By Sanyin Siang

Sanyin Siang: WAP Woman Wednesday

In this regular feature, we hear from women academics and professionals about their lives, their faith, and the way it all intersects. Pull up a chair and join us as we chat with leadership expert Sanyin Siang.

Welcome, Sanyin! Tell us about yourself.

Name: Sanyin Siang

Current position: Mom of three; Executive Director, Duke’s Fuqua/Coach K Leadership & Ethics Center; Professor at Pratt Engineering; author of The Launch Book: Motivational Stories to Launch Your Idea, Business, or Next Career

Current location: Durham, North Carolina

Schools attended: Duke University Engineering and Fuqua School of Business

Do you have a favorite children’s book? 

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. In this children's picture book, a cat moves through the world. Different pages show the cat through the eyes of a boy, a goldfish, a dog, a flea, and other animals. It beautifully illustrates that even though the cat did not change, how it’s perceived changes based on the viewer. I think this perspective is so important in today’s highly polarized world. We tend to assume that everyone else perceives situations through the same lens as we do when in reality, perceptions vary based on differences in personal experiences and biases. In order to move forward on an issue, we need to start with listening to each other and understanding what shapes those differing points of view. 

What was the hardest part of grad school and what kept you sane?

I attended the Executive MBA Program at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. It allowed us to work while continuing to earn our MBAs. We had 100 classmates from more than 100 countries, which made it diverse and a rich learning opportunity. At that time, I was working in science, policy, and ethics and so much of the classroom material on business was new to me. It was really hard juggling learning new material, working in teams that were spread across multiple time zones, and ensuring that I continue to do well in my day job.

However, what kept me sane was also realizing that as unfamiliar as the new material was, it was in alignment with my purpose for getting my MBA which was to open up for more career options and learning the ropes of business. I also loved working with the different teams, and that solidified that we all succeed through seeking help as well as helping others. And a big part of what kept me sane was my then boyfriend, now husband, and his ability to help me gain perspective.

What do you love most about your job right now?

My mission in life is not to chase greatness but to enable greatness in others. My job creates the opportunities for me to do that fully, whether it’s working with students who are at the start of their careers or with leaders who are at the top of their careers. I’m constantly sharing, learning, and co-creating with them. I love the people engagement. And the field I’m in — leadership — is all about unleashing the individual and collective potential of people.

How does your faith inform the way you think about or do your work?

My faith informs my perspectives and my purpose every day. That we have a purpose greater than our individual selves, the centrality of forgiveness and compassion to bridge across divides, the discovery and use of our talents in service of society are all essential to how I approach leadership in my work. At church, reflecting on the sermons, there is rarely a service that doesn’t bring an "aha" moment for me for something I’m working on in the leadership space. There is also the use of storytelling and parables in the Bible which helps inform how we can effectively communicate and bring people together in community.

About the Author

Sanyin Siang is Executive Director of COLE and Associate Adjunct Professor of Engineering at Duke.

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