Mary F. Foskett is the Wake Forest Kahle Professor, Albritton Fellow, and Associate Chair in the Department for the Study of Religions at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She teaches in the area of New Testament Studies and has been a core faculty member of Women’s and Gender Studies. Mary was the inaugural director of the Wake Forest’s Humanities Institute. Her primary research interest is in contemporary approaches to New Testament interpretation, especially feminist and culturally contextualized interpretations of biblical texts and traditions.

Mary, tell us about your early years. 

I grew up mostly on Long Island, New York, where my family settled after my father retired from military service.

How has your family background influenced the way that you lead? 

I was raised in a family of seven, with four older brothers. Having been adopted in Asia as an infant, when my family was living in the region, I appreciate the deep complexities and the profound gift of family and community. Because I lead out of gratitude for and commitment to community, I enjoy bringing people together to build a shared vision and a plan for realizing it.

How would you describe your leadership style? 

I am relational, responsive, collaborative, and mission focused in my leadership.

Who shaped your leadership style or mentored you as a leader? 

In the contexts in which I’ve served over the years–whether in social work, academia, or faith communities–I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch and learn from many wonderful leaders. The individuals who have taught me the most are those who lead generously and with humility; who value, respect, and genuinely encourage others, across the life span and in all their diversity; whose confidence allows them to make, admit, and learn from their mistakes; and who know that, as leaders, they learn and receive from others as much as they offer in return.

What are some key leadership lessons you have learned in recent years? 

I have learned how important it is to keep the long game in mind and to believe in a project, a mission, and a community over the course of the long haul, even as aspects of what is envisioned may necessarily evolve. It is essential to have real conviction about where you are going, while being absolutely present where you are and open to learning in the moment. I’ve also learned that the most important successes are always shared, which is all the more reason they should be named and celebrated.

What have been some areas of growth for you as a leader? 

It’s easy to feel stymied by one’s limitations and shortcomings. It’s a cliche, but learning that mistakes aren’t the final word and that they are in fact opportunities to learn and grow has been really empowering.

What words of wisdom would you share with recent seminary graduates as they move into new leadership roles? 

In my experience as church member, ministry is rooted in authentic relationships unfolding in specific places, so focus at first on building those relationships and learning about the community’s history, hopes, and needs in the places they inhabit.