Q&A with LaNisha Cassell: 'I have a better understanding of what drives me'

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When did you first start thinking of yourself as a leader?

I think I’ve always viewed myself as a leader — always been involved and motivated to take advantage of opportunities that have come my way. That groundwork was laid by my parents and grandparents — my first examples of what work ethic entails. Whether is was working from the age of 14 at the local pizza place or the organizations I was engaged in during high school, I enjoyed setting goals and working hard to accomplish them. I held three simultaneous positions on campus (resident assistant, student center manager, and writing center tutor) during my college career. Juggling those with my studies allowed me to learn organization and time management skills. However, it was my role as executive director of the Marion Independent School Foundation where I truly felt like I was making a difference as a leader; impacting others and outcomes. Building relationships was where I found my niche and how I still see myself excelling in my current role with the African American Museum of Iowa.

What was one of your biggest challenges in leadership and how did you overcome it?

One of my biggest challenges in leadership has probably been how I’ve viewed leadership. Though I always saw myself as a leader, I struggled more with how I was perceived by others and how I defined leadership. The missing link, I’ve discovered was in recognizing my ability to influence others in a positive and forward-thinking way. I feel I have a better understanding of what drives me, areas where I thrive and how I can use those strengths to move the AAMI forward (and any other projects I take on). That understanding didn’t come naturally. I’ve had role models like my husband, Karl, and other community leaders who have been amazing mentors in developing me as a leader and encouraging me to think bigger and do more.

What do you want young women of color to know about leadership?

I want my daughter, Lydia and other girls and women of color to believe they are worthwhile, have something to offer and envision themselves as leaders; to imagine the possibilities because they can see those examples (like the women featured in this piece) in their communities every day. I want them to know there are women who have come before them (even long before me) who set the bar high and expect them to raise it even higher. Finally, I want them to know leaders never get there on their own.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

My faith is what drives me, gives me strength and allows me to function as a leader in the workplace, the community and as a co-leader with my husband in our home.

• LaNisha R. Cassell is deputy director of the African American Museum of Iowa.

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