Josette Sheeran Addresses Students at Top South Korean University

The President & CEO of Global Asia Society engages with the future leaders of Sookmyung Women’s University

(From left to right) Professor of Sookmyung Women’s University, Si Yeun Moon; Executive Director of the Asia Society Korea Center, Yvonne Kim, President of Sookmyung Women’s University, Sunhye Hwang, President & CEO of Global Asia Society, Josette Sheeran, Professor of Sookmyung Women’s University Yun Keum Chang, and Professor of Sookmyung Women’s University, Hyun Cheol Kang, pose together on November 8, 2013. (Tae Shik Ahn/Sookmyung Women’s University)

Seoul, November 8, 2013 – The Samsung Convention Center of Sookmyung Women’s University was standing room-only as Josette Sheeran, President & CEO of Global Asia Society, began her lecture titled “What it means to be a leader: Advice to the next generation of Korean women leaders.” Sunhye Hwang, President of Sookmyung Women’s University; Hyun-Jin Cho, board member of the Asia Society Korea Center; and Yvonne Kim, Executive Director of the Asia Society Korea Center, were also in attendance.

Sheeran spoke about the 10 rules of leadership that guided her life including the power of women to create change, being a bridge-builder, and walking through open doors. She encouraged the young women in attendance to overcome their fears and challenge their own perceived limits. “I was painfully shy when I was young,” Sheeran revealed, sharing how she was too afraid to even ask questions when she was interning at the White House. “Even if I think I’m nothing, if my mind is focused on making a difference, even then I can make a difference,” she said as she shared how she made a breakthrough in overcoming her shyness by finally asking a question during a meeting. “I made a commitment that day to always ask a question.”

Josette Sheeran wove personal stories into her lecture. ((Tae Shik Ahn/Sookmyung Women’s University)Sookmyung Women’s University)

In describing her life principles of being “the change you want to see,” Sheeran invoked the stories of individuals she greatly admired, including Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education and became a worldwide advocate for girls’ education. “Don’t wait to be a boss to be a leader,” Sheeran said. “If you see the people changing the world, it’s people at every level.”

Sheeran also spoke of her hero, Nelson Mandela, to explain her principle of being “a bridge-builder of optimism. “The number one deficit is the deficit of understanding,” she said. “Very few people who are quick to listen, quick to forgive.” Sheeran continued: “After he was released from prison in 27 years, [Nelson Mandela] had every reason to hate, but he made a different decision.” She spoke of how Mandela’s choice to stand with his captors and forgive them was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of greatness.

The concept of reverse innovation, which means innovations that are adopted first in the developing world, was another key aspect of Sheeran’s message to the students. “We’re seeing reverse innovation now,” Sheeran said, specifically referring to the explosive global popularity of all kinds of Korean entertainment in recent years. “Korean entertainment is changing the way people view entertainment.” She also encouraged the students to overcome their fear of failure and enter the innovation economy.

Sunhye Hwang (L) and Josette Sheeran (R) together hold the small red cup (used by the World Food Programme to dispense food) that Sheeran used during her talk. (Tae Shik Ahn/Sookmyung Women’s University)

In response to a student’s question about advantages that women leaders have, Sheeran asserted that the world would benefit greatly from women leaders due to their different leadership styles and priorities. “One of the great strengths of women is compassion,” Sheeran said. Although it may be seen as a sign of being less powerful, she said that this characteristic was something that she was proud of. “I don’t think women should change,” Sheeran said, explaining how women were more focused on building, not destroying. “It’s not a power game, or an ego game, it’s about people’s ability to live. Women understand that.”

“I’ve had many moments of despair,” Sheeran said towards the end of her address. “The things that stay with me are the times when I lived up to my own character, my commitment to kindness, integrity and a bridge builder of optimism.”

The Samsung Convention Center, where Josette Sheeran’s lecture took place, was standing room-only. (Tae Shik Ahn/Sookmyung Women’s University)