I interpreted that as brown nosing, I interpreted that as well, they have a personal relationship that shouldn’t be long in a professional setting. And they were taking advantage. Now, it’s like they are getting promoted. But what I failed to see, you know, the skill sets I didn’t have was the ability to go to someone that I reported to, and create a relationship that was trusting not only personally and professionally, and learn to have a working space that was psychologically safe for us to present things that were important on both sides, and have a more a collaborative environment to work together, not necessarily something where a manager was more prescriptive. And it created an environment that really created a compliance type of engagement. From the western perspective,
Aaron Lee 17:59
it’s really interesting is that all of us do have deep down, that grounding that our way must be the right way. And it’s the intersection of those dynamics, that understanding and unpacking hearing stories, for me has always been part of the most interesting aspect of everything I’ve done is meeting someone new hearing someone’s story, whether they lived down the block and had a different cultural perspective, but in the same geography, or someone who lived on the other side of the globe, and had a very different worldview, perspective, upbringing, education, all of that just adds a richness that I think now in the 20th century, we’re seeing right in front of us at work at home, in our neighborhoods, communities, schools, in a way that we haven’t seen. And certainly we see in in different ways, in different places around the globe. Obviously, where you are is different place on the West Coast than where I am on the East Coast. And I think that adds a richness and a difference to even our conversations and our perspectives as we’re collaborating. But I go back to one of the coaching conversations we were having one of the teams, a gentleman on this team, a leader in his company and organization described that even in his household, his two kids were growing up differently because one of his kids was at the International School and one of his kids was at the local school. And what you just described the difference in parenting leadership, respect between your family and your friends family down the street. He’s now experiencing right under his own roof, and also experiencing when he goes into the office, and he’s working alongside leaders from different perspectives. And so I think there’s a great opportunity. It’s a tremendous X perience that we have when we get these leaders in the same room, and they get to learn not only from their own personal reflection, but also from each other, and the conversations, the learning that’s happening in the room. So can you walk us through a little bit of we’ve talked about why bespoke, does what it does. But what do we do? What does the day to day week to week look like in how leaders and companies are engaging with the work of bespoke?
Jim H. Lee 20:31
Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t realize that dynamic to see that what they want to do or how they lead other people, it’s easier for to get other people to do things the way the leader wants him to do it, but not necessarily leverage the power of everybody on your team, as a leader elevating how other people could perform better, right. And I kind of liken this to, for example, being right handed, like I use my right hand for most of the things that I do, you know, and then but I do have a left hand I actively use. And anytime somebody wants me to do something, I will without thinking of it, do things with my right hand, because it’s going to be easier to be faster and a lot more competent to do things that way. My left hand, it’s there, it’s almost like it seems like it could be just decoration, but I do actually use it actively. And I found out my skill sets as a person individually to do things is so much better, not when I try to use my right hand more. But I try to engage my left hand, even though it’s inferior, I don’t need all the skill sets on my right hand can do to do some of those things. So like even like drinking water off a bottle, if I could do this in a way that accomplish the task, the left handed way that I could save my right hand to do other things at the same time. And if you scale that into other type of activities, it’s a matter of making me as a leader feel more comfortable to try something that might not be natural for me. But see how I can leverage that as a skill sets that can use my strengths in a way that only my right hand can do, and not wasted on things that my left hand could be doing. So think about it as a leader. What are some of the unique skill sets to help accomplish things that only you can do. But you have a great team of people before you that may do things that may feel left handed. And the better you are as a leader to elevate your left hand, then you as leader can do the things that your team needs only you can be able to do that that’s in your right hand wheel set. And that’s what this book is really trying to do as a coach is help people to feel comfortable using their version of their left hand. And also help you to realize what are the things that are right handed to you, that you might think is so easy, that Why can’t anybody else do that, and in LA treating everybody else that they should have the same strength that you have. And what we want people to have is the opportunity to have dialogue, have conversations to communicate what those strings look like to be able to say things in a way that leaders can actually hear and see. Whereas before, if they just kind of gave directions on what to do, then they may never hear the feedback that they need on how to accomplish the goals even better. And so it’d be spoke is really helping us to see is what are the things that are right handed? And what are the things that are left handed, there are some things that actually even though I’m right handed, I am better with my left hand. So I have to become aware of that. And instead of just going into accidental mode of doing things the way that I react to, I want to be more cognizant of the long term and short term goals that I have in view. So that as I tried to achieve those goals, and in that vision that I want to achieve, that I’m actually using the right hand to do the right job for the long term effect, not just getting things done here and now and burning myself out and it’s consequences as well.
Aaron Lee 24:08
So Jim, I think one of the unique components of the spoke in our delivery model is what we call the four spaces and how we use different audiences and different styles and different ways to deliver content to coach leaders in our cohorts. Can you describe those four spaces and how that is experienced from the participant seat?
Jim H. Lee 24:34
Yeah, you know, there’s different ways that people can use media and there’s different methodologies, and different strengths that each one has. And so we try to bring that more intentionally to kind of draw the audience into an opportunity to kind of really see themselves and lead themselves. The first one we say we call it the informing stage, and it’s just a one way communication In that is really designed to inspire to cast a vision and a picture. And as I shared, like in my career, that’s the vision that everybody has. And that’s something that somebody wants to have. And even if you watch like highlight reels of amazing athletes, or like great inspirational YouTube videos, Ted Talks, each one of them creates a picture in your mind to see something that you might not have seen before. Or they helped shape things that may be forming. But that wasn’t well created yet. And what informing does, it’s just a one way conversation that someone implants a picture in your mind to see something that you wouldn’t necessarily see. And what we want to do is take that inspirational moment and move into the next phase, train you. And this is a space that we have a little bit of dialogue. This is a picture that I was sharing with you, is this a picture that you see, oh, yeah, that’s a great picture, I really want to have that in my life. Well, let me train you, I want to show you what it takes to create that picture, I want to help you to see the things that you need to do in order for that to happen. And so we have a two way dialogue there, we want you to learn the skill sets to make that picture happen. But we don’t really have an opportunity to follow up until the next space on what you are starting to learn about yourself that you can do any cancer. Going back to my left hand, right hand, right, you’re starting to realize, hey, you know that in order for you to create this picture, there’s some things you’re gonna have to do with the right hand and some things you have to do with your left hand. And we have that training time for you to learn everything about that picture, what it takes to create it, and for you to go try. And I think that’s very important to realize that we want you to feel as comfortable as you can to go do something very well, knowing that there’s a good chance for you to fail. And most people don’t like to fail, most people can be very perfectionistic. They don’t like the idea that they didn’t achieve anything. But in coaching, we want to create a safe space for you to do that. Because we tell you to go try it, we tell you to go achieve it, go apply it somewhere. And then the next space we call is really the coaching phase, to say, Hey, where were you successful? And where did you have challenges. And this is because they’re starting to learn things about themselves, that they didn’t realize, we train them to do something we help them to, to see a picture. But to make that a reality, you’re gonna have to realize what are the skills that you thought you had that you didn’t have? And what are the skills that you actually do have that you didn’t realize you’re actually really good at. And so that’s the coaching phase, we help them to kind of get over those bumps, help them to navigate, make some tweaks and how you’re executing. But we can’t do that without you trying first, we can’t do that until you’ve attempted to have a vision that was worth for you to make some sacrifices for. And then if you continue to have issues, we kind of peel back and we call this the apprenticeship phase. There’s something to create that picture. There’s some process along the way, that is a struggle. And we dig deeper together. These are the one on one sessions who really hear what’s going on. Sometimes there’s their stories in the background of individuals that we call inhibitions. There are things that they treat as prohibitions, but there’s a lot of innovations that are holding them back to do something. And in those one on one spaces is where we kind of uncover those things and give them permission to try something that they felt like maybe and for us culturally, as agents are a lot of things that we were told we couldn’t do that we have permission to do. And it’s in those coaching spaces that we really find a lot of leadership growth because we can dig underneath, like what were the things that growing up that they couldn’t do that they can do and give them permission to move forward. And that again, it’s the apprenticeship phase, where we’re helping them walk through down some of those real deep things that are seems easy for everybody else. But why are you struggling and help them to kind of move forward from those processes. Those are the four spaces that we we operate in.
Aaron Lee 29:15
That’s great. That’s a really good description. And I like how you walked through and tied the thread because there is a thread that’s tied. It’s not four distinct spaces or completely different experiences. But we’re in a rhythm and we’re constantly working through that rhythm to make sure we’re not just learning information. We’re not just wrestling with the problem we see right in front of us, but we’re laying down a strong foundation for long term future growth, transformation, and significant influence throughout every area of our life. You know, one of my favorite conversations we’ve had here lately is with one of our client teams that this team, different from many others consistently pull leads back to their family, a lot of them are applying this to themselves, their families, those they’re closest with, they’re applying these principles there, before they even think about applying them at work because they have a lot more time and experience with those in their inner circle and, and that’s where they’re wrestling with it and putting this into action. And so what we learn how we grow and develop and the tools that we are imparting through bespoke, they influence every area of life, which is exciting to see.
Jim H. Lee 30:32
Yeah, leadership transcends personal and professional, it’s how you become someone that can do those even Force bases, right, inspire people to do things that they didn’t think they could do show them, they can do the things that they didn’t think they could do, walk with them in the different areas that are holding them back from actually being able to do that. And ultimately, also being there at the times when they really are in what we call the pit of despair, not really believing in themselves, but having the belief that they can do that with other people.
Aaron Lee 31:01
So Jim, as we wrap up this episode, I think you and I could keep talking on for a long time about all of this. And the beauty of this is a journey. And so I look forward to our next conversation with you on the BS spoke leadership podcast. But it’s a wrap this episode, I want to ask you this question. What’s your secret to fully hearing seen and knowing your team,
Jim H. Lee 31:26
I am willing to do things for me what I feel like are left handed, I have to stop thinking and constraining my team to be able to do things my way, in the short amount of time. That irritates me, because it’s a very limiting culture there. So I’m still working on how do I execute the secret. But I do believe it’s in realizing that other people are just as valuable. And they have amazing strengths. And that if I want to work in a team environment, and to be able to really scale the spoke, for example, in a way that allows more people to become amazing leaders, then I need to activate their strength, I need to allow them to be able to work in a way that makes them work. It might make me uncomfortable. But as a leader, I have opportunities to grow. And I have opportunities to be able to learn how to do things differently, which ultimately makes me a more dynamic leader, and allows me to scale myself to be able to lead other teams and other clients as well. Because it’s not about doing things the way I feel comfortable my way, actually having the confidence and humility to do things in the way that other people need to do it that allows them to have the confidence for themselves as well.
Aaron Lee 32:43
That’s great. Well, Jim, thank you for the invitation to jumpstart the the spoke leadership podcast, I’m excited about where this journey is taking us the incredible guests and conversations that we will be able to have. And I look forward to more conversations with you on the podcast. And in discovering what’s the leadership conversation out there. How can we make sure everyone is heard, seen and known, which is at the core of what bespoke is all about. So thanks for coming on today. And I look forward to our next conversation.
Jim H. Lee 33:19
Thank you very much, Aaron. This is a pleasure and a lot of fun.
Aaron Lee 33:25
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