Bank Iowa Women of Influence

June 24, 2024

Bank Iowa Leadership Lessons from Woman of Influence Ja

Leadership Lessons from Woman of Influence Jann Freed

A member of the Bank Iowa board of directors since 2019, Jann Freed has greatly supported our financial institutions’ innovation and ‘think big’ culture. In honor of her recent Women of Influence recognition from The Des Moines Business Record, we got the chance to sit down with Jann and ask a few burning questions about her leadership philosophies, many of which are encapsulated in her book Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering.

Iowa business leaders are sure to find at least one nugget of inspiration within her responses.


What does it mean to leave a leadership legacy?

The impact and influence you have on others is what matters most. What you say, how you say it, how you behave, and how you treat others is what people really remember.

As leaders, we are leaving our influence every day in “bite size” pieces, which I call breadcrumbs.  They accumulate.

It’s important to remember that influence is not always positive. When we think about the difference we are making on a daily basis, it helps us live in ways we want to be remembered.

What sparked your interest in leadership?

I was a professor of business management and leadership for 30 years. The last six years, I held the Mark and Kay De Cook Endowed Chair in Leadership and Character Development, which allowed me to take a deep dive into leadership research.

I developed a course around my research, which resulted in the publication of two books:

Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts.

Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering.

Both are based on interviews with some of the top thought leaders in the field.

I also host a monthly podcast called “Becoming a Sage,” during which I interview authorities about life and work wisdom.

You’ve spoken with a lot of leaders. What makes women especially well-suited to leadership roles?

One of my professional role models is Sally Helgesen, one of the top executive coaches in the country and someone I have interviewed several times. In 1995, she wrote two books, The Web of Inclusion and The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership. (Long before the World Wide Web was invented, Sally was talking about the “web” as a way to connect people.)

Her research indicated that women lead using systems that are less hierarchical and more horizontal. Since leadership is more about building relationships and community than position or title, I believe most women bring strengths that facilitate creating a community of compassion, empathy, and understanding.

If you could go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Do I have to narrow it down to just one? How about four? Both research and personal experience has taught me…

…success is how you define it for yourself.

…don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do.

…persistence will pay off.

…if you do the right things for the right reasons, good things will come your way.


Jann’s leadership work and research has earned her recognition as one of the Business Record’s 2024 Women of Influence. Ultimately, this is another piece of influence Jann can add to her lifelong ‘breadcrumb legacy.’