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7 Questions on Leadership with Yanli He

Name: Yanli He

Title: CEO

Organisation: Wealthford Lead LLC

Dr. Yanli He is the founder and CEO of Wealthford LEAD, a business and leadership consulting firm for startups in Silicon Valley. She earned her PhD in Organizational Leadership from Columbia International University and is certified in Accounting, Project Management, and Negotiation in the United States. She is highly skilled in leadership credibility, conflict resolution, creative negotiation, relationship building, shared value creation, and dynamic change adaptation.

Dr. Yanli He and her team have helped hundreds of startups take root, sprout, and grow in Silicon Valley. 95% of startups they assisted sustained some degree of success in the first year and 40% of these startups opened branches or subsidiaries within three years. Notably, Dr. Yanli He is a member and supporter of Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs. Her leadership style is defined as turnaround and growth leadership by Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Yanli's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Unlike the managers focusing on tasks or projects, as the CEO of Wealthford LEAD, I focus on the mission, strategy, adapting to change, and relationship-building. Of those, adapting to change and relationship-building inside and outside of the company are the most challenging.

Adapting to Change

As a business and leadership consulting firm, our mission is to help startups take root, sprout, and grow. Do we consistently fulfill the mission by providing professional and high-quality services to our clients? Do we always satisfy our shareholders? As our clients (startups) grow, do we adapt to their needs and change to adjust services for them? As the CEO, I must cultivate the vision to see before others see and update strategies to adapt to changes. For example, as some clients quickly expanded, we created new services, such as leadership training, strategic planning, and IPO planning.

Relationship Building

As a professional consulting firm, our experts, partners, and contractors are high levels of CPAs, EAs, project managers, and lawyers. How do I continue to build a good relationship with them and unite them to collaborate effectively? Moreover, our team is hybrid in person and virtually. The officers, managers, and team members are located in different locations in Silicon Valley. Thereby creating interpersonal relationships and solid trust in a virtual and professional environment which is very challenging.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

10 years ago, I worked as an investment manager in Chengdu, China, and then as an accountant in a CPA firm in San Francisco, United States. In May 2021, I was laid off from the CPA firm due to the workload of PhD study. To transform this obstacle into opportunity, I founded Wealthford LEAD with my first four clients. In July 2021, I met my business partner, Mr. Ralph Hodgen, and we transformed shared values into actions and formed a tax subsidiary. After finishing my PhD, I transformed the company from an accounting firm to a business and leadership consulting firm. Simply put, my leadership experience started from change adaptation and developed from relationship building and ongoing learning.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

7:00 am -9:00 am

My morning routine begins at 7:00 am and starts with drinking a glass of water, which is said to be helpful for the stomach from sleep. Afterward, I go to the gym for a 30-minute workout and then shower, which provides me with full energy for the whole day. Then, I have breakfast as I watch the news and social media.

9:00 am-6:00 pm

Once I arrive at the office at 9:00 am, I immediately check the emails and organize my strategy to address the most critical task. I feel good about getting things done before 3:00 pm. I often have virtual meetings and occasionally in-person meetings. Also, I visit clients and attend some ceremonies. Like other leaders, I deal with difficult conversations and negotiate with managers and clients to offer some resolution to their issues. I often seek special conferences related to leadership, business, climate change and attend them to develop a network and keep myself updated.

I drink traditional Chinese tea with a delicate tea set, which keeps me relaxed and innovative toward work. I do not eat lunch at noon because it usually makes me feel drowsy. Instead, I prefer a late lunch around 3:00 pm. Occasionally, I will have lunch with business partners or clients if scheduled.

6:00 pm-12:00 am

After work, I usually cook for myself due to my dietary regime since I have developed a taste for traditional Chinese food. I love spicy food with traditional Sichuan sources. I do laundry, watch TV, chat with family and friends, read books, shop online, and go to upscale stores if necessary. At 11:30 pm, I take a shower and sleep. As a Christian, I do reflection and pray before I go to sleep. This ritual helps me maintain my spirituality, health, ongoing learning, well-being, and innovation to achieve effectiveness and longevity in work and personal life.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Back in China, I had years of experience as an investment manager and launched many projects. The CEO nominated me as the branch’s general manager. However, my direct supervisor rejected such a nomination. First, he thought I lacked leadership experience because I had never served as a leader. Second, he thought my personality was very straightforward and might not be suitable for leading the branch. Although I had excellent knowledge and skills in managing projects, I needed to know how to manage the people and team.

As I learned effective communication, negotiation, team building, board leadership, strategic planning, and leadership practices in the US, I began to understand the concepts of being an effective leader. Finally, I understood what my previous superior expected of me. The knowledge and skills necessary to be an excellent manager are very different from those required to be an excellent leader. It is essential that a manager understands the work of the project, but that knowledge alone will not equip me to be a successful leader at that point.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

“The Leadership Challenge. How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations” by Kouzes, J. and Posner, B.  Kouzes and Posner (2017) presented five practices of leadership and how leaders transform leadership values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, sedateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership positively impact employee commitment, motivation, performance, and organizational effectiveness. The more I use it, the more extraordinary things happen in my company and personal life.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Before starting your leadership journey, ask yourself two questions: (1) Why are people willing to follow you? (2) How do you lead these people to achieve goals and innovations? First, cultivate core leadership traits, such as honesty, integrity, accountability, transparency, and empathy, before leading the team. Those traits are the foundation of effective leadership and a bridge to bond the relationship between you and your team. Further, along the leadership journey, you will encounter various challenges, including conflicts, competition, and might suffer lawsuits and the unpredictable loss of core talents. You must have strong confidence, wisdom, high emotional intelligence, and leadership skills to move those challenges into opportunities.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

I recall an employee, who was one of my core talents, threw a temper and decided to quit her job. Although distressed and very angry, I controlled my impulsion and emailed her to thank her for all her contributions since the startup. Moreover, I generously allowed her to continue using our tax software even though she resigned. At the end of the email, I welcomed her to return whenever she feels comfortable. As a result, my sincerity, caring, and empathy touched her heart, and she chose to continue working for us as a contractor. In the meantime, I recruited an amazing new CPA, and we collaborated on many outstanding tasks.

At a leadership conference at The Warton School, University of Pennsylvania in June 2023, one of the speakers, Motorola's CEO, posted a question, “When your talent suddenly leaves, what do you do?” I also shared this story with him. Instead of losing the talent, I moved leadership challenges to change and got two talents. Eventually, leadership is a relationship (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). If you treat people with sincerity, caring, and empathy, they will feel it and in return reward you. As the quote by Theodore Roosevelt goes, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” A turnaround leader is an opportunity creator from challenges and conflicts.

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