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Meet Julie Ha Truong of Leadership Savvy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Ha Truong.

Julie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
People fascinate me. How we interact, our origin stories, what makes us happy, and who we turn to for friendship and security. From a young age, my family always shared stories. Like many American families, we were immigrants. Unlike many American families, we put on full-fledged performances to share our story. We are known as “The Ha Family,” but you could call us The Asian Jackson 5.

As a teen, I was embarrassed to have such a visible family, but my mother instilled in us the importance of being an active, contributing member of the community. Being fluent in both Chinese and English, I found myself even as a child, in the role of translator, emcee, and intercultural connector. At 16, I was given the opportunity to go to college early, which gave me flexibility to teach Chinese culture workshops. Each year I found myself in progressive roles: I learned how to teach students, rally volunteers, manage shows, and work with schools and businesses who hired us to perform.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road wasn’t always smooth. One day, when I arrived at the dance school, we were told school leadership had quit suddenly. Dozens of parents turned to me. I recall their wide worried eyes. I was a teenager working part-time. What was I supposed to say? What I did know is that the parents and their children saw the school as a second home. Together we worked hard to make sure we kept the school going and had a successful recital. After the curtains closed, we were exhausted and proud, but I felt the dance school leaders had failed us. I was determined to do better. I got my master’s degree and worked multiple jobs at a time to gain hands-on experience at different types of companies. I wanted to learn what great leadership looked like.

20 years later, I still believe so much comes down to leadership. My bosses have run the gamut. In my early days, I had a boss that was so insecure, she staggered everyone’s lunchtime to minimize overlap because she feared we would gossip about her. I had another boss who took me into his office the first day and said straight-faced, “You see that hawk on the wall? I’m watching you.” He then laughed and said “Being so young and successful, isn’t the only way you can go, is down?” I now know that these bosses had their own insecurities. The first few times were tough. I took it personally. Over time I gained confidence in who I was and my abilities. As subsequent situations happened, I grew taller, more ready to stand up for myself and for others. I’ve also had great bosses. Bosses that trusted me, who saw my potential and gave me room to do my best work. In my last three jobs, I redesigned and developed solutions that increased service quality, agency stability, and doubled funding.

Soon I found myself in leadership roles. I was now at the table with government officials, funders, and community leaders. In fact, my job was to bring them all together. With this power, I felt great responsibility. I fought to ensure diverse voices were at the table and that money was fairly distributed to local community-based organizations. Through these networks, we improved health outcomes, senior services, community safety, and youth development.

Please tell us about Leadership Savvy.
What I’ve learned in each of my roles is: the power of the people — in what’s possible when people are genuinely engaged, under effective leadership and a shared vision. My consulting firm, Leadership Savvy is about bringing out the best in people and teams. We partner with leaders who believe in the greater good. We bring a human approach to support both people and business development. Whether it’s building teams, strengthening partnerships, or advancing careers, we provide facilitated conversations, training, and coaching to help clients confidently move forward.

It has been a fulfilling journey but perhaps my proudest accomplishment is working with Keith Lester, Superintendent of Schools at ISD 286. Together we planted the seed to transform a once struggling public schools district into a model Community Schools District. The concept was easy but difficult to implement: to leverage existing resources through innovative collaboration. We opened the district doors and welcomed over 100 nonprofit, faith, government, and private partners to work under a single mission of serving children and families. We successfully integrated academic, wellness, and enrichment programs in a ‘whole child’ approach. Ten years later, it is incredible to see the district transformed.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
You know those traits of yours that bother you? They might just be your secret powers. Earlier in my career, I found myself incredibly unhappy in my job. I felt like I didn’t belong and I kept hitting roadblocks. I was a positive person but found myself frustrated and unhappy with the status quo. After considerable reflection, I realized my impatience was actually my superpower. I realized what was driving my impatience was my ability to see potential in everyone and everything, and that I believed change was possible. I couldn’t help implement better systems, build better teams. When stifled, I’m not able to exercise my skills. Fortunately, as I progressed at work, I was given opportunities to exercise my strengths and was able to be an effective leader. Today I apply this to my work as a consultant, taking the time to get to know people and situations, and together, define a path to a better future that everyone is excited to achieve.

Though I learned of my skills later in life, these traits were instilled in me early on. I was fortunate to be raised by a very energetic and positive mother. Even though we were poor, my parents were always teaching me the harsh realities of the world coupled with having the strength to stand up for what’s right. As I think about my childhood, there’s a moment I’ll always cherish. Picture an empty living room with 1980’s shaggy brown carpet. We had just moved in but couldn’t afford furniture (which I couldn’t comprehend at a young age). I recall this being one of my happiest childhood moments. There we were, my father and mother, who was pregnant with my little sister, and I, just sitting on the carpet, happy. I try to recall this moment when times get tough. Life is about the people we interact with, the people we lift up and who do the same for us. It isn’t about the furniture that crowds our lives.

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