Highly decorated Engineering alumnus shares story, leadership lessons

October 03, 2023

Colonel Clark speaking to the Engineering Leadership class

At Mizzou Engineering, learning happens in the classroom, in the field and in conversations with alumni and other professional engineers.

Last week, Colonel John Clark, B.S. ME ’62, M.B.A. ‘75, visited Mizzou Engineering to speak with students in the Engineering Leadership class, taught by Michael Poehlman. He talked about the importance of leadership and how to be a better leader, sharing lessons he learned through his time in the military and as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“Integrity may well be one of the most important aspects of good leadership. It is the quality of being honest and having strong, moral principles,” Colonel Clark said. “You must be willing to hold people accountable for their mistakes and to council them on doing better without lowering their initiative to excel, to think for themselves or to problem-solve. They cannot problem-solve without thinking for themselves.”

Clark also stressed the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes and of communicating clearly with others.

“Good leaders employ communication well,” he said. “The better it is done, most likely the better the leader,” he said. “Basically, it is to give information to others. If they don’t get it, it’s not their fault, but it’s your fault for not giving it. You have not communicated. The one giving the message knows what they want to say, but the one receiving it has to figure it out.”

Clark—who received a 2021 Mizzou Alumni Association Faculty Alumni Award—spent six years as a prisoner of war. Upon his repatriation, he returned to Mizzou to complete his M.B.A. before returning to flying duty. He joined the Missouri Air National Guard, retiring as a colonel in 1992. Clark has received numerous awards, including the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Purple Hearts.

Clark is the first of a series of speakers visiting Poehlman’s Engineering Leadership course this fall. Each semester, Poehlman brings in speakers to share their experiences in different areas of engineering to showcase ways students can grow into leaders based on their goals.

“I involve guest speakers in our course to give students an opportunity to hear real-life stories about leadership,” Poehlman said. “Doing so not only reinforces the theory they learn in class, but also creates for them a compelling and memorable experience about leadership. Colonel Clark is a Mizzou Engineering graduate with a life-long leadership background. When I heard his story for the first time earlier this year, I immediately thought about asking him to come to MU to share it with my students as well. It’s a story that, when you hear it, can change your life.”

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