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Guest Opinion: Leading into summer


By Tiffany O’Donnell | CEO, Iowa Women Lead Change

Growing up, we were often advised, “Athletes aren’t made during the school year, they’re made in the summer.” As parents raising two daughters who both play a variety of school sports, the translation here is practice, practice, practice.  

Fortunately, this advice isn’t reserved for high school athletes. (Why should they have all the fun?) Summer is the perfect time to grow the leaders of today and tomorrow.

If you think back to a time when your independence was tested — even cultivated — for many of us it was during those months of the year when we had extra amounts of free time. For me, the daughter of a working mother, summer was a time when I was tasked with getting myself up and out of bed, checking off a list of chores and, occasionally, making dinner. Yes, making dinner.  

That was a special treat reserved only for the most mature and trustworthy of children. At least that was my perception of it. And the successful execution of those dinners made me sit up taller and feel a lot smarter, and prepared me for the next challenge my parents felt fit to send my way. In short, it was a confidence builder.   

To me, making dinner was a stretch. In my young mind, it was something that only grown-ups were capable of doing. So my success as a 9-year-old making dinner made me feel incredibly proud of myself and even a bit surprised at what I could accomplish.

I’m not suggesting we start inviting all of our children to make dinner. Heaven knows this story might have an entirely different ending if one of my daughters tried it out! That being said, we all have stretch goals. Achieving them makes us all stand a bit taller, prouder and smarter.

Maybe for your young child or friend, it’s a request to help with yard work. Do you have a junk drawer that needs to be organized? How about writing out a grocery list? Even better, gathering up all of the items on the list at the grocery store?  

You get the idea.

Inviting our young friends to do more than they imagine, to stretch, is one of the greatest building blocks to building confidence. And confidence is the key to all of us reaching our highest potential. In my work, I see it as the No.1 barrier to women achieving the levels of leadership they are capable of and deserve.

How about you? Ever thought about running a 5K? What about reading a book each week? How about hosting a dinner party for 12? 

Achieving the perceived unachievable is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Even if we’re unsuccessful, we learn that we’re capable of accepting a challenge. That means we’ll be even more ready the next time the unachievable reveals itself.

It’s summer. Time to stretch!

Tiffany O’Donnell is CEO of Iowa Women Lead Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development, promotion and advancement of Iowa women, their organizations, and to impacting the regional economy. Contact her via email

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