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Three Questions with Johanna Thomas, CEO & Founder, Strategic Security Solutions (S3)

I recently had the chance to chat with one of our partners, Johanna Thomas, CEO & Founder, Strategic Security Solutions (S3). Prior to our chat, I already thought very highly of Johanna – she is a fiery, raw and real leader. Now, my admiration has turned into me being one of her biggest fans. If you don’t already follow her on LinkedIn, I highly encourage it – her shares are full of inspiration and that rawness I mentioned earlier.

We’ve had the pleasure of hosting Johanna at previous Women in Identity events as part of our annual Navigate conference series and she’s always brought a unique take on the topic of women in leadership. Her view is that we need to turn the conversation – ‘show me your epic failures’ she urges. It’s in the failures that we learn perhaps more than we do from the successful moments in life, career or otherwise. 

In today’s Women in Identity series, I asked Johanna three questions to get to know her.  

What is your biggest strength and where do you draw inspiration?

I actually had to ask a few people what they saw as my biggest strengths and to be honest, I didn’t believe what they told me at first. They said I always see the bigger picture, especially when the dots are far out there and don’t quite connect yet, I somehow still see it. I could be in the middle of personal or professional adversity and I still keep a level head and am able to give clear direction, seeing the bigger picture.

They are right about one thing, I lead with kindness and compassion (often to my detriment), it’s just who I am as a person. I work hard to portray stability and calmness no matter what storm might be ahead of me or us as a team. Even my mom said I am the person who thrives in chaos and somehow manages to still say ‘everything will be fine.’

As for inspiration, I’m definitely a sponge. I see inspiration everywhere around me, all aspects of our world and universe are potential sources of inspiration. My kids are an amazing source of inspiration. But so is the calm quiet of a yoga class – even more so if it’s a power yoga class. I could find inspiration in anyone – the grocery store employee, the crossing guard at my kids’ school, my own employees, or even the sunset, I draw so much creative energy from the beauty of a sunset.

So much of what we do, you have to look at 50 ways to solve the problem. I think that’s why I’ve become so open to seeking inspiration from anywhere and anything.

What was the biggest career-defining moment for you?

There are many of these moments in life. To me, if there’s just one career-defining moment in your world, what’s left? You’re done. And to me, we’re never done. Every single day we’re presented with options and choices that will define and redefine your path. Throughout my career, I’ve been through a lot of changes and choices and, as you look back, it’s as if you’ve been through multiple careers versus just one. It’s not linear and sometimes you choose a path and it winds up being the wrong one and you have to learn and evolve based on that decision, pivoting in a new direction. That could be career-defining at that moment in time, but it’s not THE career-defining moment. Looking back, you make the best decision you can at the time and embrace the twists in your path.

I do have an interesting personal moment that wound up being pretty important now that I look back and put the pieces of the puzzle together.

In June 2005 – I ran a marathon with a friend of mine just outside of Chicago. While I’d run the Chicago marathon in the past, this marathon was the Lakeshore Marathon which runs up and down the lake. Well, it wound up being longer than the 26.2 mile marathon we anticipated. We had been running for 20+ miles when we saw the mile 21 marker and kept going. A mile later and we saw another mile marker – mile 21…again. My watch showed 22 miles so I knew then that they had mismarked the course. At that point, there was only one thing to do – finish the marathon. So we did and we wound up running a total of 27.5 miles – becoming the longest ‘marathon’ in the Guinness Book of World Records!

Looking back, the date is what got me – it was just months later that I started my company. At the time I thought, well if I can get through the longest marathon on record, this can’t be that bad! What a moment that wound up being – and I didn’t fully realize it until later. When I started the company, I figured if this doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to consulting or accounting which is what my background is in. Yet, starting the company at that time rolled into the beginning of so many opportunities. Opportunities come at us all the time, it’s about which ones do you roll the dice and jump on.

How do you define success?

I’m constantly moving that measuring stick. I’m never done. I’m on a constant quest for the next ‘thing.’ If you ask anyone in the office if we are successful, they’ll all answer with ‘YES.’ Yet, if you ask our leadership team, they will say ‘well we aren’t done yet, we have so much to do!’ Similarly, on the outside, people say I’m very successful. To me, I say the same thing – I still have so much to do.

I’m happy with incremental success. It’s the Lakeshore Marathon to me – it never ends! It’s about every single step and connecting the dots that people haven’t seen come together yet. But I see it. I show them the next step, the next win that will give us momentum towards the big win. I’m always hungry for more. It’s the thrill of the hunt for me.

It’s ok not to know what the end result will be. What’s important is identifying and celebrating those little wins that eventually amount to the big win.