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Leading in Times of Challenge with Sherri Nielsen

Sherri Nielsen Easterseals Iowa

As CEO of Easterseals Iowa since 2008, Sherri Nielsen has spent a majority of her career providing services and support to persons with disabilities and their families. Prior to that she worked for Easterseals Iowa in a variety of different roles, starting off her career as an employment consultant. This was an entry-level position working directly with clients to find and maintain employment. Nielsen is also involved with community organizations like Leadership Iowa and the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Diversity & Inclusion Council.  

Sherri Nielsen Leadership Tips 


One of the defining moments for Nielsen was when the disability system in Iowa went through quite a few transformational changes. This led to an opportunity to reflect on the best path to take moving forward. Nielsen asked herself what would be in the best interest of the individuals she serves. While the changes would impact how they did business, she knew it would change things even more for the families within her organization. In order to bring her team together during this time, they she needed to decide how they were going to move forward. To do that, she took time to understand where her team’s fears were so she could better support them through it, considering and answering questions like: 

  • Who would care for clients? 

  • Were team members going to have a job? 

  • Would there be pay cuts? 

She says it’s difficult to care for others when you don’t feel cared for, and it was important that her own team felt listened to. Nielsen tried to get the most accurate information she could to pass on and alleviate fears. She was also as transparent as possible about what she did and didn’t know.  

Over the course of her career, Nielsen has had a number of people she’s turned to for mentorship, including Doug and Donna McAninch. Doug, specifically, gave her two pieces of advice that she has come back to again and again. Find something to be grateful for each day and tell people how it is even if it’s news they don’t want to hear.  

This advice helped her navigate recent challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically what Easterseals Iowa needed to be safe as far as PPE and understanding what clients and families were comfortable with and answering their questions. 

Nielsen also noted that when you go through something challenging or new, there is a lot of fear about what you don’t know. You have to accept that there are times when you won’t have all of the information. As you move forward without it, take a breath and know you can figure it out as you go. 

Find more information at eastersealsia.org

Listen to the entire podcast above.

The Leading in Times of Change podcast is brought to you by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and hosted by Mike Jefferson. The podcast features community leaders from across Greater Des Moines (DSM). To listen to more Partnership podcasts, click here

Leading in Times of Challenge

Leading in Times of Challenge is a podcast featuring Greater Des Moines (DSM) business and community leaders.