Home Concepts Concepts of Leadership Community Engagement Senior Sage Leadership: Interview of Barbara Thomas

Senior Sage Leadership: Interview of Barbara Thomas

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11. One of the benefits of growing older is that we are increasingly able to reflect on our experiences and learn from them. Have you found any patterns of personal behavior no longer useful in your leadership role? Is so, what are these and how have you changed?

There are two patterns of behavior that used to dominate my leadership style and now, thank god, don’t. In my early life I used to do things because I thought I should. I was dominated by “shoulds” and the implicit fear that my personal worth was tied to doing them. No more. Now I do only what I want to do, and this is very liberating. I also used to think that I had to do everything by myself. Now I gladly ask for help and receive it, and this is also very liberating. The key learning is that we aren’t put on the planet to be alone.

12. What leadership qualities do you most admire in effective leaders that you have known? Which of these qualities do you believe best describe your leadership?

I had a friend in another state, now deceased, who used to be head of the Republican Party nationwide. Our political views couldn’t have been more different but we came to envelope one another, looking forward to our time together. She taught me a lot about being open to possibility and to appreciate other people’s point of view. I learned much about nurturing and mentoring from her, and that if I want to bring people to a particularly point of view it’s important to learn not just what they think but how they think. This is a wonderful leadership quality to nurture.

Regarding my own leadership qualities, a number come to mind: asking big questions, listening carefully to others, trying to glean the truth from a situation, and if truth is elusive to ask more questions. Once again, the quality of verifying the thinking of others. Even though I had been in leadership roles all of my life, I had not thought of myself as a leader until I began to observe other leaders very carefully and discover that I am much like them. This took a long time. A lot of this came from my dad, who was a highly successful business leader. I watched him as an executive and saw he was a good role model.

13. What, if any, spiritual traditions or practices do you most draw upon in exercising leadership?

Most of my learnings about spiritual traditions came about through my extensive study of my own self over the years. When my husband and I were I our early 30s we knew nothing about ourselves. Indeed, we had returned from three years in Europe to discover that our relationship was troubled and needed repair. So friends of ours got us involved in an organization that sponsored a variety of projects, including the nuclear issue, solving conflict without going to war, and the sustainability of our planet. As our experience in the organization unfolded, we found that it was entirely based on the principals of Jesus as a wisdom teacher. And that started our quest to understand who we were by looking at what Jesus and the Bible say are important guides to living our life. With others in the organization we did things like celebrate Passover, explore the Enneagram, and study the beauty and truths of various religious traditions. And by reading and discussing in small groups Eric Erikson, Robert Bly, Jung, and Freud—all great teachers who have made extraordinary contributions to our understanding of the human psyche—we were able to engage in a psychological inquiry about who we were as individuals, what drives us. We did this for 20 years, and I continue to draw on this experience in musing about such questions as “What would Jesus do in this situation?” “What are my areas of darkness, and how do I bring them to light?” Answers to such questions come from the great spiritual leaders, and there really is nothing new. It has all been set in time in the greater cosmos.

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