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Q&A with an inspiring woman: Diane Mendenhall

Q&A with an inspiring woman: Diane Mendenhall

Diane Mendenhall

Diane Mendenhall

• Associate to the Chancellor for External Engagement and a member of the Chancellor’s Cabinet at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

• Recently served on the Lincoln Community Foundation Board, Messiah Lutheran Foundation Board, and continues to serve on the Nebraska Alumni Association Board.

• Mentoring and speaking engagements.

• Active in numerous professional organizations.

Who has inspired you?

A number of people have inspired me, personally and professionally, throughout my life. I have to go back to the two people who gave me my foundation and inspire me to this day – my parents. My mother inspired me with her tremendous work ethic and amazing service to mission and others. My dad shared his love of sports and teamwork with me. Although this was pre-Title IX and he had three daughters, my dad never treated us differently. Together, they taught us to work hard, work together and believe in ourselves.

Whom do you hope to inspire?

I enjoy public speaking, and it’s even more special when I can help a nonprofit, civic organization, women’s professional group, school group and so on. When I speak, one thing I do to rate my impact is ask: Did I make them laugh, did I make them cry, and did I make them think? I hope that if I accomplish those three things, I’ve inspired them. With that said, I believe you have the chance to inspire someone every day. You have to look for those moments – it may be as simple as complimenting the clerk at the grocery store.

What does leadership mean to you?

Uniting people around a vision and establishing a culture of unconditional trust, empowering them to feel ownership of the vision, and motivating them to excel at the highest level. I think this all starts with leading by example. Just as an athletic team will mimic a coach’s personality, the people you lead will embrace your work ethic, enthusiasm and passion toward your mission.

What is your favorite quote or motto?

I love quotes! I use this Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quote as one of my life principles: “Look at a man the way he is, and he only becomes worse. Look at him the way he could be and he becomes what he should be.” This is what guides me in mentoring and speaking. I want to help empower people to believe in themselves and live in a paradigm of “this can be.”

How would you describe a great day at work?

Every day I park my car and walk onto campus is a great day. I had a professor in college who said, “As a teacher, you’re dealing with the most important commodity the world has to offer, a human mind.” I believe in the power of education and its role in transforming lives. Whether it’s directly interacting with students, or indirectly working behind the scenes to help provide the best environment for them to learn and grow, working in education is an incredible privilege to me. It makes every day a great day.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

I worked as a national consultant for a communications company. The company co-founder/CEO was Dean Curtis. He built the company based on the Pygmalion philosophy, the interpersonal expectancy theory – you get what you expect. I have put this theory in practice from coast to coast. From business CEOs to Olympic athletes and third generation welfare recipients, people do rise to the level of expectation. You have the power to influence others’ beliefs in themselves – and they will rise! This also explains why my parents were such an inspiration to me – I felt their belief in me.

What’s the highlight of your career (so far)?

I have worked with so many young people as their coach, teacher, boss or mentor. The greatest joy to me is watching them excel in their careers and in their lives. Just this past month, two of my former student-athletes from western Nebraska and Iowa asked me to grab dinner while they were in town. A past mentee and her husband from Alabama stopped by to see me, a former student worker from California phoned me to check in, and a former student-athlete asked me to speak at her college Hall of Fame induction ceremony. From career discussions to the beautiful pictures of their children, I treasure those relationships. To me, the true measure of success in life is not the ROI, it’s the ROR (return on relationship).

How have you changed over the course of your career?

I have learned to enjoy the journey. I have been fortunate to be part of amazing teams and organizations that have achieved at the highest level. In sports, you’re taught “don’t press, let the game come to you.” Your career and life is no different. Establish the goal, determine the game plan, and then embrace the ride. There is so much to learn along the way and so many to learn from – enjoy every person and every moment of the journey!


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