Meet a Local Leader: Taryn Kafer

Taryn Kafer, President, Young Professionals Dubuque

Taryn Kafer has a spouse, stepchildren, one brother, one sister, two cats and a big extended family. She loves to travel, kayak and camp. She also enjoys attending different events, volunteering and eating vegan food.

Kafer has been the director of scheduling and events at the University of Dubuque since July 2019. She served as the Dubuque Farmers Market on-site manager for three years, leading to her position as the Dubuque Farmers Market Committee chair. She sits on the Dubuque Main Street Board and works as its freelance digital designer and social media specialist.

She previously worked at the Grand River Center in the Port of Dubuque. She worked up from catering sales manager in January 2016 to a senior sales and digital marketing manager/convention service manager in July 2019.

While in college, Kafer worked and had internships with Windows 8 as a marketing representative, worked in ticket sales at the Iowa State Athletics Department, worked as an activity aid at Northcrest Community center and interned at the Iowa Department of Transportation in its LTAP event department.

She graduated from Iowa State University with a major in event management and a minor in hospitality. She studied abroad at the American College of Thessaloniki in Greece for a summer.

Kafer has two graduate degrees from the University of Dubuque, a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Management. She is certified in ServSafe, Serv Safe Alcohol Trained Crowd Manager, Cvent and CCDI.

She is the 2022-2023 Young Professionals of Dubuque Board president and sits on the Dubuque Main Street Board. She sat on the Mercy Service Club Board as the Publicity and Social Board Chair, the Dubuque Main Street marketing committee, Meeting Professional International as a supplier and she’s on the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce Board as the YP Ex-Officio.

Kafer volunteers in the Dubuque community as often as possible with these organizations: Mercy Gift Shop, Precisions Meeting and Events, ZERO-Prostate Cancer, NAMI, Feed my Starving Children and others.

Kafer received the Megan Hackett Leadership Award from the Dubuque Young Professionals in 2019.

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

Many people inspire and have impacted me as a leader in my professional and personal life.

Wendy Knight is a leader in the Dubuque community who has had a tremendous impact on my life. I was lucky to take a few of my master’s classes at the University of Dubuque LIFE program with Knight. We also work together at UD, and she facilitated the Young Professionals of Dubuque strategic planning session for my incoming year as YP President. She has shown and taught me what it takes to be a leader and that being a leader is earned. She taught me that becoming a leader takes time, devotion, patience, passion and empathy.

Another person who always has and continues to inspire me is my mom. She has taught me to be strong, especially in tough times, showing me that my true strength will be tested and I should never let anything get me down. My mom is one of the strongest people I know, and I strive to be as strong as she is. Her strength and more have helped me become who I am today, making me a leader who continually grows.

I am also inspired by my spouse, Josh. He teaches me about life by simply living his own. He inspires me to be better, to do more with my life, follow my dreams, be passionate and do all those things I never planned on doing on my own.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?

One of the most important decisions I have made as a leader of the Young Professionals is to trust the team. I think every board member and every member of Young Professionals has the ability to make great decisions leading to a great organization. Trusting in the team gives our organization limitless possibilities to grow.

At work and in the other organizations I am involved with, I make decisions rooted in the vision of those entities, creating a clear path as a leader through my passion for each place I volunteer and work. Leading with passion helps me focus “on” the business and not “in” the business in which I am leading. Focusing on what is new and different and becoming clear on my purpose and passion brings clarity to those around me.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? We must build morale, teamwork, commitment and motivation within the Young Professional board and organization. I try to do this by connecting people to the larger story and mission of Young Professionals. I remind them why they, as an individual, matter to YP and build a culture that works around that.

Which is more important to your organization — mission, core values or vision? I believe our core values as an organization are most important. The values are the ideals that we aspire to be. They are the foundation that helps us create, set and strive for our mission and vision. Our mission is the building block of our core values, and our vision is what drives us forward.

Core values: Develop, empower and engage.

Mission: Affiliated under the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, Young Professionals Dubuque exists to connect young professionals with each other, the business community and the city in which we live, work, play, and do business.

Vision: Enhance and grow the Dubuque region by creating a strong, inclusive community of Young Professionals through engaging and lively events.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? There are many characteristics that every leader should possess; it is more about knowing how to use each characteristic and practice it daily that makes a better leader. If I had to pick one, I would say passion. Having a passion for the organization, its work and its vision and being a passionate leader creates self-awareness, giving you a reason and a clear direction of your mission, vision and core values in which you lead those who follow you.

What advice do you have for future leaders? Act like a leader before you become one. There is a lot you can do to prepare yourself before you become a leader or take on a new leadership role. Taking the initiative for your growth and development gives you the skills you need to be a leader. Take the time to learn, become self-aware, and become confident in the leader you are. Be proactive in your journey. Your growth and leadership are in your hands — you have the ability to gain knowledge and learn from others, do it.

What lessons can leaders take away from the current pandemic? These are the lessons I took away from the pandemic and implemented in my leadership moving forward: collaboration, innovation, the importance of empathy and being intentional about relationships. Not only have I noticed these lessons are a key takeaway for leaders in Young Professionals Dubuque, but also at the University of Dubuque and the various boards I have sat on and in my personal life. These organizations, without rest, have led people triumphantly through a pandemic focusing on their core values and have embraced and adapted to where we are today.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? Helping others develop, grow and succeed. Seeing the achievement or success of someone I have helped lead is the best thing about being a leader.

Making connections with others and creating connections among others.