Leadership – What they didn’t teach me at Harvard Business School

I am a first generation Chinese American in the United States. My grandfather immigrated from China to the United States with his family during the 1940’s. He served in the US Navy during World War II and actually came to this country during the war while my grandmother and my father followed shortly after the war ended in 1945. Throughout their lives, they embodied an unflinching work ethic and deep pride to be Americans. They literally came here with nothing and went on to achieve their “American Dream” here in the United States.

My name is Dan Chang. I am a retired Naval Officer of 22 years. Upon retiring from the Navy, I embarked on a career at the Northrop Grumman Corporation, where I retired once again, only this time as a Vice President of Program Management. In my two careers, I was fortunate to have succeeded in some very rewarding and challenging leadership positions. The respective highlights in my two careers were commanding a state of the art, frontline destroyer with its crew of 365 sailors and being program manager, responsible for capturing and delivering a $2B International program. Unlike my grandfather and father, I was fortunate to receive a myriad of executive leadership educational opportunities which included the US Naval Academy and Naval Post Graduate School.  There, I earned Bachelor of Science and Masters in Financial Management degrees, respectively. I also attended the Harvard Business School Executive General Management Program.

I don’t discount any of my formal institutional degrees as they were all valuable pieces to my personal puzzle and certainly integral to the DNA that defines me as a leader. However, I truly believe that the most significant factor in who I am and how I lead, is the influence of my grandfather and father throughout my formative years as a young adult. Their unique life experiences and distinctive approach to the herculean challenges they faced, had significant impact on my development.

My grandfather was a humble person who served as a ship’s mess steward in the US Navy and eventually rose to the staff of the US Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. He was supremely proud of what he did and was an exceptional provider for his family in their new country. He had no formal education, but learned how to be successful and how to integrate into the culture of the United States. With the strong presence of my grandmother, they both raised my father and had a remarkable impact on his ability to achieve his own version of the “American Dream”.  My father also served in the US Navy, becoming the first naturalized Asian to rise to the rank of Rear Admiral. His career spanned 30 years in which he became the first Asian American to command a US Navy warship and a Cruiser Destroyer Group. He also served as the US Navy’s Head Weapons Procurement Officer, and ultimately, the Navy’s Inspector General.

This was not an easy road for either man, but both my grandfather and my father rose to the top of their professions while following amazingly similar guiding values. I believe these values allowed me to rise to the top in both of my career paths as well.

The key values are as follows:

  1. Never accept “no” or that “it cannot be done” as a final answer.
  2. Be humble and proud of what you do.
  3. Know what the requirements are and do them to the best of your ability.
  4. Respect the people you work with.
  5. Stand up for what is right.
  6. Take care of your people and they will take care of you.
  7. There is no such thing as a “standard” career path.

What I learned from these two men are some of the premier elements that make up three leadership principals that I continue to teach to this day. They are also the foundation of what we build upon in  our online course, Leadership PRO. The three core leadership principals of Visible Leadership, Servant Leadership, and Building Trust are all topics we spend significant time on in Module 3 in order to assist you in developing your personal leadership style and help build upon characteristics you incorporated from your family heritage.

I know both my grandfather and father did not have the benefit of a Naval Academy or Harvard education, but both were extremely successful. They worked tirelessly and were truly determined to triumph over any challenge they faced. They overcame many obstacles and road blocks, including some that were socially driven and others that were racially driven, but they were never distracted from their goals. They simply wanted the best for their families and to make a contribution to this great country that took them in and gave them a chance. I am extremely fortunate to have been witness to, and learn from them and other people of action who eventually achieved their “American Dream”.

Dan Chang

Dan has over 35 years’ experience in challenging leadership positions in the Aerospace Industry and the Department of Defense. Held leadership positions in program management responsible for complicated programs which included systems technology integration solutions, domestic and international supplier chain management solutions, customer satisfaction in the achievement of strategic long and short term goals, commitment to excellence in quality management, which exceeded customer requirements for services, products, and accomplishment in exceeding financial goals. A proven leader with demonstrated performance in achieving program execution, financial goals and system solutions that provide the end user with the information needed to perform operational/business requirements.

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