A conversation with Sarah Erickson
Director of lifelong learning, Columbia Theological Seminary
Participant in Foundations of Christian Leadership and Developing Strategy in the Midst of Change
Sarah Erickson has had a lot of leadership training. In more than 20 years of working for the Red Cross, the professional development in which she participated convinced her of how important leadership training is.
“I really believe that it’s very important; leaders at all ages and stages of their vocational career benefit,” she said.
After she finished her doctor of educational ministry in 2010 and about a year after beginning her current position at Columbia Theological Seminary, she decided she needed a refresher.
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity was a natural choice: Erickson was familiar with the players because of her involvement in Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence project.
Since then, she has taken part in two Leadership Education programs: Foundations of Christian Leadership in 2010 and, in 2013, a course in leadership strategy [that is not currently offered]. She also has nominated others for Foundations.
Q: What prompted you to take part in a second program with Leadership Education?
Some of the same leaders and experts that I highly value were either involved in the development or the delivery of the course, and their reputation precedes them.
I also liked coming back to a mix of people who were in different leadership settings, different denominations or faith traditions, because that helps give me a more grounded perspective.
It was people who are pastors and associate pastors and administrators and people who work for denominations. It was good way to again renew some relationships as well as to extend some new ones.
Q: What impact has this training had on your work?
I navigated a challenging period of leadership. I had been in my position as director for about a year, and I had to deal with some departmental issues that got resolved just about a year ago.
The assessments [in Foundations] gave me some resources and reinforcements for staying the course through a difficult period as a leader. I certainly spent a lot of time theologically reflecting and trying to frame it institutionally and from a Christian context as well.
Had I not completed [Foundations], it would have been that much tougher to navigate these waters. It provided some information about supervision and self-awareness of how one deals with conflict and interpersonal staff relationships and provided some tools and resources, including the support of my peers.
Q: What’s the value of leadership training?
I believe in peer learning whether it’s self-directed or facilitated, so I really enjoyed that exposure to people who were leaders in similar and different ways. I have stayed in touch with a good number of those folks in my cohort.
The assessments were helpful as a way to step back and take a look at how I saw myself and how my colleagues and peers saw me. I do revisit those assessments and some of the information from time to time and have recommended those books to a number of other people.
Q: Did the specifically Christian context make a difference for you?
I think that that’s one of the most helpful and unique aspects. It helped me think about leadership theologically and in terms of the ecclesiology. What is the role of different kinds of institutions in the Christian context, and how do those institutions intersect with other nonprofits and/or faith-based organizations?
Q: What activities stay in your mind?
I really loved the improv session. I also loved listening to the jazz group on campus; they were also talking about improv and leadership. I appreciated the opportunities to use multiple learning styles.
The bibliography, the books and the articles that we read — I continue to go back and look at them.
Q: Do you keep in touch with your Foundations group?
That has become one of my peer groups of colleagues and people — my network. There are some folks who I contact to bounce ideas around with, because I value their perspectives; I also like to celebrate their accomplishments and milestones — so yes, it is part of the village that raises this child.
We’re children of God of all ages and we don’t stop needing that kind of nurturing.