The Call For Human Leadership
Kamauri Yeh is the Vice President of Global Women’s Brand Creative at Nike
Kam’s Top Values
How I know Kam
Kam and I were introduced last year via text message by a colleague, as two “honest and strong voices” who should connect… and I couldn’t be more thankful for the introduction.
Lately, Kam and I have been discussing our shared grief over the rising hate crimes towards Asian-Americans and the call for more human leadership. I’ve found a lot of comfort in knowing that she is out there, like me, trying to make sense of it all and make a positive impact in our own way. In this interview, Kam talks to me about her commitment to generative leadership, a new way of leading.
Q: How are you doing as a leader in the current climate?
I recently read that the call of leadership right now is to perform while transforming, and it’s really stuck with me. I think our generation will look back at this time as one of the most formative times for leaders. These past few years have been accelerators for me personally – I’ve grown so much in my confidence and my approach. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have imposter syndrome too. I share that openly with my team, and I also believe that I hope I always have these nervous butterflies because it means that I still deeply care about the people that I work with and what I’m doing.
Q: One of the defining characteristics of the Millennial Generation might be the quarter-life crisis. Can you tell me more about yours?
I definitely had a quarter-life crisis when I was around 26 years old. I was feeling burned out and exhausted, and was clearly not taking care of myself. It was a pivotal moment for me to ask myself the question of what my vision was for myself. Up until that point as a social media marketeer, I was used to the hustle and working late nights and weekends. Then I took a job at another company, and the main reason I joined was because the hiring manager’s first interview question to me was: “How can I develop you as a leader?” I had never been asked that before, and I knew I had a lot to learn from her about leadership.
I remember having feelings of guilt in the initial months in that new job because I felt like I wasn’t working enough hours, which I equated with driving value. When I asked her about what more I could be doing, she told me that they weren’t texting me at 11pm precisely because they did value me. And that showed me the power of people leadership in a big way.
Q: What advice would you give your quarter-life crisis version of yourself today?
To develop a well-rounded support system. My personal board of directors today is composed of the 5 people who know me the best: my mom, my husband, and external / internal peers whom I trust. Whenever I have to make a major decision, they’re the people I call because they know me, they know my purpose, and they know my values. They help me stay true to those.
Earlier in my career, I had amazing leaders pushing me to do really future-forward work but I didn’t have a lot of people who nurtured and developed me as a leader. Having a quarter-life crisis is a sign that mastery, autonomy and purpose are not part of what you are doing in your work. Surrounding yourself with people who help you unlock those in your job is critically important to your path. I wish I had known that sooner.
Q: Fast-forward to today, how would you define your vision for yourself and your leadership style?
I’ve always known that my vision was to be a great people leader wherever I was, but The Liberty Collective founder and coach Kerri Hoyt-Pack recently helped me find the vocabulary and articulation of it beautifully: Generative Leadership.
“Generative Leadership is rooted in a long-term view, actively sharing power and accountability, and centered around a caring spirit of learning and adaptation.”
I believe in sharing power + bringing a caring spirit into my work. I actively invite team mates into decision-making because I believe we make stronger decisions together. When I’m in meetings and it feels like something is off, I try to be honest: “What is the issue we’re not talking about here?” To me, it’s about how I’m weaving this into my day-to-day.
I also make sure I lead by example: When Christina Yuna Lee was murdered, I told my team that I could not contribute the way I wanted to and took the day off. When my childcare plans fell through for my son, I decided I wasn’t going to try being great at both mothering a baby and leading business decisions and took the space I needed to do one. And these acts have led to my team feeling more empowered to share how they are feeling too. I believe it’s these small waves of change that make the difference.
Q: A huge part of leadership for you revolves around people. What is the role of community in leadership for you?
Community plays a huge part in my life and starts from a deep curiosity from different parts of my identity. I love connecting dots and connecting people to each other, because that’s how we learn and grow.
As an Asian-American (Chinese & Korean-American), my friends in the Asian-American community led to me being connected to Ally Maki at Asian American Girl Club and supporting her work. It’s also allowed me to work more deeply into creating more opportunities for Asian women at Nike.
As a new mother, I started reaching out to new moms in my network to learn and have conversations about going back to work after having a baby. These community conversations led to me eventually getting connected to the author of the The Fifth Trimester Lauren Smith Brody who talks about this topic in her book.
As a marketeer and storyteller, I regularly spend my Fridays connecting with people doing interesting work around the world and invite them to come share their stories with my team at our studio. It’s so powerful to hear people’s stories firsthand.
The pull I have towards community comes from my Asian upbringing, which culturally valued respect for others and coming together around the table. My extended family and I grew up living 5 minutes away from each other and sharing a meal at the counter at all hours of the day, exchanging stories. That feeling of all parties coming together to the table – whether on a Zoom call or in-person – that’s what I think leadership looks like at the end of the day.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me and my audience, Kam!
Do you know any inspiring and values-driven leaders whom the world should know about? Shoot me an email if you’d like to nominate and introduce that person. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org