Confidence Lessons From a Cross-Cultural Leadership Journey
An adidas VP reflects on her five international relocations and how they’ve shaped her as a confident leader.
Recently, I asked my team how they would describe me as a leader. Their answer: driven and results oriented, always looking for ways to be efficient, doesn’t see an impossible problem, positive, and very confident.
As an HR lead at adidas, I always aspire to role-model collaborative, creative, and confident behaviors. Geared for continuous learning and growth, I wanted to dig further into confidence by reflecting on my cross-cultural journey.
Originally from Singapore, a melting pot of cultures, I went to university in Scotland and, after a stint in another German company, landed a job as HR Trainee with adidas in 2004. By way of Hong Kong and Korea, where I was heading the HR function, I now serve as Vice President HR for Latin America in Panama.
Every international move has shaped me and my leadership style. And every new chapter has taught me valuable lessons in confidence.
Take on a new leadership role with humility
Five relocations later, the hardest part for me has always been leaving the team. The people you work with become a big part of your life and help shape you as a person.
Looking at my move to Latin America in mid-2017, the team welcomed me from day one. Everyone was open to share insights and help, a typical local attitude. Friendliness makes integration easier, but I’m of course doing my part; together with my wife, we’re learning Spanish, embracing the culture, and enjoying the Latin food and reggaetón.
Especially during a career transition, the trust you build helps you to be elected by the team to lead them. You also gain credibility by helping and developing your people, by putting the team first. Trust needs to be earned.
In my current role, I’ve promised to develop my people, give and seek feedback, deliver to the business and, most importantly, do it all in a consistent manner: whatever I say, I am committed to follow through.
Grateful to adidas for allowing me to explore and grow, I’ve always tried to live and lead with humility. I believe in continuously proving yourself worthy of the team and growing with them to be the best version of yourself. It takes humility to say, “I want to learn and grow”, but to also admit you’re vulnerable.
Confidence is multi-faceted – and often misinterpreted
In Latin America, HR is actively championing diversity in leadership. We’ve brought in Lean In circles and diversity training. Historically, the majority of leadership role models have been men, but today, we’re exposed to more diversity, and we have more female leaders.
Certain stereotypes persist, however. “Women are more careful.” “Women don’t want to oversell themselves.” “Women are more empathic.” These tendencies, unfortunately, are often misconstrued as lack of confidence. The challenge is also how we have perceived leadership over all these years.
Turning the lens to individuals, my advice for anyone low on confidence is to develop self-awareness. What exactly is the root cause of what you’re struggling with? When you dig deeper, most of the time, it’s not due to a lack of confidence. Seek feedback on your strengths and focus on developing those further. What others may perceive as lack of confidence is often just you not knowing your strengths.
Considering relocation? Become a confident decision maker
The more I relocate, the easier it becomes, and each time I go through a similar decision-making process. Here’s my advice: Start with knowing your why. Then ask: Is this the right move for my career? Will it help me grow as a leader? The answer becomes easier with a heightened sense of self-awareness and knowing your purpose.
The next question is trickier: Will I enjoy the job? The only way to answer this is to gain insights about the people you’ll be working with, the team, and the leaders.
Then, of course, comes the question of the location itself, but that’s easier to answer once you know the professional challenge and opportunity you’re facing. Whenever a chance presents itself, do your research, ask a lot of questions, and network.
Be ready to accept everything, because it’ll be a bumpy ride. And always have a plan B. Then, with self-awareness and confidence, take the leap, because your wings will open up and you will fly.
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