May 2019

Confidence, not Limelight, is the Source of True Leadership

Minglee Hoe, London, United Kingdom

This is part of the Young Women's Stories—Fostering Leadership project.

  • Gender equality & women's empowerment

Growing up in London, I received a good education and studied science at university, but I was lost about what I wanted for my career. After graduating in 2010 without a job lined up, I felt a bit hopeless. Thankfully, through my personal network, I quickly found a job in the organization I now work for. Since then, I have learned that we have to start small, even if it doesn’t match our expectations at first. After all, becoming a CEO doesn’t happen overnight; it takes hard work. I know now that as long as I am doing my best in my current role, it will lead to the next step, but that is a lesson I had to learn through experience.

Throughout my career, my greatest personal struggle has always been not seeing the value of my work. Near the end of 2015, I landed a great job working as part of a team of just two people on a multi-million dollar project in the field of climate change in the maritime sector—a field that I was (and still am) passionate about. I had no experience working on climate change, the maritime sector, or in project management, so it felt like I had jumped into the deep end.

We don’t always have to be in the limelight to make a difference, because I truly believe that when we realize that small changes can make a big impact, we can all be leaders in our own right.

Minglee Hoe

Adding to my worries about my lack of relevant experience, I felt removed from the “action” because my job was mainly administrative in nature. For that reason, I struggled to feel as if my efforts had any real impact on the wider world. I knew I wanted to somehow create value in my work, but I lacked self-confidence and recognition for how my contribution could make an impact. I struggled with the feeling that I was just “paper pushing.” But at the same time, I really wanted the project to be a success, so I worked hard to become an indispensable part of the team.

Being part of such a small team—a team made up of two young women, which is rather uncommon in the maritime sector—meant that we had to take a very hands-on approach to complete our extremely ambitious project, including many deliverables, within a short space of time. As the project progressed and we started implementing and delivering more activities across the world, I realized that my work as the administrator was crucial to the success of each activity and the project as a whole. This depended on me being the best I could be in my role, not someone else. It finally struck me then that I didn’t have to necessarily be on the “front lines” to make a difference.

Minglee standing in the engine room of a ship

Bolstering my realization, the feedback we received on the project has been incredible. Several countries at an international forum highlighted it as a “model project” to follow. It has even won several awards for its “outstanding contribution” toward energy efficiency, and my personal contribution was highlighted when several clients described me as a “hero behind the scenes!”

Because of my achievements, I was given the opportunity to facilitate and deliver a technical workshop in Asia. It was a great opportunity for me, as I not only was able to branch out of my comfort zone and explore the more technical side of the project, but I was also able to see firsthand the impact of what I was organizing. Instead of questioning my strengths, I confidently brought my organizational skills, my previous experience, and my attitude to keep striving for improvement to the role.

Although what my colleagues and I are working toward—stopping climate change—will not happen overnight, the little steps that we take make a difference. They can start conversations and plant seeds that, over time, will gather momentum and sprout. This profoundly altered perspective has only become possible for me through my experience. I have gained more confidence in my ability to make a difference, and I honestly believe my colleagues and I have achieved everything we have because we are united as a team and we have each taken leadership in our respective roles. Most of all, I’ve realized that I am important and that I have something of value to contribute. We don't always have to be in the limelight to make a difference, because I truly believe that when we realize that small changes can make a big impact, we can all be leaders in our own right.