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Bust the bamboo ceiling: ONE mistake smart Asian managers make [and how to fix it]

January 18, 2023 by

The fix is to shift from demonstrating how smart you are to showing your strategic impact. Ready to make the shift? Here are 4 ways to make the shift from smart to strategic. Let go of “smart” and go for “insightful.”

Author: Rebecca Okamoto, Founder and editor of, a virtual mentor for career insights and leadership development. This article is republished with permission. More articles by Rebecca on Evoke.

Photo: RDNE Stock project (Pexels)

Sorry. You’re just NOT….

Fill in the blank _

Strategic enough
Demonstrating executive presence
Showing “senior” leadership


The curse of the Asian middle manager.

Statistics show that Asians are the least likely group to break through to the executive level. And it seems, no matter how smart you are, or how awesome your results are, it’s never enough.

There’s always something else. It’s never “quite right.” The bar keeps moving and the coaching is vague.

The next level is sooo close, but never there.

Sound familiar?

The ONE mistake you’re making

Yeah, I get it. It’s frustrating when no one is telling you what to do, or what specifically you’re doing wrong.

And yes, you’re probably fighting bias.

But you could be making it harder on yourself, too.

If you’re a strong, top-talent manager you’re probably making a BIG mistake. And it’s not because you’re Asian or because of bias.

The mistake? Your executive presentations are executional.

Here’s the thing.

When you present to executives you want to stand out. So you focus on impressing them with how smart you are. You’re also probably telling yourself that your leaders EXPECT you to be specific.

Combine these assumptions and your unintended objective becomes demonstrating your command of the details:

You showcase your calculations, formulas, spreadsheets, and timelines.

Your bullet points have sub-bullet points, and your sub-bullet points have sub-sub-bullet points.

You believe it’s better to overwhelm your executives with facts and figures than to leave something out.

The problem is… That’s executional. Not strategic.

Shift your focus from “smart” to “strategic”

Ironically many of you are ALREADY strategic. You’re just not speaking strategically.

In other words, you understand what business priority you’re impacting, but you’re positioning your concepts, updates, and projects through an executional or technical lens.

The fix is to shift from demonstrating how smart you are to showing your strategic impact.

Ready to make the shift?

Let go of “smart” and go for “insightful.”

Here are 4 ways to make the shift from smart to strategic

Here’s a secret. They already know you’re smart. You’re already impressing them with your results. That’s why they’re asking you to present. No need to use your limited presentation time trying to look smart.

Instead, give them business insight that changes or challenges their POV or spotlights an advantage or blindspot.

Smart is explaining that your project is ahead of schedule:

"We’ll be able to launch Project X one quarter earlier because the clinical results came in earlier and better than expected."

Insightful is explaining the revenue, competitive or market share advantage of going to market earlier.

"We’re on track to launch Project X one quarter earlier. Even launching 12 weeks ahead of schedule will give us a first-to-market advantage, which will help us regain market leadership, and increase this year’s revenue by 10%."

Stating information, facts and figures is good. But giving powerful insight can be a game-changer.

Speak to their results, not yours

One of the fastest ways to position yourself as ready-for-the-executive-level is to speak like an executive.

Frame your presentation using their strategies, goals and results, not yours.

For example:

YOUR results:

Cost savings
Production scrap and production line throughput

Compare that with THEIR results. Your results are often drivers of their results:

Timeliness impacts revenue, market share and market leadership.
Savings impact margin.
Scrap and throughput impact capital investments.

If you don’t know your business unit’s goals, results or strategies, or you’re not clear how your results link to them, now is the time to learn more.

Keep it simple

You know the statistic – Today’s attention span is 8 seconds.

Now imagine your executive’s attention span. I’m guessing 8 seconds could be an eternity to some of them.

Your goal is to summarize your entire position in 10 sentences (or less).

That’s right, 10 sentences. Not 10 minutes. Not 10 paragraphs.


First of all, you want to demonstrate your ability to pitch the BIG picture. Strategy is all about the big picture.

Second, the more you say, the weaker your insights become. It's called the dilution effect. Simplicity forces you to prioritize the most important information and the strongest arguments.

Last when you data dump, think of the impression that you're leaving: granular, executional and technical. Not. Good.

Do you want to make more of an impact? Less is more.

Get them to ASK for more details

I’m guessing some of you are worried about details:

“My manager expects me to be detailed.”

“My VP always dives into the data."

Your audience may want details, but they also don’t want a data dump, and they definitely don’t want death by a thousand paper cuts.

There’s a place for details. It’s AFTER you established insights.

When your audience is engaged, they’ll want you to explain. Better yet, they’ll ask you to come back.

Yes, be prepared. Have additional slides. Show the research. But don’t lead with the details. End with them.

Now you’re ready to break through

You’re smart. You’re strategic.

Now everyone else knows, too.

And when you break through, you can help others get through as well.

Disclosure: MyAsianVoice is committed to publishing original and third-party content that is relevant and useful to the Asian female. The content posted are strictly the views of the author’s own and does not reflect the views of MyAsianVoice.

Rebecca Okamoto is the founder and editor of, a virtual mentor for career insights and leadership development. She believes that in every person there is hidden and unrealized potential waiting to be tapped. Moreover, Rebecca is a former P&G executive with over 20 years of supply chain expertise leading organizations across North America, Latin America and Asia.

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