Denise Thomson - Leader With a Global Perspective

Denise’s Purpose and Calling Group Presentation at WLAG 2019. Left to right: Denise, Sheree Bryant-Sekou, Maritza Soto, and BJ HolmanDenise’s (L) Purpose and Calling Group Presentation at the 2019 Women and Leadership Conference.

Women Leaders in ILA's Women and Leadership Community: Leadership Lessons We All Can Grow From
Denise Thomson: Leader With a Global Perspective 
by Randal Joy Thompson

Randal Joy ThompsonRandal Joy Thompson is an International Development Scholar-Practitioner and Founder of the company Excellence, Equity, and Empowerment.

The backstories of the many high caliber women leaders in ILA’s Women and Leadership member community offer valuable lessons for young women moving into leadership positions and inspire all women leaders to keep pushing, sometimes against all odds, to break the barriers that women face. This article is the second in a series that highlights women in the community and shares their stories of perseverance and exceptional achievement. Sketches of their personal lives also provide us a view into how high achieving women balance their work and home lives. Denise Thomson is the 2019 Chair of ILA’s Women and Leadership member community and has been an active member of the community for several years. Denise is a scholar-practitioner who transitioned from service in the federal government to become a very active practitioner in coaching and leadership and organization development. We invite all those interested in Women and Leadership to join our community. Learn more on our member community page! Learn more on our member community page!

Denise Thomson: Leader With a Global Perspective

Denise Thomson 

Storied Leadership is like a fine tapestry. It weaves the threads of your story, character, and capabilities into a brilliant outer garment that reflects the inner you.

This is how Women and Leadership Member Community Chair Denise Thomson describes the Storied Leadership™ model she created as an analytical tool for her doctoral dissertation research. The Storied Leadership model also describes her own leadership style, integrating story, character, and capabilities into a circular learning process that leads to transformational growth. As she explains, “I believe we can find meaning in the stories we tell and integrate life experiences into a personal leadership style. Key considerations during the Storied Leadership process include: What story am I telling myself, about myself? What do I believe I can cause or make happen? What do I reveal about myself and my purpose in life? Understanding and reconciling these aspects of self can lead to transformational and authentic growth as a leader. This process also works to shift the focus from internal stress to dynamic strength and empowerment.”

Born in Moscow, Idaho, Denise comes from a long line of military families. The daughter of an Air Force pilot, she is the spouse of a naval aviator and mother and grandmother of the current generation of military families. Denise is a “third-culture kid,” growing up in different parts of the world. After living in the Carolinas (U.S.A.) and France, she graduated from high school at a military boarding school in Turkey. As a military spouse, she lived in Japan. As a result, Denise has a global perspective that she brings into her leadership work. She enjoyed a 20-year career as a civil servant with the Department of the Navy and focused her doctoral research on military spouses, a topic with which she is intimately familiar.

Denise’s passion for leadership development evolved over several years. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling and human development, she went on to complete her doctorate in educational leadership. As a certified coach and consultant in appreciative inquiry and whole systems intelligence and as a circle practitioner trained by the foremost authority in participatory leadership and collaborative conversations, Denise champions strengths-based philosophies and holistic practices. Her own Storied Leadership journey began with the perception of others that she has a “strong presence.” As she explains, “I had to re-story what I was telling myself about that comment and shift my internal conversation to recognize my competency, empathy, and tenacity.”

Denise’s diverse background in the fields of social services and workforce development has taught her the importance of developing and presenting strong leadership skills. She believes that anyone can be an effective leader as long as the would-be leader is in tune with their core strengths and motivations and understands how to represent these attributes authentically and purposefully. Denise has built leadership programs for groups of less than ten and for a government organization of more than 3,000 employees. She earned a Meritorious Civilian Service Award for her work in developing leadership programs in the Department of the Navy. She introduced systems thinking, including appreciative inquiry and world café, into the department and created an environment that helped people perceive and act in new ways. These same programs garnered the runner-up award in a Department of Defense-wide competition for the best workforce development program.

Denise’s active involvement in ILA’s Women and Leadership member community stems from her current passion for advancing women and leadership. After hosting a workshop on the Storied Leadership™ model at the ILA Global Conference in Denver in 2012, Susan Madsen invited Denise to join the Women and Leadership community luncheon and she became very active from then on. She, along with other founding Women and Leadership leaders, were invited to The Pacific Institute in Seattle to plan future conferences and set goals for the community. She has been actively involved in all Women and Leadership conferences as a stream chair, activities chair, and advisor. At the 2019 conference near Santa Cruz, CA, she gathered a group of Women and Leadership members in a world café forum to strategically plan the next steps in the community’s development.

Besides her leadership development work, Denise is a member of the Advisory Council for Operation Education®, the nation’s leading scholarship and assistance program for military veterans with disabilities, available to military personnel who sustained permanent disability while serving since September 11, 2001 and their spouses. The program is provided by the University of Idaho.

Denise’s home in Moscow, Idaho in the house built for her grandparents.

Denise and her husband Tim reside in the home designed and built in Moscow for her great-grandparents. After leading a mobile military lifestyle, she loves living in Moscow and says that living in a small community with so many relatives and friends who knew her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents is rewarding. She’s particularly fond of stories told by her 102-year-old cousin who used to live with her grandparents (Denise’s great-grandparents) in the house where Denise now resides.

Author and activist Mary McCarthy penned the phrase, “We are the hero of our own story.” That quote, found on a ‘story bead’ bracelet Denise often wears, inspired her doctoral research and subsequent leadership model. She believes self-awareness is a key to effective leadership skills and she coaches women to pay attention to their self-talk. She notes, “The story we tell ourselves, about ourselves, helps make meaning of life experiences.” Denise goes on to say, “What we believe about ourselves influences self-efficacy and, thus, leadership behaviors.” Denise encourages women to take time for introspection, to stop comparing themselves to others, and, most of all, to be kind to themselves. She smiles when she says such things – and quips, “It’s been a lifelong learning process for me, and I still don’t get it ‘right’ much of the time!” Yet, inspired by the transformational power of storytelling, she urges women to “shift the conversation” in their head, believe in themselves, and lead accordingly!