Meet a local leader: Mandi Dolson

Mandi Dolson, Director of Workforce Recruitment and Retention, Greater Dubuque Development Corp.

Mandi Dolson is a western Iowa native who first landed in Dubuque almost 10 years ago.

She attended the University of Northern Iowa and received her bachelor’s degree in secondary health education. Following graduation, she moved to Phoenix, where she worked in higher education for six years. During this time, Dolson obtained her master’s degree in innovative leadership and took a leap of faith with a career change.

She returned to Iowa to be closer to family and started her new journey in human resources in Dubuque in 2013. She fell in love with the Dubuque area and met her husband, Mark, a Dubuque native.

Following Mark’s career, the couple relocated multiple times throughout the Midwest – allowing Mandi to expand her human resources experience each time – before finally returning to Dubuque, where she has assisted several well-respected companies with recruitment, development and retention of their workforce.

In 2021, Dolson rejoined Greater Dubuque Development Corp. as director of Workforce Recruitment & Retention.

She and Mark are happily settled in Dubuque with twin 16-month-old girls, Elle and Mae. They enjoy traveling, backpacking, hiking and spending time at the lake with their family and friends.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

My grandmother was a natural leader and instilled in me a love for education and travel. Continuously growing and learning, she took on the roles of factory worker in a defense plant during WWII, schoolteacher, business owner, city councilwoman and later ran for mayor of her town.

She was never afraid to jump in where she was needed whether that meant helping load and unload trucks or taking care of the books for the family trucking business. She volunteered countless hours for the American Legion and VFW Auxiliaries and always found time to travel the world.

Never giving up on her dream of becoming a registered nurse and giving back to the veterans who sacrificed their lives for our country and freedom, my grandmother enrolled in college for the first time at age 63 and graduated with her RN degree at the age of 65. She went on to work as an RN at the VNA for seven years before retiring.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? My role as director of recruitment and retention at Greater Dubuque Development Corp. is to develop and implement strategies for attracting, recruiting and retaining workforce in the greater Dubuque region. I manage our primary workforce tool,, and am continuously assessing and updating it for both employers and job seekers.

In addition, I work closely with the HR community to understand employer needs for both the site and to facilitate program development to meet those needs through community partners. Our newcomer services, including community tours and the Distinctively Dubuque program, are wrapped into all of these workforce solutions as well.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?

I work with a team that is truly committed to serving our employers and seeing our region grow through strong partnerships and collaboration.

We have set aggressive goals for job creation, increased wages, construction investment and population growth. After each success, we set our sights higher.

I am inspired every day because my co-workers and I are continually working toward a community of progress, prosperity and equity. How can you not be inspired when you are surrounded by a group of like-minded people bringing economic opportunity to everyone?

Which is more important to your organization — mission, core values or vision? All are important but a solid vision is essential. The vision will help define the purpose of the organization with a primary focus on the future. It describes where the organization wants to be, and the values and mission will help guide the vision. A good vision will provide direction while inspiring and guiding employees in all the work that they do. Employees need to believe in the vision to help move the company forward.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? The ability to listen. When you take the time to listen, you gain perspectives that you might not have considered. You also show others you care because you are hearing what they say and empathizing with their feelings, which creates trust. Listening also helps you fully understand a situation and helps you make an informed decision.

What advice do you have for future leaders? Take chances in your career. After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I worked in higher education for several years. It wasn’t until I completed my master’s degree in my 30s that I realized I wanted to pursue a career in human resources.

That career shift required me to take a step back, but ultimately led me to where I am today. If I hadn’t taken that chance, I might not have a job that I enjoy as much as I do. Changing careers in adulthood can be scary, but some risks are worth taking and you won’t know what you can achieve until you take the risk.

What lessons can leaders take away from the current pandemic? If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that businesses and leaders need to be flexible. Prior to the pandemic, some companies offered flexible work environments, but it was a benefit that was only offered to some.

Now employers are using flexible work environments as a tool to attract and retain talent. A flexible work environment doesn’t have to mean a position that is 100 percent work-from-home, but rather allowing employees the flexibility to leave early for family commitments.

When employers are flexible with their employees, the employees are much more satisfied and loyal to their employers.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? My favorite thing about being a leader is watching others around me grow in their careers and personal life. I spend time with my colleagues to truly understand what is important to them – both in their careers and in their home life.

Sometimes people don’t know what they want, or they don’t see the value they bring to an organization, so I enjoy creating a relationship with my colleagues to discover what is important to them and help them create a career path that will bring them joy and satisfaction.

It is always exciting to watch someone get a promotion that they have worked so hard for – and it is even better when I have been the one to make the job offer for that promotion.