Stories of women leading with their strengths are common. Diane Glass has led with strength, but she may have achieved more by leading with her vulnerabilities.

Glass was vice president of marketing for The Des Moines Register in the 1990s after working in politics, publishing and education. Part of her job at the paper involved corporate philanthropy, and she became an early leader in the Community Focus Initiative, which lasted 10 years and helped to resettle Asian refugees, sponsor the Des Moines Arts Festival, develop House of Mercy and help United Way restructure its priorities, wrote Ginny Hancock in nominating Glass as a Woman of Influence.

She described Glass as a “bright and tireless worker, but who welcomes the spotlight only at those times when it will serve others.”

Glass wrote in her memoir, “This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience,” that “people knew me as this upbeat personality, the marketing pro who could put a positive spin on almost anything,” but that she was keeping a big secret.

When Glass was born in the 1950s, her parents were told to take her home to die. That was the prognosis for children with spina bifida, a birth defect where there is an incomplete closing of the backbone and the membranes around the spinal column. Surgery can sometimes close the opening, but survivors often experienced problems walking or bowel or bladder problems.

In 2000, a bout with breast cancer caused Glass to re-evaluate her life and she quit her high-profile job (two years before she would be eligible for early retirement, she notes). As a part of her journey, Glass formed a partnership with author Debra Landwehr Engle to help other women transition through difficult times. They called their program “Tending Your Inner Garden,” and they eventually created four books on the program.

Glass wrote that “the breast cancer community taught me to share in a more honest and open way.” And that’s what she tries to help others do. Later, when someone pointed out that she was, in essence, working as a spiritual director, Glass took training and has been doing that work since 2007.

She also gives workshops on living with pain and disability and is working on a project in which she has interviewed adults with spina bifida from all over the country and is writing a book. She presented her findings at a national spina bifida conference last month.

Glass said the project is an outgrowth of her own path toward sharing about her condition, noting that after her cancer, she discovered she could talk about her breasts but still kept secrets about her bladder.

The common thread through all her work, she says, is that “I’ve always been interested in creating community.” 

Three areas of influence:

  1. Helping those on the margins, including low-income citizens and people with disabilities, gathering the stories of people with disabilities and presenting them at a spina bifida conference.
  2. Facilitating spiritual growth as a spiritual director, teaching others to be spiritual directors and teaching workshops on creativity and the body as paths to spiritual growth.
  3. Integrating spirituality and health with a memoir on her life with spina bifida, teaching workshops on living with chronic pain, and presenting to medical students at Des Moines University on spirituality and health care.

Words to live by:

“Listen with the ear of the heart.” — St. Benedict