We are delighted to present an interview with Dai Le, the founder and CEO of Diverse Australian Women’s Network. Dai is passionate about enabling Asian Australians to fulfil their leadership potential. She was born in Saigon, Vietnam and spent years in refugee camps in South East Asia before migrating to Australia in 1979. She is a former award-winning journalist, independent film-maker and broadcaster. Dai is now active in politics, including roles as Commissioner to the New South Wales Community Relations Commission and Councillor on Fairfield City Council. She also serves as a director with STARTTS, the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.
Who has had the biggest impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
There isn’t one person who has had an impact on me as a leader. I have always been a curious person, looking, observing, searching, reading and trying to understand what was happening around me and the world. I do however look towards those who have lead before, to understand what they try to achieve with their action or decisions. For instance, Nelson Mandela, the sacrifices he made, and words he left behind for us; Margaret Thatcher, for being a woman leading the Conservatives in the UK – her determination and resilience; Winston Churchill, Hilary Clinton … and also people like Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg and Oprah. Reading about these leaders has influenced my thoughts on leadership.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome when you started DAWN (Diverse Australasian Women Network)?
The biggest challenge to overcome when I started DAWN was my own fear and self doubt. DAWN’s mission was to build leadership capability; to enable and encourage culturally diverse groups, and in particular Asian Australians, to step into senior/executive roles within mainstream institutions. It is a ‘conversation’ and leadership philosophy that can be challenging for a Western society like Australia, where the majority of the ‘establishment’ and major institutions are still dominated by white Anglo-Saxon males. Although we are overcoming the ‘gender barrier’ we still have a long way to go to achieve some ‘equality’ for culturally diverse leadership. And for me, Asian Australian leadership is not reflected across our society.
Which aspects of your daily routine help you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
Focus. Determination. Optimism. These are the constant themes I remind myself of, to develop myself. I also read a lot about what others are writing and sharing in the area of leadership, gender diversity and diverse workforce. I see there are opportunities to drive the conversation around Asian Australian leadership and culturally diverse leadership overall.
Which books or other resources you would recommend to someone who wants to become a better leader?
There isn’t just one book. I just finished reading “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a great book on identifying your ‘weaknesses’ and turning them into your ‘strengths’. Stephen Covey’s book – 7 habits of highly effective people – is another fantastic ‘leadership’ manual.
I often wake up and find an inspirational quote to start my day such as the one below. It inspires me and motivates me.
You fall, you rise, you make mistakes, you live, you learn. You’re human, not perfect. You’ve been hurt, but you’re alive. Think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, and to be with people you love. Sometimes there is sadness in our journey, but there is also lots of beauty. We must keep putting one foot in front of the other even when we hurt, for we will never know what is waiting for us just around the bend…
But I think the most important thing on the journey to become a ‘leader’is to remind yourself that you’re constantly learning. You never stop learning. I make sure I read a lot and learn from other great leaders before me.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Be prepared to ask questions. Not be afraid to make mistakes, because only then will you learn. And have the courage, although your heart might be beating 100 miles an hour, to assert yourself.
What is the one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Is there just one characteristic? I think as a leader you require more than just one. For me, to be humble, to be courageous, to be diplomatic but at the same time, have the courage to speak up; to have tenacity – don’t give up.
What do you say to yourself most often when you face challenging situations on a daily basis?
Don’t give up and be patient. And that there are no mistakes or coincidences, just lessons in the school we call life.
Which book are you currently reading?
I’m reading “The Plastic Mind” by Sharon Begley. A great book about the mind and the brain. I love the subject about the ability of our brain to be rewired.
What is your biggest extravagance?
Uumm … if I have any, it would be travelling. I love to travel when I have the opportunity, and explore the cultures of the world.
What piece of advice would you give your 25-year-old self?
Seize the opportunity. And create opportunities. Don’t wait for anyone to make it happen. At the end of the day, you are the author of your life.