College of Charleston's Dr. Alan Shao Discusses Self-Discipline, Vision and Competition as Keys to His Leadership Journey

Written by Simone Liberty, 2020 Fall Leadership Discovery Participant after hearing from Dr. Alan Shao, Dean of the College of Charleston School of Business and Interim Vice President of Corporate Partnerships

Dr. Alan Shao has been the Dean of the College of Charleston’s School of Business for the past 12 years. He is also currently serving as Interim Vice President of Corporate Partnerships. Dr. Shao is a leader governed by self-discipline, vision, strong interpersonal connections, leading from behind the pack and a dash of competition. 

Under his leadership, the School of Business has received numerous awards and accolades including ranking #15 on The Business Research Guide’s list of the top 30 prominent business schools for global business and study abroad programs and #1 on U.S. News & World Report’s Short List for their MBA program’s 100% job placement for graduates. If you were to ask Dr. Shao, though, the credit goes to his staff, directors and department heads. He communicated his reasoning by sharing one of his favorite quotes: “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” – Andrew Carnegie

Shao believes in:


Be forward, real and down to earth with the people that surround you and the people that you lead.  

Having a vision

Dr. Shao says that he has never met a leader who did not have a vision, himself included. 


There are numerous definitions of leadership depending on who you ask. Dr. Shao’s definition is “someone who is respected for his or her knowledge, abilities and experiences and is positioned to make a positive difference on others.” This does not mean that one must be in a professional role as a CEO, rather that they are allowing others to see that they intend to be an influence. 

No excuses 

“If you can get up in the morning, you can do it,” Shao said following a discussion on motivation, discipline and competition, his top Clifton Strength. 

Physical Fitness as a Leadership Characteristic

During his discussion with the Leadership Discovery Program, one leadership characteristic stood out above the rest: physical health. Dr. Shao’s definitive statement: “sound body, sound mind” echoed through most of his time with our group. Interestingly enough, he was not the first guest speaker that the Leadership Discovery Program heard from this Fall that admitted to having a workout routine nearly reaching the levels of addiction – as Dr. Shao put it. 

So, what is it that physical fitness and leadership have in common? For starters, working out is a release of energy; Dr. Shao shared that he relies on hitting the weights or a run after a long day to maintain calm and level-headed thinking. Shao says that the mental/physical reward ratio of working out is about 80:20 for him. His mind feels awake, alert, and invigorated by hitting the weights, even if it is at five or six in the morning. 

Though this may not convince everyone to get up and drive to a gym in the small hours of the morning, we can certainly all pack this with us on our Leadership journeys: To have discipline with yourself physically could lead to enhanced self-discipline mentally, just as it has with Dr. Shao. He advises that people can enhance their self-confidence by showing themselves what they are capable of. A strict focus on yourself and your wellbeing before hours will pay off by equipping you to focus on your work during work hours. 

On behalf of the Leadership Discovery Class of Fall 2020, I send a sincere thanks to Dr. Alan Shao for taking the time to speak with us and share his journey. 

Simone Liberty
Participant in the 2020 Fall Leadership Discovery class

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