One of my current obsessions is a series that The Cut is doing called “How I Get It Done,” which is basically a Q&A format with female titans in varying industries. While reading it definitely gets my motivational engines all revved up, a lot of the time, it feels daunting to realistically consider half of the work these incredible women do.
I’ve had the good fortune of spending an afternoon with one such woman: Wen Zhou, the CEO and co-founder of 3.1 Phillip Lim. Over the course of two hours, I learned that while there are many expectations of women in the workplace, the most important one you should uphold are your expectations of yourself—not society’s.
Below are a few gems from our conversation on how to be your own boss.
#1 She’s easy to talk to
Wen doesn’t have the equivalent of Miranda Priestly’s chilling dismissive “that’s all.” Quite the opposite, in fact.
“Over the years as I’ve learned to become a better CEO, and a better communicator. It’s not really about what decision I make, or whether it’s the right or wrong decision. I think that working together as a company and as a team, we have to collaborate and respect each other’s decision. And once it’s made, we go forward. Otherwise, we waste time.”
#2 She doesn’t suppress her womanly instincts
There was a time when women were under the impression that they had to emulate their male peers in the boardroom in order to get ahead. But Wen takes a different approach by embracing her feminine qualities, such as listening to her intuition.
“Always, always, always go with your gut instincts. When it comes to products, don’t try to predict what other people will want to wear. Of course, you need to rely on data. You have to have good data in front of you. You have to have good research. You have to have great, in-depth knowledge of the market. [But] I have to go with my gut. And then the rest, we can draw conclusions, we can do things to support. But my first instinct is always right.”
#3 She blends her professional and personal life
It’s a disadvantage that women are expected to leave their responsibilities as wives, mothers, and daughters at the workplace, but Wen challenges this by bringing her family life into the office. Every day, her parents come to have lunch with her and her father comes in every day at 4:30 a.m. as the company janitor.
Being a mother also influences her decision-making process for her company. “I have children, and when you have children, you think differently. You don’t think about just you. You think about legacy, longevity, you think about what kind of world you want them to live in, and how you are going to effect changes.”
#4 She isn’t threatened by people smarter than her
Growing up, we’ve all gotten used to our mothers having all the answers. Naturally, we may expect the same of our female bosses. Eventually, having that kind of pressure can build up, but Wen neatly side-steps all of this by hiring the right people.
“Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, always. Give them the right tools, hire really amazing, curious, passionate people with integrity. Hire the right skill sets that complement each other, meaning curate a team that does have the same skill sets, that have diverse skill sets, but work amazingly well together.”
#5 She isn’t afraid of failure
“Failure is a great learning process. I try to be very responsible and not be reckless, but failure is a must. Without failing, we never learn,” Wen says.
“If the company continued and everything that you do is always great, when you really do fail, you’re going to fail really hard. I always say that our business is like a wave: you know, it comes [up], it comes down. It’s good to have a consistent wave instead of crashing, right? You don’t want to crash and then might never be able to get up.”
#6 She doesn’t mind giving herself a little credit
“When you’re working every single day, you really don’t realize it, right? You’re like a robot where you’re constantly working—you get up and go to work and get up and go to work. You never have a moment to stop,” Wen reflects. “I guess you never, ever say, ‘Hey, you did a great job. That was pretty good!’ You know, you never step and say that. But sometimes, it’s so important to recognize that. To stop and say, ‘You know what? I’m not so bad. It’s pretty good. I did fine.’”
#7 She values her work-life balance
“People think that they can work real, real hard and then they go away to go skiing. And then that’s it,” Wen observes. “For me, work-life balance is the balance of the mind, the balance of your friendships, balance of your family life, and balance of your work life. And to be able to be culturally curious and to be learning. It’s not about you taking a break. It’s about whether I can be a better person or not. So that to me is so important and it’s just not about all the work all the time.”