Lindy Black – Her Leadership Journey: when the water is choppy and the road is bumpy…..

“You have to be careful not to entrust the deepest parts of yourself to people who will not handle that carefully.” -Lindy Black

[00:00:00] Lindy Black: I know in my own life having seen that the test is not when things are smooth.

The test is when the road is bumpy and the water’s choppy to really see what you’re made of and how deeply you can dig to the place of learning to love as well as listen and respond with character and quality. 


[00:00:22] Tommy Thomas: Today, we’re continuing the conversation with Lindy Black of The Navigators that we started last week. In my research for the conversation with Lindy, I read about the impact that journaling has played in her life. Let’s pick up the conversation there. 

In my preparation for the conversation, you indicated to me that you practiced journaling. Yes. How did that get started? 

[00:00:51] Lindy Black: When I was in college, a long time ago I was taught how to have a daily time with the Lord. You answered three basic questions. So what did I read?

And what did the passage say? What did I learn from it and what did I want to do? Now it can be framed in all different ways, but those three questions and the encouragement took a whole year, and I had this lovely little book that had every day of the year, and so I, they said if you do this for a year, you will gain depth.

In your relationship with God, you’ll also begin to observe things, patterns you can go back through and read it and see what God was teaching you that year. That was a long time ago, but that was the seed of where I am today in journaling. Now, I do not journal every day. I don’t record everything.

I use my journal to hit highlights of something God has done. It’s a place where I process things about our children, our grandchildren, or other people who, as I’m writing things out, I’m praying and I’m dialoguing with the Lord. Things become clearer. I also learned, I don’t know the first person to tell me this, but they used a multicolored pen and their thoughts were always in black ink.

But when a specific verse or a key insight that they felt was significant from the Lord, they would put that in red. So, when you flip back through your journal, it’s pretty apparent when something very significant popped up. So, my journals are very much a place for recording progress. I generally put the hard things in my journal.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I find that’s a place, a safe place for me to process what’s going on. 

[00:03:02] Tommy Thomas:   When you’re mentoring someone do you encourage them to journal?

[00:03:06] Lindy Black: Sometimes. It depends on the scenario. Some people are averse to writing. It is not a place that brings blessing and joy and you have to find that out.

I’m thinking of a woman in particular, she is such an external processor to have to sit and write is just brutal for her.  And so you don’t want to put that on somebody who doesn’t like it. The thing though that I do try to encourage all people that I engage with is by at least recording the high spots of what you’re learning and you’re hearing a theme all the way through this, the word Learn, Learning, Learner.

You just can’t remember, oftentimes those really spectacular moments when you had a breakthrough. You either have an insight into a person you’re working with or supervising or an experience with one of your kids, an engagement with your spouse, or a team event that really, may have just gone horribly, but by writing it out, did those big things.

Then you can go back. Someone encouraged me to read through my journal at the end of each year and see what themes were there and what I was, what was going on, and what I was learning. That has been a very valuable discipline for me because it, on the one hand, encourages me that I’m not the same.

I’ve been growing, I’ve been becoming more of who God intended me to be. And it also lends to having concrete pieces, meaty pieces to share with others to encourage them on their journey. 

[00:04:55] Tommy Thomas: In some of the material I read about you that at some point you got involved in Trueface Leadership Catalyst.

And I wonder if there’s a short story behind that, and then how has that impacted you as a leader? 

[00:05:07] Lindy Black: We had what we called a mentoring intensive, and that was the first time I met Bill Thrall, one of the leaders at that time of Trueface Leadership Catalyst. 

And I had also read The Ascent of a Leader, which is one of their books from, I guess it was written about 30 years ago now. 

So, there were principles there that about you want to continue to grow in competence and character. If you only grow in character but not competence, you’re going to be a truncated leader. If you grow in competence, but your character doesn’t continue to make progress, you will implode.

You absolutely will implode. So I’d read the book and then Bill Thrall was part of our mentoring intensive and there were some key things he introduced me to. And one of those was a definition of humility, trusting God and others with me. That definition right there changed my life. So, for me to walk in humility with God and others meant I entrusted, I trusted myself, who I was, my good, bad, and ugly.

The whole thing was humility, particularly with God and then also with others. So, there were some jewels that began to change me both from that book as well as from those early meetings with Bill Thrall that went on to be a part of the High Trusts Leader course they offered and a number of other things.

I did some teaching with Bruce McNichol and that has been a great privilege for me. And today I am two and a half years in of being a board member. And my greatest motivation there was to be able to give back to a ministry that has really meant a great deal to me. 



[00:07:04] Tommy Thomas:  You stepped down at Christmas from your role on the national leadership team.  What’s it been like so far, to let go of that and look toward this next season? 

[00:07:15] Lindy Black: It’s mostly been good, but there have been some harder things too. So, the good is that I have a whole new level of flexibility and freedom that I haven’t for quite a while, and that is, I think I just have deep joy in that and not having to race out the door early most mornings to make it to a meeting.

Just not having the volume of work to do brings that about. So that’s been really good. I’ve found that we’ve been able to do a little bit more with our family. We have three married children and 12 grandchildren. Have some flexibility there. I also think just not getting up so early has been great.

I’m averaging about an hour more of sleep, I think, than I have. That does wonders for the soul. That’s the good part. And I’m having a few more different kinds of opportunities that are bringing a lot of blessing and satisfaction to my heart. That’s some of the good, alright.

The other part is, it’s probably twofold. One is I really miss the intense and challenging dialogues. I mean that positively with my teammates. I miss that. I still, of course, can see them and have relationships, but it’s just not quite the same. And there are days when I just really miss the team interaction, and I miss not having the consistent time I did with the individuals. 

And most days I’m able to handle the fact that I’m not in the center anymore and I don’t know everything going on. And being content to let go of that is largely okay, but sometimes there’s that feeling of being left out and I’m not in the center where I’ve lived, especially for the last 13 years.  So mostly good and some hard. 

[00:09:27] Tommy Thomas: Occasionally I do some speaking on succession planning, and I guess one of the things I’ve observed, and maybe this is more true for men as they begin to think about transition and next season, is that they don’t realize how much of their identity is tied up in the job.  Did you face any of that? 

[00:09:44] Lindy Black: I can’t speak for all women, but my observation is that I’ve had a little easier time than some of the brothers in stepping out. I don’t know if part of that is because my leadership opportunities came a bit later. Some of my real significant opportunities came after our kids were, they were graduating from high school and beginning the journey to college.

That may be a factor there, I think. 

I never thought I would’ve had the privilege to do what I’m doing, so I really feel like I’m the most blessed to be able to have had those opportunities. 

And I just love, I love being home.  I love it. I don’t even mind doing laundry and cooking. I actually enjoy all that.

So, there’s so much of my life that is still present and rich and growing. So, I love working.  I don’t think I’m a workaholic, although I’ve bordered on that sometimes in the past. But I love being active and working, so I can still do that at this stage. And I don’t feel that my identity was wrapped up in a career in the same way that some of the men that I’m working with have walked through that.



[00:11:07] Tommy Thomas: That’s encouraging.  I want to go to a section of the podcast that I always enjoy, and that’s getting people to respond to some quotes.  I’m just going to go through some quotes and maybe you’ll speak from experience or observation, but so the first one let’s go.

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of convenience, but where they stand in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis in controversy”.

[00:11:36] Lindy Black: Wow. I That rings so true. And I know in my own life having seen that the test is not when things are smooth.  The test is when the road is bumpy and the water’s choppy to really see what you’re made of and how deeply you can dig to the place of learning to love as well as listen and respond with character and quality. 

[00:12:04] Tommy Thomas:  Ben Zander, the Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, said, “The conductor doesn’t make a sound, the conductor’s power depends on his ability to make other people powerful”.

[00:12:17] Lindy Black: Wow. I love that. I love it. If I were to give you a little one-sentence job description, it’s been to be able to see that happen with our children.  But also, with those I’ve worked with.

[00:12:36] Tommy Thomas: Frederick Wilcox said, “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

[00:12:47] Lindy Black: Whoa. As I’m listening to that and I immediately went in my head, it’s Lindy, where do you have your foot on first base, but you’re wanting to be on second?

[00:12:59] Tommy Thomas: President Eisenhower said, “In preparing for a battle, I’ve always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. 

[00:13:08] Lindy Black: That pokes into, if you are not as a leader, willing to adjust, adapt, and move with new circumstances piling in, in other words, I’m going to work my plan no matter what. You are going to be one disappointed, frustrated leader, but having done your planning.  Wow. I love that one. 

[00:13:30] Tommy Thomas: Here’s one from Thomas Edison. “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”

[00:13:42] Lindy Black: Oh yes. I mean it building what is on your heart in your dream? Or a new idea. Oh, it is like privilege, but that 99% sweat and labor. 

[00:14:01] Tommy Thomas: “When you’re sitting around the table with your leadership team, you never want to be the smartest person at the table.” 

[00:14:08] Lindy Black: I’ve never heard that before.  But see, that to me ties into this whole aspect of humility and also of drawing the best of each other, out of others. 

[00:14:22] Tommy Thomas: Let’s see here. So, here’s one from a guy, Warren Benes. He was writing back when I was in graduate school, so this comes from days gone by.

“Too many companies believe people are interchangeable. Truly gifted people never are. They have unique talents. Such people cannot be forced into roles they’re not suited for, nor should they be. Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do.” 

[00:14:55] Lindy Black: See I really agree with that. My question or challenge to that would come in that you have to do a variety of things, much of which you will not be great at before you can get to the place where you do know who you are, what you’re made of, and where your strengths are.

So, if you introduce that to someone who is 25 years old that may be difficult because they need some real-life experiences and leadership opportunities to understand what they’re made of. 

[00:15:26] Tommy Thomas: Booker T. Washington said, “ Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life, but by the obstacles he’s overcome.”

[00:15:35] Lindy Black:  Wow. I think sometimes it’s hard to remember some of the obstacles, perhaps that one. Yeah, to be able to know and be able to give. Give great things. Have a heart of gratitude for those things. 

[00:15:52] Tommy Thomas: So I’m not going to be able to pronounce this person’s name. I know she was from France. Let’s just leave it at that.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work. Rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the open sea.”

[00:16:10] Lindy Black: Yeah. Keep focused on the vision as opposed to the nitty gritty detail. 

[00:16:16] Tommy Thomas: “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up” from Oliver Wendell Holmes.

[00:16:24] Lindy Black: I wonder what he was picturing when he said that. If he was Ricky recognizing the reality that sometimes people who can dream dreams may not be able to have the know-how to see it actually come to be. 

[00:16:41] Tommy Thomas: That’s where my mind went when I read that. Some people, yeah, they’re dreamers, they’re vision casters, they’re vision setters.  That same notion, I think needs to be planted into minds as somebody that can execute. 

[00:16:53] Lindy Black: That’s interesting you say that Tommy because I feel like that describes where my best contribution has been, particularly these last 12 years because I’ve worked with some incredible visionary leaders.

And so you have this incredible vision, this motivating, charismatic personality, and then you have people who are going to be the most impacted. But how do you bridge from the people who are in everyday life living out the vision to the grander of what they’re presenting? You don’t just need a detailed plan, but you need to know how to win hearts all the way along the way.  And I think that’s something I’ve really enjoyed being able to do.

[00:17:42] Tommy Thomas:   “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Burns.

[00:17:53] Lindy Black: I love that because you, because most people think, I said it, so therefore it’s been communicated, and you have no idea what was heard.

[00:18:04] Tommy Thomas: “No matter what job you have in life, your success will be determined 5% by your academic credentials, 15% by your professional experiences, and 80% by your communication skills.”

[00:18:20] Lindy Black: Wow – I have not heard that one before, but that is very true. And understanding communication is always two-way.  It’s never one way.

[00:18:27] Tommy Thomas: Here’s one from Peter Drucker. “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

[00:18:35] Lindy Black: Oh yeah. So how do we help people grow in that skill? I don’t know. Do you think that can be learned or is it innate? What do you think? 

[00:18:46] Tommy Thomas: I don’t know. I guess I got to believe we can learn to become better listeners.

But to hear something that’s not being said, that’s got to have a little bit of intuition.

A group is a bunch of people in an elevator. A team is a bunch of people in the elevator, but the elevator is broken. 

[00:19:09] Lindy Black: Because they have to be a team at that point. They can’t just be their own people stuck together.

[00:19:14] Tommy Thomas: Leadership is engaging other people to deliver desired results. 

[00:19:19] Lindy Black:  And I think if it’s only about you determining the desired results, it will be limited. But if it is the group deciding what the results need to be, it’ll put you further down the road. 

[00:19:33] Tommy Thomas: There’s great power and authenticity.

Oscar Wild said, “Be yourself. Everyone else has been taken”. St. Catherine of Sienna, put it this way. “Be who God meant you to be, and you’ll set the world on fire.” So maybe think back and maybe get off the response and maybe get a little deeper here. Give me some things, some of the things that you’ve learned about authenticity over the years.

[00:19:57] Lindy Black: There are two words that I think are significant here. One is transparency and one is vulnerability. I can be transparent and be very honest, but there’s a glass wall up. So you can see who I am, that’s a way to describe it. You see me, but you can have no connection or impact or voice with me.

But vulnerability is being honest with others, an individual or others. But you give, but you’re vulnerable. But as you’re vulnerable, you actually open the way to engage with other people and not just, oh, you can see me, but you have no access or entrance into my mind, heart, or life. So, authenticity in and of itself means being real, but I think you can be real and transparent and alone and isolated, and you can be real and be vulnerable because you’re opening up your heart to the influence of others. I think that’s part of humility. 

Can I go back to being authentic? I think you have to be careful not to entrust the deepest parts of yourself to people who will not handle that carefully.

And that’s probably been one of the things that I would say has been a hard place for me, and that is I so much enjoy knowing others and having them know me, having been hurt a couple of times with offering more of myself than what that person was able to hold. In kindness and love and carefulness, that’s been, that’s a hard one.

You don’t want to become jaded. You don’t want to put a wall up. But you do have to learn to be wise in how much you share with different people. 



[00:22:05] Tommy Thomas:   What do you understand today about your life that you didn’t understand a year ago?

[00:22:15] Lindy Black: I would say not at a level 10, but at a very middle of the road. I have learned that I really am dispensable. I am not indispensable. Other people can do things. They may not do things the way I would do them, but it doesn’t mean they’re not able to do things in a way that to carry. The function, having just stepped out of my role, that’s a really big deal to me.

So, I think I’ve been able to move from, I’m like, picture your hand clenched. I must do this. I know how to do this. I am super critical to the process, the future, whatever. And little by little, I’ve been able to feel my hand opening up over the course of this last year in a way that it doesn’t go to the place where I am not valuable or needed or important, but being able to say I trust others carrying this baton forward and I can let go.

And that’s been probably, I would say it’s on some days that’s been a little harder than I would care to admit, but it has been. 

[00:23:32] Tommy Thomas:   If you could go back in time, what would you tell a younger version of yourself? 

[00:23:37] Lindy Black: I would say a couple of things. 

First, failure is rarely fatal. That failure is a normal part of growing up and maturing.

That’s one thing I would’ve needed to, I wish I had heard that often, and maybe I did hear it, but I didn’t receive it and I didn’t believe it. I would say secondly, 

learn to be kind to yourself.

I’ve been driven in a variety of ways most of my life. And I’ve grown up in some ways being able to not take myself quite as seriously but learning to be kind to myself and taking care of myself. I would’ve benefited to have heard that more often in my younger years.

I think I’ve learned to do that, but it has been, I feel a little later in life than I wish it had been. I’d say the other thing is because when God opens doors, say yes and walk through those. Don’t hold back even if you have no idea where this open door is going to lead. 

[00:24:48] Tommy Thomas: Thinking about younger women in leadership, Lindy, what are your observations there about the ways that we might can improve that as a society and as a culture?

[00:24:59] Lindy Black: Yes. Great question. I feel my number one encouragement is to pay attention to the emerging women leaders in the span of your business or your organization. Most of them lack confidence in what they think they can bring. And some of that, it’s a very interesting ambiguity that can go on. I think in women want to lead, they want to make a significant contribution, but they hold back or they’re fearful.

My number one encouragement is to pay attention to the emerging women leaders in the span of your business or your organization.

And that could be for a number of different reasons, but it’s that push-pull, and wise leaders, wise mentors and coaches will be able to pay attention and help emerging women leaders be able to understand more about themselves. 

It is my experience that these emerging women leaders may need a bit more, I would call it a more defined pathway to run in. And you could really serve them by saying, this is what I would like for you to do. I believe you can do it, go after it. As opposed to just prove yourself and it is wide open. I would think emerging leaders need a bit more of a defined pathway. They also need a great deal of emerging women leaders of affirmation and feedback.

I find that in general, women don’t get as much of that in the workplace as perhaps their male counterparts and they need it, I’d say even more so keep those things in mind. 

[00:26:43] Tommy Thomas:  Can that come from a male supervisor as well as a female supervisor? 

[00:26:48] Lindy Black: Yes, definitely in my own life, most of the most significant influencers in terms of supervisors, they’ve been men.

I don’t even know, Tommy, in the last 20 years, I haven’t had a supervisor that was a woman. And their paying attention to what I need to develop to bring the best contribution possible has been invaluable. And my observation is not many women have that in the workplace, especially in higher levels of executive leadership, there are just many more men in those roles than women.

And so, I’ve had the incredible privilege of serving under several. So yes, absolutely, male supervisors can do that. Now, the best combination would be to have an excellent supervisor, be they male or female, but then also have a woman being able to walk alongside in a coaching, mentoring capacity. So both.

What comes through to me is often insecure. I don’t know my way; the world has completely changed the landscape for women in their jobs and careers. It’s new. Women haven’t walked in the place that the world is today.

And I think that landscape, we’re going to need to understand more and more how do we help women in their season that they find themselves. How are we going to meet them where they are and bring them the development they need because they’re hungry to receive that training and development?


You can see from these two conversations with Lindy, what a blessing she’s been to The Navigators. I’m sure that the leadership there is glad that she will continue to walk along the side of their emerging leaders. 

Our guest next week will be Caryn Ryan.  Caryn spent 20 years with Amoco Corporation and BP Plc.  And then later with the merged organization BP/Amoco.

She held key finance positions in London, the Soviet Union, Chicago, and Houston. She was recruited by World Vision International, where she served as their Chief Financial Officer. She will be sharing her journey from BP/Amoco to World Vision to her current role as Founder and Managing Member of Missionwell.

[00:29:16] Caryn Ryan: I was a mediocre boss at best.   I didn’t see the role as servant leadership initially. I really saw it as leading a production team to goals. And in addition, I had a boss at the time who was a great example of how not to treat people.

But as my time in that seat progressed, I learned that every boss has to protect their people. They must advocate for them, and they have to develop their staff. And these are the things that allow people to flourish. And to this day maybe just based on how tough that job was one of my joys is mentoring young people and bringing them along. 

“Failure is rarely fatal.  Failure is a normal part of growing up and maturing.”-Lindy Black

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

The Navigators

TrueFace – Lindy Black

The Assent of a Leader


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