Kellogg Leaders In Action: An MBA experience that transcended boundaries
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 John D. John ’16 MBA, a graduate of the Executive MBA Program who has devoted his life to military and public service. John is currently a warfare capability analyst for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of Defense. He previously served as commanding officer of USS Ross (DDG 71) in the Naval Surface Force Atlantic. Here, he talks about how Kellogg led him on a leadership journey he never would have imagined.
What attracted you to the Executive MBA Program at Kellogg specifically?
Our collaborative environment requires us to build trust with each other through mutual respect and admiration. In the Executive MBA Program, we build this amazing bond with our classmates, and after graduation, we get to expand that into an incredible global network. The Kellogg bond that unites us through the program transcends industry, national and cultural boundaries, and that’s exactly the kind of bonds the world needs to inspire unity and growth.
One of the fascinating things about being at Kellogg is that there are people who are in this program whose countries are actively engaged in armed conflict with each other. Yet when we come to Kellogg, those same people whose countrymen are fighting each other are in our study rooms, sharing, uniting, collaborating and innovating together. It’s inspiring to be a part of that process and to share the journey with them. If they can do it, then why can’t we? That’s what the Kellogg example is all about: When you’re a high-impact, low-ego leader, you can set aside differences, you can find common ground and you can change the world for the better.
How did your MBA program help you grow and develop as a leader?
I had spent 12 years in the military when I started at Kellogg, and I was a little bit arrogant about my leadership abilities. They asked us where we put ourselves in terms of our leadership skills relative to others, and I’m embarrassed to admit I put myself in the top five percent. I was wrong.
At the time, I was really good at leading teams of people who thought like me, who dressed like me, who had the same common goal and objectives, and who came from the same place. But I had zero experience leading cross-cultural teams who came from diametrically opposed points of view and needed to unite on common ground. I learned how to do that here at Kellogg, through our study groups, our cohorts and the learning environment that we create. That self-awareness me a better leader, and I have my Kellogg experience to thank.
How have you continued to apply those learnings after graduation?
Kellogg helped me to recognize the value in the things that I can’t see or understand, and also to appreciate that although other people may not be as forthcoming with their talents, they do have a lot to add. I’ve learned how to better connect with people in personal ways, which has helped me understand how best they can add value to our goal and how perhaps I can help them reach theirs.
Going through Kellogg, I found I had to be vulnerable enough to understand what it’s like to change for the better, and how to work with a group of people who genuinely care about you each other in order to reach a common goal. Through that experience, I made connections that I might not have made otherwise, and now I have this group of peers who are like my personal consulting firm. I never have to make a leadership decision in a vacuum again. I know they’ll take my call at 2 a.m., just like I’ll take theirs. That is priceless.
What does it mean to you now to be part of the Kellogg alumni community?
One thing I find really fascinating is the fact that every single one of us has built this amazing network of people we trust and care about as human beings. We genuinely want to see each other succeed. We have this confidence as Kellogg alumni, and I believe that if you got my cohort of 36 people together for one more class weekend of four days, there isn’t a single business problem in the world we couldn’t solve together. I can’t put a price tag on that.
What advice would you give to future MBA students?
This program is designed to challenge you because if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you; and if it doesn’t change you then what’s the point? The transformation that people experience when they come through this program is inspiring. Everything that you need in this program is in front of you in a book or sitting next to you in your classmates. If you put your brain into academics and you put your heart into your cohort, then your soul will become Kellogg forever.