My Stand and Deliver series highlights women who lead through inspiration and aspiration. Today’s article teaches us how to define who we are.
I chose to interview Laura Thomas not only for her brilliant analytical capabilities and her fascinating somewhat nomadic lifestyle, but also because of the laser focused, can-do mindset she brings to every challenge. Laura Thomas is the Chief of Staff and VP of Strategic Initiatives at quantum technology company ColdQuanta. She is a former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officer and Chief of Base who led sensitive programs at CIA Headquarters and abroad on multiple international assignments.
Laura Thomas, Chief of Staff and VP Strategic Initiatives, Infleqtion
Laura, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your career and what excites you about your current stage of life.
I’m from a small, one-stoplight town in rural North Carolina. Along my journey, I made my way to a life overseas working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Currently, I’m the Chief of Staff at quantum technology company ColdQuanta, where I work with smart people solving hard problems every day.
For most of my career, I ran operations at CIA, which means I recruited and handled sources and then eventually built and led sensitive programs to ensure US policymakers had the information they needed to make better decisions. In early 2021, I joined ColdQuanta, where we work closely with the US and allied governments, as well as commercial customers, to build quantum computers, quantum sensors, and quantum components that supply the quantum ecosystem. 
This is an exciting stage of life because quantum technology has the potential to be a platform shift technology, like how electricity replaced the candle, the car replaced the horse, and how the internet has transformed our lives. This isn’t just a technology competition, it is a values competition, and I’m excited to work on a technology that has such deep implications to national and economic security.
Tell us about a major transition period in your life (major move, career move, family, unique opportunity) and what prompted the change.
The decision to leave CIA just as I was taking on more senior roles was a difficult one. Serving at CIA was a calling and was deeply intertwined with my identity, and in many ways, still is. I had begun to summit a steep mountain that few people get to climb. Did I really want to give it up and start as a beginner climbing a new one? 
There also is a bit of the “wait your turn” mentality at CIA, and I didn’t want to wait another ten years before I could take on the most impactful assignments. While you can continue to learn in any role, the learning curve had begun to flatten for me. I had to choose what I valued more—personal growth or the survival of my identity.
At the same time, I could see that the future of national security would be largely determined by technology advancements—who wields them and how. I grappled with the decision for a couple of years but ultimately chose growth over a more certain career trajectory at CIA. I made a bet that there would be more opportunity for impact on the outside that would provide not the exact same, but similar, fulfillment. So far, that has been true.
What are the three top tips you have for a woman trying to assert her influence and ideas?  
1. Look inward before attempting to influence others. Most of us spend too much time trying to prove we are right to ourselves and to others. If we look inward more, we’ll naturally be better listeners and ask more questions. I’m more apt to trust a person’s judgment and buy into their ideas if they’re a good listener who asks great questions, rather than someone who gives me smart-sounding answers from the get-go.
2. Don’t avoid hard conversations but delay them, at least by a day. Hard conversations are usually necessary to push your ideas into a world that is going to reject them for no reason other than it was your idea. While we celebrate people who can articulate a well-reasoned retort on the spot, most of us aren’t blessed with this ability. I’m certainly not. We all tend to respond emotionally when challenged. Emotions can cloud our judgment and cloud our words. This is why delay can be such a powerful mechanism when you get pushback and need to have a hard conversation to overcome that pushback.
3. Read with the purpose of leading. I once saw a hashtag on LinkedIn, #ReadToLead, and it has stuck with me. We’re so fortunate that nearly every challenge or situation we face in our lives isn’t new to the world. Someone else faced it in some parallel way and also took the time to write it down. Reading about a diverse array of topics, including old books or subjects completely outside of our current scope, helps us think about situations from a first principles point of view. This leads to better decisions, which leads to a good track record, which leads to a better ability to influence others. 
How do you help unleash leadership at all levels?
It’s premature for me to fully answer this question given where I am on my journey. I will say that I think too many women view the word “power” pejoratively because many of us fear that power means aggression, corruption, or certain downfall. That’s because many still wield power by “kissing up and kicking down,” which creates transactional relationships that may serve us temporarily but cut us off from ourselves and others in a deep and consequential way. 
The exercise of power as a zero-sum game is rather primitive. And I say this as a CIA officer and a realpolitik person who has been in my fair share of situations fueled by power dynamics. What many people are learning—and I think women have an easier time grasping this—is that when we empower others, we actually wield more power for ourselves. I’ve seen power wielded for incredible good. If we could get more women to stop viewing power as a dirty word, I can only imagine the leadership that would be unlocked and unleashed.
Tell our readers about a passion project of yours, why it’s unique or special and what attracted you to it.
Getting to know me. The world pushes us from such an early age to define who we are, what we stand for, and who we will be. How many times do we ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when we should be asking ourselves as adults, “Who am I really?”  
Over the last couple years, this is an area I’ve been thinking about and reading about a lot. What is human nature vs. what is socialized and therefore changeable? When do we start to confuse net worth with self-worth? Where are we falling into value and identity rigidity traps? My experience of coming out as gay later in life, being a CIA officer working undercover, and watching others struggle with perceived threats to their identities has helped me ask these hard questions, look inward, and get to know myself better.
Who inspires you today and why?
Many of the women in Iran. They are bravely standing up to decades of systemic mental and physical abuse by a regime that does not speak for them. They are reclaiming their power. 
What is a future aspiration?
I’d like to bring together investors, tech entrepreneurs, and policymakers so they can understand each others’ incentives and find areas of alignment. Governments aren’t the powerhouses they used to be now that we live in a digitally connected world. Governments may still control armies, but they don’t control the medium of communications. When we think of the threats that face us today, from disinformation and polarization to the rise of authoritarianism globally, governments can no longer go it alone. This is also a long-term threat to companies and investors. We have to work better together and disaggregate our actions from four-year election cycles.
My Key Takeaways
In early 2021, my husband, Jim, received a LinkedIn connection from Laura. She noticed they both worked on quantum technology, and lived in the same small village in the Virginia countryside, and she suggested a meet up. Afterward, Jim could not stop talking about how brilliant she was and the fascinating way Laura translated her CIA recruitment skills to quickly building a large business network. I too was impressed after meeting Laura and her wife over a subsequent lunch. I found her witty, articulate, and wise. We also shared much in common, as we believe strongly in the advancement of women and also hold similar views on geopolitical risks.  However, until I conducted this interview, I had not realized the degree to which Laura had been delving into exploring fundamentals of human nature.
My favorite Laura Thomas quote:
The world pushes us from such an early age to define who we are, what we stand for, and who we will be. How many times do we ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when we should be asking ourselves as adults, “Who am I really?”
She asks the big question: “What is human nature vs. what is socialized and therefore changeable?” 
I too have been rereading writings of historical thought leaders, including the work of Aristotle, Socrates, Franklin, Hobbes, Thoreau, and de Toqueville. Their writing help me better understand the role of human nature vs. communications technology advancements as a cause of our current social discord and insecurities. Until we spend the time understanding the basics of our humanity, it will be difficult to find a path forward for ourselves, our nation, and our world.
In a few days, I fly to Europe to participate in The Salzburg Dialogue an invitation-only executive retreat hosted by the Diplomatic Courier in partnership with Circle. The Salzburg Dialogue is part of the World in 2050, a think and do tank that brings together futurists, innovators, investors, media, and policy leaders to discuss some of today’s most pressing issues in our society. During this retreat, delegates will be considering broad challenges and opportunities to “help the future arrive well.”
A few of us have already started discussing how classical political theory shows that distrust is not new. We are grappling with the same issues that have been around since the start of time. Our mode of speech and communication may have changed and cultural norms may differ, but at our core we are still human. The generous, the greedy, and the gossipers are referenced through the ages.
I look forward to discussing ways we can rebuild trust in each other when people view a logical order in which everyone shares a benefit, hears someone else’s point of view, and enjoys meeting someone who is different. Our enemy isn’t our neighbor, our work colleagues, or a professor. The enemy is when we retreat into our predefined bubble, fail to recognize “who am I really,” and forget that we have more in common than we think.
What lessons did you learn from Laura’s interview? Let me know what inspired you by  connecting with me on Instagram or LinkedIn. You can also sign up for my newsletter and buy my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, at


Lisa Gable