Ladyboss Of The Month: Jessica Thomasson

Written by: Ladyboss Lifestyle

Jessica Thomasson

President/CEO of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota

In collaboration with Ladybosses of Fargo-Moorhead, we feature different ladybosses across the community. Follow Ladybosses of Fargo-Moorhead on social media to stay up to date with them.

In a brief summary, what do you do?
In my role as the CEO, I get to be the architect of the mission, and I have a chance to see a bit of everything that we do here at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND). It’s my job to make sure to connect the dots of the different ways that we work, to figure out how things work together and to make connections to new opportunities.

What’s the best part about what you do?
I love the challenge of trying to sort it all out. We do a lot of different things at LSSND – we have a really varied set of services and multiple lines of business. To figure out how everything fits together in the environment we are currently in, which we rarely have control over, we need to be nimble enough to find our place. Everything we do involves people. We have to be very respectful of the humanity, of real people’s lives. It’s a great privilege. I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else than where I am right now. The work is truly enjoyable, hard, and challenging, but I wouldn’t choose anything else.

What’s the most challenging part about what you do?
On an operational level, it’s figuring out the day to day logistics of managing time and making sure you do the most important things before the least important things, but knowing they are all important.

At LSSND, we serve the whole state. So, it’s difficult to make enough time to be studious about the issues facing our communities, to keep up on all the things that I should know about, and to then synthesize the information and prepare the right responses and answers. I have to prioritize the learning aspect of my job. But as challenging as it is, I love it. I would spend all my time learning if I could, but I have a job to do, which means making sure learning informs doing.

And as much as I enjoy relationship building, I have to be really intentional about prioritizing time to talk not only with my direct report staff, but also the staff across the organization, and our partners and stakeholders across the state. There are a lot of people to connect with.

What do you wish people in the community knew about LSS?
I wish people knew that we are truly problem solvers at our core. We see people who are at a fork in the road moment in their lives and we walk with them to find a way forward. We have evolved so much in the last 100 years but we still, every day, help people address the challenges they are facing. I think that gets lost when people think we do “a thing.” What we do is solve problems.

The best career advice she’s ever received…
It’s really important to find work that fits you and to work for people who respect you. If you can’t have that, go do something else. That’s it. You owe it to yourself to do something different.

What are some of the most pressing social issues you see in Fargo-Moorhead currently?
The prevalence of isolation, loneliness and a sense of belonging. It crosses every person we work with. You can frame it in a lot of different ways, but it’s the feeling that you don’t belong, don’t matter and are not needed. These feelings show up in an 85 year-old widower, a 13 year-old with mental health issues or a young parent struggling with addiction. So many other problems and challenges arise out of isolation. It’s a root cause issue.

It’s hard to get people to believe that this is an issue that matters, probably because this is an issue where it’s particularly hard to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” – to imagine how your life would be different. It sounds too simple to be an urgent problem. But it is. And the good news is that it’s a totally solvable root cause issue.

What do you like best about the Fargo-Moorhead area?
I’m from North Dakota and I’ve been in the FM area for 20 years. I like the prairie. Fargo-Moorhead has this cool, prairie-urban vibe to it. It has interesting places to eat and things to do, but still has a very North Dakota feel to it.

I love the North Dakota sky! That’s where I find my peace. Some people see it as blank, I see the sky as a canvas.

People tend to associate LSSND with the work you do with new Americans. What benefits do you see for refugees and new Americans who are making Fargo-Moorhead their home?
People are able to find meaningful work. We take that for granted here. It’s not hard here to find a good job. It doesn’t mean every job pays great, but it does mean you are able to get a start. And there is opportunity for advancement if you’re motivated to do so.

People notice how safe it is to live in this area. It’s something that you forget to notice. You can go to the park and, for the most part, not worry. You can go to just about any neighborhood and feel safe. For a family new to the area, you are able to find a good life. That’s pretty awesome.

The refugees we work with also highly value free public education. We forget about how big of a deal that is! It’s a really an amazing part of living in this country. And the schools here are such high quality.

When you are surrounded by people from very different backgrounds, you begin to see pieces of the community through their eyes, and they remind you of things we so often take for granted. That daily reminder to be grateful is something I don’t take for granted. It’s a gift.

Must-read books for Ladybosses

There are a couple that I think should be on everyone’s reading list.

  • “Blindspot” by Mahzarin R Banaji and Anthony G Greenwald
  • “Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal
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