Leading Fearlessly: Good, better, best: The role models who lifted us up

Published by Suzanna de Baca on

Chances are, if you ask a young girl in Iowa who her role model is these days, she’ll mention University of Iowa basketball player Caitlin Clark. Clark’s athletic skill and leadership have inspired girls, boys, women and men all over the state – including me – and even people across the nation. Role models like Clark and her teammates can make a positive difference for anyone at any age by helping us dream of what is possible and aspire to be the best we can be. For youths, being around exemplary athletes and artists, coaches and teachers, mentors and supportive leaders can have a significant and lasting impact. And for young girls, watching role models in action can be transformational.

Last fall, Amazon and Gallup released “Role Models Matter,” a report that indicated having a role model in youth has a profound effect on career fulfillment of working adults, as well as career success. That research indicated that 82% of young adults whose childhood role model had similar life experiences say that their role model helped them to believe in themselves. That research showed that role models can be beneficial for people of all ages, including early career professionals, and that sharing similar life experiences with a role model can strengthen their impact.

An article in the HR Director cites LinkedIn research that further validates the importance of role models for career development. That study said: “Further demonstrating the need for more visible role models, professionals who have one, say they taught them to believe in themselves (76%), inspired them to achieve more (75%) and lifted them up when they were low (74%). Importantly, seven in ten say this influential figure has shown them what people of their gender can achieve, despite societal barriers.”

For my Fearless column last month during Women’s History Month, I wrote about role models and asked some local leaders who inspired them. Many readers wrote to me to tell me how much that column resonated with them, so I decided to share even more leaders’ stories of women who made a difference in their lives.

Dwana Bradley, owner, Iowa Urban Media

My second and fourth grade teacher, Florence Doris McNear. She was a God-loving, fierce, confident, didn’t-take-no-mess kind of woman. She was the first woman to tell me I was going to college. At that age, I didn’t even know how to spell college, but when Mrs. McNear said it to me, it stuck in my heart. As an adult I got to see Mrs. McNear before she passed away. She shared how proud of me she was, and she told me, “Do not let anyone stop you from what God has for you to do.” I keep those words close to my heart as I continue to live in my purpose and make an impact on a community in the way Mrs. McNear made an impact on me. She was a fearless woman and has been part of shaping me into the fearless woman I am today.

Mashal Husain, chief operating officer, World Food Prize Foundation

Dr. Rizwan Shah was a healer and hero of abused children – and my friend and mentor for more than half my life. She inspired me to be the best I could be as a humanitarian and professional. Dr. Shah lived that mantra every day as she witnessed the devastating impact of drugs on newborns and treated methamphetamine-exposed babies.

Following her 1968 arrival in America from her native Pakistan, Dr. Shah made Iowa her home and Iowans her family. She was the visionary who launched Blank Children’s Hospital’s Child Protection Center and was a champion for all children. Recognized as a “Local Legend” by the National Library of Medicine, Dr. Shah tackled the most challenging and heartbreaking cases and made the well-being of children her life’s focus.

This selfless and angelic caregiver made all those around her feel special with her comforting words and reassuring smile – she remains my inspiration and idol.

Molly Lopez, chief operating officer, Iowa Economic Development Authority/Iowa Finance Authority

Mrs. Janet Singer, my third grade teacher at Duncombe Elementary in Fort Dodge, challenged me to think bigger, try harder and expect more from myself and others. She shared this quote from St. Jerome with me when I was 9 years old: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best.”

Even after 50 years, the message still resonates.

Mrs. Singer’s belief that I could do better inspired me. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with incredible teams, making an impact. We can always strive for improvement, individually and collectively. We can do better.

Today, I reached out to Mrs. Singer to thank her. We had a lovely conversation. Don’t wait 50 years – express gratitude to the teachers who inspire you.

Nicole Paseka Grundmeier, staff writer and copy editor, Business Publications Corp.

I spent years terrified of Barbara Mack. In the fall of 2000, I was a shy freshman in Barbara’s Journalism 101 class in the auditorium of Mackay Hall at Iowa State University. Barbara called me to the front of 300 people to do an impromptu skit about nonverbal communication. My performance was so embarrassing that I sat in the balcony for the rest of the semester, hoping she would never notice me again. Slowly, I got to know Barbara. She observed that I always introduced myself as “Nicole,” even when meeting important guests. I was ashamed of my Czech surname, “Paseka,” which was difficult to pronounce. Barbara told me that women must always introduce themselves by their first and last names. That’s how men introduce themselves, she said. If women only introduce themselves by their first names, they wouldn’t be taken seriously – and they wouldn’t be remembered. I started introducing myself by my first and last name. Barbara urged me to apply to become editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily. I succeeded. By the time I was a senior, I had found my voice. I no longer hid in classrooms. I spoke, loudly and firmly, without using the filler words that Barbara abhorred.