A Talk with Leonie H. Mattison, PGI’s CEO and President

By Joanne A Calitri   |   March 14, 2023
Leonie H. Mattison, Ed.D., MBA, CEO and President of Pacifica Graduate Institute (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

To celebrate local women of history, this column dedicates the month of March to them – their contributions, their stories, their inspiration, and opportunities to support.

As a Black woman born in Jamaica, West Indies, growing up in Queens, New York City, and deciding to make Santa Barbara home 15 years ago, Leonie H. Mattison, Ed.D., MBA is a story of courage and community, resolve and recovery, determination, and dedication, leading to her appointment October 2022 as the first Black and female CEO and president of Pacifica Graduate Institute (PGI) Montecito in its 46-year history. She is evolving its mission statement forward and created its first-ever Vision Statement to expand the traditions, the techniques, the power and advancement of depth psychology, through education, learning, training, and more.

A recipient of the 2018 Pacific Coast Business Times 40 under 40, she wears her well-deserved awards with the dignity of a leader true to her values. She holds an MBA from Georgian Court University and an Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Argosy University, and volunteers at Rooted SBCand Central Coast Black Leaders Roundtable. 

In her book The Thread: Six Steps to Intentional Transformation After Trauma or Crisis, she pioneered a six-step system called T.H.R.E.A.D.© (Think, Harvest, Release, Enlist, Adopt, and Design) positive outcomes from difficult situations, integrating Jungian psychology, pedagogy, and spiritual practices to transform lives, communities, and organizations.

Daily she connects with God through conversations and meditating on Bible scriptures, time with her three daughters and granddaughter, and walking her rescue dog. Her top-shelf book authors are Brené Brown, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Myles Munroe, and John Maxwell, and favorite films, wait for it … Snake Eyes and Kill Bill.

This week, we are going in-depth with “Dr. Lee,” a woman making her-story part of women’s history.

Q. Let’s start with the importance of your position at PGI and its place in women’s history…

A. On Oct. 3, 2022, when I became the first Black woman to serve as President and CEO at Pacifica Graduate Institute, I was overwhelmed with joy. The idea that I would have the opportunity to lead this storied institution with a rich history of academic excellence, innovation, and service was a dream come true. Stepping into this role, I hope my tenure here will empower Black women to follow. With this visibility comes an immense sense of pride and gratitude for being given the space to expand my contributions to communities and transform lives. Positively impacting lives is what women’s history is about, and what PGI is about. 

I have expanded the leadership team, with roughly half of our executive team members now women. Our interim provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Vice President of Enrollment, Senior Director of Alumni Relations, and yours truly are all women in executive leadership. Most of our world-renowned faculty, staff, learners, board of trustees members and alumni are pioneering women in leadership.

Professionally, I believe that this is a journey I could replicate for our community. In the Jungian sense, this is the triumph of that Middle Life journey, overcoming difficulties and fully embracing the adult psyche. Many women we honor during Women’s History Month have done this, shaping their narratives by living their lives on their terms. They heard the clarion calls for rebirth and heeded them, pushing through the burden to experience
the beauty. 

That’s what I must do; on a greater level, it’s what we all must do.

What is your top priority at PGI?

This is a time of transformation, progress, and onward expansion of the traditions, education, and advancements of depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. On day one, I designed and embarked on a 100-day listening, learning, and connecting tour to build and gain trust as I sought insights on Pacifica’s points of pride, pain, possibilities, and priorities. I met with over 500 internal and external stakeholders through hybrid town halls, on-campus meetings, community dialogs, and an online survey. From my experience, people will champion what they help to create. 

I have outlined the six themes that emerged from the data collected and reflections on those themes, which will be merged into a new strategic plan this summer and launched in 2024. 

The top three research priorities we are launching this year are to address the mental health crisis, human justice, and climate change. Pacifica is poised to innovate solutions rooted in depth psychology to help sectors impacted by COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County and beyond.

My focus includes establishing a task force to engage workforce leaders to ensure our future programs meet industry demand and cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture at
the Institute. 

We invite industry professionals, residents, nonprofit organizations, and government leaders to join our task force, and we need community funders for scholarships.

What is the most rewarding area of
your work? 

When I think about the complex changes that have been thrust to the forefront of our collective consciousness and after hearing concerns, innovative suggestions, and creative ideas, I believe PGI’s mission is more critical than ever.

I deeply appreciate the dedication of our faculty, staff, executive leadership team, the board of trustees, learners, and alumni who shared reflections on our academic programs and scholarly and creative endeavors. It is impressive to hear about the care and personalized attention our faculty, staff, and administration provide to unlock the intellectual capacity of our learners as they pursue meaningful career pathways.

I enjoy walking the campuses and eagerly engaging with learners, faculty, and staff, tending compassionately to each other’s souls.

There’s a Pacifica that exists today and an even greater Pacifica we can become. We can now shoulder the burden of that metamorphosis and find beauty. 

There are many lessons we can take away from Women’s History Month. A crucial one is this: The integration of the shadow and the clarity of the vision can unearth the positive legacy that follows sorrowful struggle. 

What meaning does Women’s History Month 2023 have for you?

It is a time of leading, facilitating, and celebrating the power of transformational leadership. As women in leadership, we don’t have to carry the hurt of our ancestors’ trauma; instead, we can choose to heal and transform the pain we feel today into power tomorrow. 

I believe that it’s so important for women to be in leadership roles, because it’s hard to believe you can become what you don’t see. 

The National Women’s History Alliance 2023 theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” It is our time to look back to honor, share, and celebrate with gratitude the stories of the many great women who fought and have left our communities a better place to live, work, and love. 

2023 is also a time to be mindful that so many women in our country and worldwide still do not have access to the resources needed to thrive. I think we can think ahead on how we take action on behalf of others by lifting, opening doors, and making room at the table for women who cannot do that for themselves.

And the positive impact women bring to society?

Women can hear, discern, see, and do things others can’t do. Research has shown that when women are appointed to the C-suite, organizations innovate faster, become more profitable and socially responsible, and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences, among many other benefits.

From my experience, women contribute greater diversity of thought, problem-solving, and experience to organizations where they lead or hold decision-making positions. These promote and facilitate better decision-making and can refine an organization’s performance and direction. 

We cannot have healthy families, a well-rounded society, a progressive community, or a healthy organization if women are missing from the leadership table. A woman’s presence is a gift to the world! It’s time to unwrap and unlock more of these special blessings. 

Each generation wants the next to take wisdom from what works and rebuild to transform into the next, as long as it’s not holding us stuck.My grandmother was raised in a generation that believed there was no place for her in a man’s world.My mother was raised in a prove-your-worth generation that asked how you make it in a man’s world.I grew up in a generation that says if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. I love my children’s generation because they are challenging the process. We have taught them that there is no more settling for less; we recognize that we need a conceptual shift where celebrating women who told our story isn’t just being dumped on those who are affected. It has to be the responsibility of the people benefiting from women’s achievements and those maintaining the system.

Did you have female mentors? 

I am grateful for the many women who lifted me while they climbed. There are too many to mention! I admire those women who took the elevator and sent it back down to bring me up through mentorship, coaching, sponsorship, allyship, friendship, mirrors of light, and so much more. These women have taught me firsthand how to pay it forward while also bringing up those from behind and around me.

What are your tools for women with careers and families to carve out time for themselves?

I remind myself that it’s healthy to honor boundaries and replenish myself. 

I value my mentors, my faith, my family, my close friends, and my community, who have been instrumental in helping me to navigate and overcome those small steps on the way to great outcomes. In a community, you feel inspired, supported, and empowered to walk through the shadows of the valley of arduous steps to achieve great success.

I value and practice loads of self-kindness, self-compassion, and self-love, which are important in this process.

Also, be aware if you are climbing alone – by the time you get to the top, a.k.a. the promised land, you will be too tired to impact lives. No woman is an island, and no woman should want to stand alone. Take time to create a community to inspire you to greatness.

Be OK with asking for help – therapy, coaching, faith, mentorship, or allyship.

In closing…

I want to acknowledge the power and opportunity of education to transform lives, careers, communities, and the world. We invite everyone to engage in this work through our graduate degrees, certificate programs, and community engagement activities.  

411: Since 1990, via Public Law 100-9 with resolutions, the U.S. president proclaims annually the month of March as Women’s History Month




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