Michael Zhuang




United States


Wealth management


Jan 2019 - Sept 2020

By Michael Zhuang

Applying what I learned at Oxford in my business

Yesterday was the first business day since I completed my first module of study at Saïd Business School at Oxford University. I’ve already used my newly acquired knowledge twice.

We learned about the six leadership styles: Coercive, Visionary, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting and Coaching and their impacts on business and productivity.

I have an employee in my office who works as my assistant and whom I am grooming to be an advisor. I asked him to evaluate my leadership style based on his experience working with me, allocating percentages to each of the six categories. I also did a self assessment.

According to my self assessment, I am a brilliant visionary, coaching and pacesetting leader. My employee also thinks I am a visionary and coaching leader, but he also thinks I am a coercive leader. This was quite a revelation  to me! I have never thought of myself as coercive, but I must come across that way sometimes. I must say my ego was taken down a peg.

Then I asked him to use the arrow sign to indicate which leadership styles he wants to see more or less of me. It turns out he is perfectly happy with my visionary and coaching styles, but he also wants me to be more democratic and pacesetting and less coercive and affiliative.

With this exercise, now I have a clear direction to improve my leadership style.

The same day, I was also engaged in expanding my wealth management business into Pennsylvania through a partnership with an old friend of mine who I met by happenstance on a flight to China fifteen years ago. He was a financial advisor by profession but at the time he was on a mission trip to share Christianity through microlending to the poor. Inspired by his mission, I changed my itinerary to become his translator and travelled  with him to impoverished areas in inland China.

Our history goes way back, so naturally we were both very excited about working together. Then I remembered the various biases in decision making that I learned ultimately lead to an 80% failure rate for business expansions. I realized that we better not rush our decision.

To mitigate confirmation bias, I said to my partner, “Let’s take off our rose-colored glasses and just imagine what could throw our partnership off track.”

To mitigate anchoring bias, I further said to him, “Let’s do this separately, please write down your biggest concerns, and I will write down mine. Then we will get back together and compare notes.”

He came back with six concerns and I have five of my own. We had a in-depth discussion about each point of concern. Our partnership is still on, but now we can move forward with a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s needs.

Oxford is as close to an ivory tower as it can get, but what we learn at the business school is not ivory that is good only for exhibition. We are given practical tools that we can use in our day-to-day business. I encourage my classmates in the program to try them!

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