Kellogg Leaders in Action: The impact of an MBA on servant leadership
What makes Kellogg unique? In a rapidly changing world, we provide our students with fertile soil for fruitful leadership. Our students are planting seeds to become the leaders of tomorrow, and our community supports and challenges their growth. Whether in the classroom or through global opportunities, our MBA programs sharpen analytical skills while fostering creativity and social intelligence.
Our “Kellogg Leaders in Action” series highlights adaptive, empathetic leaders who are changing the global business landscape.
Meet Chereese Johnson ’07 MBA, the diversity and inclusion strategy lead at Chevron Corporation, one of the largest energy companies in the world. For Johnson, it’s easy to spot fellow Kellogg alumni in the working world because of the shared behaviors and experiences that link them. She recently sat down with Kellogg to share how the lessons of collaboration and authenticity she learned here have driven her career path.
Why do you think it’s so easy to pick your fellow Kellogg alumni out of the crowd?
I think it is because we’re seeing a mirror of ourselves. We went through this Kellogg experience: a lot of shared experiences and we lived the culture of Kellogg — that impacts how you act, how you behave, and how you carry that on throughout your life. I think those distinct types of experiences have shaped who we are, to a certain extent, and we can see it in ourselves because we see it in others.
What do you think it means to be a Kellogg leader?
There is one word that defines it for me: authentic. When I think about the Kellogg leadership style a lot of it hinges on just being true to who you are and true to others and having that really be the driver for how you lead your life and how you navigate professionally. From my perspective, authenticity is key.
Could you share an example of how you’ve used your Kellogg leadership skills in your own career?
When I think about my experiences (leading others, projects, teams) I’m very conscious about making sure that those who are part of the team have the right resources, the right support, coaching, mentoring—whatever they need to be able to contribute fully to the task at hand; realizing and knowing that their success equates to my success.
That is how I embody the Kellogg leadership style. I think going through the Kellogg experience planted those seeds early on of what servant leadership is and that’s how I use it in my career.
How have you seen other graduates, classmates of yours that have gone on to leadership roles in the world, demonstrate their unique Kellogg leadership style?
I have followed many of my classmates and have watched them start their own entrepreneurial ventures, succeed in corporate America, or even provide their talents and skill sets to nonprofit organizations. Throughout all those experiences I think it really relies on just being very purposeful and intentional. I think that is a trait that I see: having goals, having your values lead your goals, and then ultimately staying true to accomplishing those goals.
What specific lesson did you learn when you were a Kellogg student that made a deep impact on you that you’ve taken forward and you still use in your career today?
The power of collaboration. When I reflect on my time as an undergraduate in comparison to my graduate experience at Kellogg my experience was a more group focused experience at Kellogg. I learned how to communicate with others who may be different from you, how to influence your ideas or even, most importantly, how to leverage the talents of your team. Now that I am in the human resources profession and having opportunities to lead others, learning about collaboration has been very beneficial for me. I am now a more effective leader, thanks to Kellogg.
What advice would you give your younger self back when you were considering coming to Kellogg?
The most important advice is that learning never ends. Maybe the learning is not done or conducted in the same way as being in graduate school, but I would tell my younger self that it’s essential to continuously learn and grow because you will evolve, and times change, and you need to change with the times.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Kellogg alumni community now?
I really believe in giving back. I graduated in the class of 2007—I hate to date myself. I believe, we were the class that put the seed money for the Global Hub. After 15 years, it is great to reflect on how those early funds contributed to what we see today is impactful. And so along the way I’ve been conscious about giving back to Kellogg, because ultimately when I do so I’m giving back to others and enabling others to experience what I did.
It’s not only for the financial piece but also from the knowledge aspect. I think that it’s really an element of truth that our alumni are very giving of their time, their knowledge and whatever can be shared amongst us.