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Learn to Embrace Adversity with Resilience
Sean: But what are some of the other leadership characteristics or disciplines that you had so that you were able to break through that bamboo ceiling and all the way until you resigned, Your clients respect you and they want to work with you. What you mentioned was about building relationships, and that is an amazing point, and you’re right, not a lot of people are able to do that, especially now in our super distracted world. But what are some of the internal disciplines that you have? Because I always say that the game isn’t won when you’re playing, it’s one through practice. And what are the disciplines that you have during those times of practice that make you who you are?
Dave: Yeah. So I would say that aside from working really hard and I’m not sure anything in life is really easily achievable without working really hard. So aside from working really hard, one thing that I think in hindsight that I’m really good at is – I think I’m a really good study of human nature and understanding why people do irrational things. I’ve read almost all the major research in books around cognitive bias and human irrationality and human psychology. And what I realized after reading a lot of that is that much of that I’ve kind of instinctually understood, and I’ve used that to my advantage by really understanding what motivates people and then building incentives around that so that those people do what I need them to do to my benefit.
Dave: So I’ll give you an example. One of the things that are very well known now and actually won a Nobel Prize is the Prospect theory that was created by Danny Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning professor. And Prospect Theory. One of the core tenements of prospect theory is the fact that people are more risk-averse than reward loving. And the rough ratio is that you need 2x the amount of pleasure from a win to offset the pain of a loss. In layman’s terms, what that means is we’re all risk-averse, and organizations which are aggregations of multiple people, are even more risk-averse. And so I would institutionalize that into my mindset whenever I was dealing with any company or any client, because I know fundamentally human beings are risk-averse. And so the image that I always project when I’m trying to win a deal or win a board over is this notion of being a safe pair of hands, like no matter what, if you hire me and you bring my team on, we got the table stakes covered. We’ll make sure that your deal gets done to a minimum level of satisfaction.
Dave: And I wouldn’t necessarily overemphasize the upside potential, because that wouldn’t necessarily resonate as much because most people are kind of looking around like, hey, look, we just don’t want to make a mistake when we’re hiring a firm right now, that’s kind of what we’re wired to really be programmed around. And so I would make sure that I would always think about how do I make this person feel that the table stakes are covered and then any upside is really a bonus. And so this notion of thinking about what motivates people and then translating that into your actions, I think is a core part of how I was able to navigate my career. That’s on the client-side.
Dave: Now, the internal side within the corporation where I’m trying to rise to the corporate ladder. I applied the same thing. So as an Asian-American, you know that there is a general bias against us in terms of having leadership material. We generally are viewed as the model minority who is really good at following orders, but not necessarily good at giving orders. And I knew that. I mean, that’s a big bias, particularly in America.
Dave: And so what I would do, knowing that people fundamentally are very risk-averse, like we talked about, I would make sure that I had the table stakes covered so I would make sure that I would be that perfect junior person like got all those things covered. And then what I would try to do is I would try to move up the evolutionary scale by showing that I had leadership potential, but knowing that my organization and my manager is fundamentally risk-averse, I would try to start with situations that were low stakes, situations where if I failed, it wasn’t a big deal. So I wouldn’t overreach. I wouldn’t go right away and go, Hey, man, give me the hottest clients, so let me go pitch them or let me manage the biggest teams, right? No, I wouldn’t do that. That would set me up for failure and the likelihood that I would get that would be close to zero.
Dave: So what I would do is I would say, okay, why don’t you give me the clients that nobody cares about, right? Why don’t you let me manage things that aren’t revenue-generating? Because things that aren’t revenue-generating generally aren’t highly valued, frankly, on Wall Street. So I would manage things like recruiting or managing conferences, right? And slowly but surely what would happen is I would demonstrate to my bosses and the organization that, ‘hey, maybe I do have a little bit of leadership material, right?’ Because I’m able to demonstrate some of its elements of it in these lower-stakes situations. And then over time, I grew about the scale and I start to get what I call live ammunition drills where I would actually deal with real clients and real opportunities. And then as I started to convert them, I would change the perception people have of me. But it all comes from this notion that people are fundamentally risk averse and they’re not necessarily going to let you go hog wild and take a huge amount of risk on the organization. You got to start knowing that they’re going to be biased against that. And then how do you leverage that so you can slowly move up the curve? And that’s fundamentally what I did.
Sean: There are some things that for me are extremely difficult for someone to be able to do. And I remember when you were sharing about living a modest life while all of these other colleagues of yours were telling you, ‘Hey, why don’t you get this one and you get that?’ That’s an extremely difficult discipline to have. And I would say that I know human nature to do to a certain degree, a lot younger than you are. So I know you have much more wisdom to share and, you know, human nature much more than I do because you’ve read tons of books. I haven’t read any of them. But I know that when you have that kind of discipline, that means you have extremely strong areas of discipline in other areas of your personal life. Can you share some of that with us?
Dave: Yeah. So I was actually born with a really severe birth defect. I had I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, which meant that I was born with a big hole in the center of my face. And up until the age of 18, I was under treatment. So I was in the hospital as well as I’ve had 11 full-on craniofacial surgeries. So major, major surgeries. And I only share that with you because for most of my life, I have had very visible scars on my face. And you can’t see it now because I’ve grown this bushy mustache. But up until the age of 30, you know, I had very visible scars and people, you know, can’t help but stare. It’s a little bit like when people see a car crash. Right. They just can’t look away.
Dave: And so for a lot of my life, I was effectively kind of an outsider. And I think that that fundamentally was a blessing, not a curse for me because it taught me to be very introspective and very observant of human nature, as well as it gave me a really, really thick skin and frankly speaking, not giving a darn about what other people think of me. And so I know that it’s really hard. I know it’s really hard not to get caught up in what other people think of you, what other people are doing, how you measure yourself about other people. But I fundamentally think I was blessed because I really don’t care about that stuff. And I think it goes back to this notion that – for a lot of my life I was effectively alone. Like I was not part of the crowd. I was not one of the cool kids. You know, I had these scars. I was fat. I was obese. Right. Like I was definitely not part of the crowd. I think that actually built resilience in me, which actually propelled me through my career.
Dave: And I would say that thematically, I have seen something very similar among people that are very successful. I’m not saying that they have the same thing as me, but I think that when you deal with some level of adversity, that tends to isolate you. I think that there are kind of like two major reactions, actually. One is they don’t maximize their potential and they live tough lives. Right. But for many of the successful people I know who dealt with that type of adversity, it actually hardens them and makes them plow their own path and not care about what anybody else thinks. And so, unfortunately, if you’re not born with tremendous adversity, I think you have to think about how to manufacture it. But I think that that’s fundamentally what really helped me and not really caring about what other people think and also helping me be very mindful and disciplined about what I wanted to accomplish.
Dave: Because one of the things that I realized when I was a junior person and I was still kind of introverted and not very outspoken, was that if I didn’t take ownership of my career and fundamentally change and break some of these stereotypes, I was going to end up in an office dungeon for the rest of my life. I was going to end up being a junior guy crunching away on spreadsheets that nobody cared about, was highly replaceable, and probably underpaid. And I didn’t want that for myself. I wanted to ultimately become a senior leader and be really successful. And so I took it upon myself to isolate those skill gaps that I had, whether it be salesmanship or gregariousness, or presentation skills. And I practice and practice those like crazy, just constantly, just like, you know, a basketball player after a game shooting a thousand hoops, I would do the same thing. I would practice presenting in front of mirrors, in front of my dog, in front of my family. Right. I would. I would really analyze the data around like – is my methodology working is effective and I would analyze that and I would iterate, but I think the root of it all comes down to my own resilience, from my own upbringing and really trying to take ownership of my life and not worrying about what other people think.
Sean: That’s amazing. Hey, Dave, where can people find you and where can people reach out to you?
Dave: Yeah. So the best way is just to go to my website is Liucrative.com. It’s a play on my name. So it’s LIUCRATIVE.com. You can go on there and you can actually send me a message. I respond to every email message I get, so that’s probably the best way to reach out to me.
Sean: That’s awesome. Hey, Dave, thanks so much for all the wisdom that you shared and for everything that you’re doing. My gosh, I’m proud to be Chinese because of you.
Dave: Yeah. And as we talked about earlier, I’m actually Chinese-Filipino. So my father was born in China, in Wuhan, and my mother was actually born on Ilo-Ilo Island. So we have a lot in common. And I’m really glad that you gave me this opportunity to share my story.
Sean: Likewise. Thanks so much, Dave. Appreciate it.
Dave: Thanks, Sean.