John Blackburn, Dr. David Gerlach, Lawrence Thomas

Lincoln College panel explores, "What makes a great leader?"

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[May 17, 2019]  LINCOLN - 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 significant insights.

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 career decisions.

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,” he said.

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 vital."

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.

[Curtis Fox]


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