Blackburn, Dr. David Gerlach, Lawrence Thomas
Lincoln College panel explores, "What makes a great leader?"
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[May 17, 2019]
- What attributes make a leader?
Friday afternoon, the third annual Lincoln College Presidential
Excellence in Leadership Seminar looked to two great sources,
doctoral candidates Lawrence E. Thomas of St. Louis and John D.
Blackburn of Lincoln, to explore that question.
The panel discussion was a prelude to graduation
ceremonies on Saturday. The question and answer period moderated by
Lincoln College President Dr. David Gerlach yielded numerous and
Not surprising, both Thomas and Blackburn's views correlated in core
values and work ethics.
Lawrence Thomas is a principal with Edward Jones Investments and has
been with the company for over forty years where he oversees
recruitment and growth with a specialty in bonds. He also lends his
expertise by serving on numerous boards in the St. Louis area
including United Way, the St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park, Provident
Behavioral Health, United Way, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington
University to name a few.
John Blackburn began his career as a teacher and athletics coach
before moving on to a thirty-year career with insurance company
Country Financial. He began as an agent, was moved up through the
company, and eventually became CEO. He also serves on the Board of
Trustees of Lincoln College, and is past President of Lincoln
College. He currently is overseeing a capital campaign for Lincoln
College. He also serves his church as a trustee and has served as a
director on Memorial Health Systems Board.
It would be difficult to find two more qualified individuals to
speak to what makes a good leader.
Both men responded to a question from Dr. Gerlach
about why they pursued their particular careers.
Lawrence Thomas responded that he set out to be a pharmacist, but
found that it was not a good fit for him. “I liked the science and
math classes in college and stumbled on an interest in investments.
The two seemed to complement one another, and that was a pivotal
moment for me. I took a risk to change my course, and I took a risk
to start my career as an intern at a (then) very small company,
Edward Jones,” he said.
Blackburn said, “I always wanted to be a teacher and coach, even
from an early age.” He found great satisfaction in his very
successful career of 12 years in education and coaching. But when he
was offered a new career in insurance, he decided to make a change.
Like Lawrence Thomas, he took a risk and it paid off. Blackburn also
gave high praise to his wife Barb, who stood with him during his
It is important to note that taking the risks that
they did to change course in life came with sacrifices and a
dedication to their new occupations. Both men agreed that working '8
to 5' is not a path to the tremendous success that they have had.
Each said to work hard, outwork everyone around you, even when no
one is looking.
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Thomas said, “I have the attitude that when I was given a task to
complete, I took whatever time was needed to achieve a successful outcome. When
I was given a new challenge, I met it head on, began immediately.” He instills
that attitude in those who have worked for him.
John Blackburn agreed with Thomas’ work ethic. “I don’t know many successful
people who work from '8 to 5,' ” he said. Blackburn also found a tie between his
time as a coach and his career with Country Companies. “A successful coach will
get people to perform at levels they do not realize they can achieve. Leadership
in business is no different. I always coached the people at Country Companies,”
President Gerlach next asked each man to define leadership
Lawrence Thomas said in his estimation an excellent leader sets a great example,
always strives to do the right thing. “A leader will allow people who work for
them to do well, and will always help them do better, help them invest in their
jobs, and encourage them to outperform,” he said. He added, “As a leader, I
stress that building relationships for advice and guidance early in a career is
John Blackburn agrees and stated, “Great leaders paint a picture of a better
tomorrow, but are never satisfied. A great leader will pull things together from
many sources to solve a task but will always make the final decisive decision.”
President Gerlach wrapped up the afternoon with two questions about people they
admired and the books they found most helpful in their careers.
John Blackburn recommended “Good to Great” and listed his father and Ronald
Reagan as people he most admires.
Lawrence Thomas agreed with “Good to Great” and anything written on management
and leadership by Peter Drucker. His choices for the people he most admires are
former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Presidential Adviser and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Leadership as defined by Lawrence Thomas and John Blackburn
Each of the gentlemen achieved their stellar careers through their leadership
skills and carried over their giftedness to community involvement. No doubt, the
people they mentored will be successful from the knowledge and influence that
these two men imparted and their dedication to our communities make a better
place to live.
Successful leaders are always willing to pass their expertise on to the next
generation. We just need to listen when they speak.