WholeLifeLeadership – Diane Norland

Photo: Kris Kathmann

Coach Di

Certified life coach business owner, House of Hope development director, North Mankato city council member, landlord, and community leader goes full throttle to help others improve.

Diane Norland’s calendar is just as multi-faceted as her resume. In her 69 years she has filled many roles, including Peace Corp volunteer, high school teacher, and political activist.

She currently is a North Mankato City Council member, a landlord (with husband, Larry), grant writer and fundraiser for House of Hope, and certified coach and consultant in WholeLifeLeadership, a company she founded in 2000. In all her activities, Norland focuses (and helps others focus) on determining what needs to be done, setting goals, choosing among possibilities, and achieving the desired results.

Encouraging others to talk about themselves is innate for the coach. Sitting on the deck of Norland’s North Mankato home, a reporter who has known her more than a decade finds the interview veers off several times into a conversation about the reporter’s activities and goals. It’s standard operating procedure for Norland to encourage introspection and retrospection, as evidenced in her perspective on hiring a new city manager. Although she originally felt the strongest of three finalists should be chosen, she soon favored the reopening of the search for candidates.

“It’s one thing to manage a city well,” Norland said, “and it’s another to have the ability to handle economic development, as former city manager Wendell Sande had. I asked myself if I saw that kind of insight and knowledge in the candidates we had interviewed and decided we should open the search again so we might find someone with that skill and ability.”

Norland began serving on North Mankato City Council in January 2007 because, she said, “I’ve always been interested in politics, and been active in working for candidates and a political party and in writing letters to editors. I ran for City Council because I thought I had good insights and instincts. I believe in building community and am an optimist.”

Norland favors North Mankato continuing with its Port Authority over merging with Mankato in an Economic Development Authority. “A Port Authority and an EDA are two different structures,” she said. “The Port Authority is essentially an economic development committee that reviews proposals and has resources such as loans, grants, and bonding powers. (An EDA has fewer resources available to it by law.) The Port Authority has created more than 250 jobs in the last three years.”


Norland’s early career plans did not include politics. She read biographies as a child, including those of pioneering nurses Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. These inspired her to consider a nursing career.

“When I’d been in college for a year, it struck me I wasn’t sure of my ability to handle sick and dying people,” she said, “so I majored in secondary education, with double majors in English and social studies.”

Norland’s activism began in the mid-Sixties, when she and her husband joined the Peace Corps. She met Larry the summer after she graduated from high school, when both were packing corn for Stokely-Van Camp in Fairmont. They married two years later, and she transferred from the University of Minnesota to join him at Minnesota State in Mankato. While completing their degrees, they worked for Bill Carlson at Carlson Craft, where Glen Taylor was already in a leadership position.

“We consider ourselves friends of Glen,” Norland said. “He has been skilled in growing his business and providing hundreds of jobs. He donates widely outside of North Mankato, and to the North Mankato Taylor Library.”

In December 1965, when the Norlands graduated with teaching degrees, the war in Vietnam was heating up. She explained, “We were anti-Vietnam War. The Peace Corps was a way to make a difference, and focused on peace and growth rather than on war and destruction. One week after our acceptance into the Peace Corps, Larry received his draft notice. Instead of going to war, he was in the Peace Corps.” The Norlands were sent to Iran, where she worked with Home Extension and taught English, and he taught with the Agricultural Extension Service.

“I learned that no matter where the culture is, people are not that different from one another,” Norland said. “We want to work, build a good life, and to take care of our kids. I saw that people have the ability to make good decisions, grow, and change.”

Upon returning to Mankato in 1968, Norland began teaching English and history, first at Mankato High School (now Mankato West), then at Mankato East. She became a victim of teacher layoffs in 1975. She did the usual substitute teaching, but did not get back into full-time education with the school district. Although you can take the woman out of the classroom, you apparently cannot take the classroom approach out of the woman. After working as the Blue Earth County Aging Services director for a couple of years, she became education and outreach director for Sioux Trails Mental Health Center in Mankato in 1979. Along the way, she picked up a Master of Arts degree in Speech Communication from Minnesota State in 1993 and a Human Resources certification from the University of Minnesota in 2001.

“My work with Sioux Trails was primarily prevention and education, working to reduce addictions and abuse of alcohol and drugs,” Norland explained. “That was broadened to mental health education.” Funding cuts in 1994 resulted in another layoff. “The following year I began developing a consulting business that focused on leadership training, stress management, and team building. In my work with businesses, non-profits, and other groups, I could see that when individuals did not function well, the organization or group they worked in suffered as well. I became a proponent of systems theory—like a mobile you hang in the corner of your room, when one hanging piece moves, the others move, too.”


Norland began networking with acquaintances in the Chamber of Commerce, Women Executives in Business, Business and Professional Women, and other professional groups. Her success did not keep her from accepting the position of community development director at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation in Owatonna in 1998, a position she held through 2000. That year her direction shifted back to chemical dependency issues when she became development director for House of Hope, a chemical dependency treatment center where her husband was employed as executive director from 1982 through 2009.

“I had assisted him unofficially,” Norland said, “but in 2000 I became the grant writer, and I officially began making funding solicitation calls and visits. The House of Hope on Third Avenue in Mankato includes a women’s facility and a sober house for post-treatment (formerly called a halfway house). We’re in the midst of a growth spurt again and developing an overall plan for long-term fund-raising.”

That year Norland also enrolled in the Coach’s Training Institute of San Rafael, Calif., attending five sessions in the Twin Cities. In 2003 she underwent the certification process. “I then put the word out that I was a certified coach, and I set up a website,” Norland said. “I did much networking through groups and placed some advertising in several publications. My goal when I began, and which is still true now, is to use my skills, abilities, and insights to help organizations and individuals to become healthier and happier, which results in their being more productive. I’ve had some clients from the Alfred Adler Institute in Minneapolis—therapists and social workers who are required to interact with a coach-mentor. I no longer advertise because I have word-of-mouth promotion. I have clients from financial services, attorneys, therapy or social work students who are looking for how to step it up a notch, or people in transition who want to move from one career to another, but they’re scared.”


Norland typically works with eight to ten individual clients and 10 organizations each year, scheduling phone meetings up to seven hours a week. She spends another 10-20 hours on House of Hope activities (“when I’m on a roll, I don’t stop”), and commits up to ten hours weekly to city council work. Because of serving on the council, she’s active in organizations such as Region Nine and District 77 Community Education and Recreation.

“I also get calls and emails from North Mankato citizens about their concerns,” Norland said. “There will be a situation such as the concern over playground structures at Benson Park. I’ve had four or five emails, both pro and con, about constructing them. The council is still considering putting the equipment on the property of a school to be built in the future, but the soccer fields are going in.”

Norland has made it a personal rule not to work on weekends, because, she said, “Many self-employed people don’t take weekends off, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. Having WholeLife Leadership and working for the House of Hope, I do not consider myself semi-retired. Two years ago, I did cut back on the number of coaching clients during Larry’s illness, which is now under control. To keep myself healthy, fit, and energized, I exercise three to five times a week with aerobic exercises and weights. I’ve always tried to eat well. I fully intend to die in my sleep at age 100.”


Norland schedules WholeLifeLeadership coaching clients throughout the day (and very occasionally in the evening) to phone her on her landline. She explained, “Cell phones interfere with the depth and strength of personal relationships. Studies show that people don’t multi-task as well as they thought. Tasks are completed better and faster with focus.”

To instill client commitment, Norland requires clients to prepay for two or three coaching sessions each month and to phone her at a specific time. With a new client, Norland explains client-coach confidentially and describes what coaching is and is not. (It’s not a substitute for psychotherapy, but can work in conjunction with it.) She reviews her background and qualifications, then requests permission to ask tough questions, to interrupt when the client is launching into a story that is off topic, and to assign homework that she expects will be done. She learns clients’ values (how they live and how they don’t), who their gremlin is (the inner voice that tells them negative things), and what their vision, mission, or life purpose is.

“The choice of which of those three we discuss depends on the client’s input and desires,” she said. “The client also tells me what he or she wants from a coach, where he or she hopes to be in three to five months, such as having a better relationship with a boss. I ask, ‘If your relationship with your boss improved over the next two weeks, what would that look like?’ The client begins to create problem-solving scenarios in her head, like writing a play. Then we consider how the client can make a scenario happen. The client is mentally practicing a positive scenario. The positive thinking movement isn’t all wrong, but it’s not, ‘If you think it, it will be so.’ It is, ‘If you take steps, it may become so.’”

Norland may ask an overweight client questions such as, What benefit are you getting from your excess weight? Is there something unhealed? What can you do? Can you exercise just this week, maybe four times?

“There’s a big trend toward wellness and healthy activities, reflecting society’s interest,” Norland said. “I began noticing the wellness aspect a couple years ago. If it continues, I will guide those clients into using resources and will motivate them to set goals for their desired change. With each phone call, each client, I ask, ‘What do you want to get done today?’ Most clients hit a dip three to five months into coaching, when the client realizes the change he or she wants will be much more difficult than anticipated. It’s gratifying when I see people get a grip, when they are proud of themselves for making changes and they feel more in charge and powerful. The idea of education that energizes and motivates folks—it’s what I’ve done with all of my jobs. That’s self-evident.”


Diane’s Diary

Current Involvement: Women Executives in Business, Business and Professional Women—past president, program director; Greater Mankato Growth; League of Women Voters.

Former Involvement: American Heart Association Heart Walk, chair and industry leader; Challenge 2001, past chair; American Association of University Women, local president, state VP; Volunteer, Committee Against Domestic Abuse, CADA House; Minnesota Business & Professional Women Foundation, trustee; Business Network International, Business Connectors, past president; Southern Minnesota Human Resources Association.

Looking Back

Family: Older of two sisters growing up on a farm near Trimont.

Favorite subjects: English was my favorite. I also enjoyed history, geography, and music. I sang alto in school and church choirs, played piano and oboe, and played drums in the marching band.

Least favorite subject: Art, because we always had to do some specific art exercises and learn techniques. I found it boring and limiting because I like to draw and putz around.

Early jobs: I walked corn and beans for my dad, and then did corn detasseling for a seed corn company. I worked the Stokely-Van Camp corn pack in Fairmont the summer before college. During my college years in Minneapolis, I was a dorm janitor and worked in food service. In Mankato, I worked for families as a nanny and housekeeper, and for Carlson Wedding Service.

Here And Now

Family: Husband Larry, who has degrees in elementary education and community counseling; son Daniel, owner of a flooring company, who with his wife, Emily, has a 12-year-old daughter and one-year-old twins.

Hobbies: I enjoy reading about history and politics, and spy and intrigue novels; my next goal is to read a four-book series by Winston Churchill about WWII, after I finish a 12-book Life magazine series about the history of America. I play piano and sing in the choir at Grace Lutheran Church, and I enjoy redecorating our 1,800 sq. ft. home. The most relaxing activities are yoga and meditation, and dancing around the house to various kinds of music.

Accomplishment of which most proud: Raising nearly $400,000 for the House of Hope building in Mankato.

Most valued possession: My family photos and scrapbook albums.

Most valued intangible: My optimism and ability to solve problems.

What three words describe you: Enthusiastic, smart, kind.

If you weren’t in this business: I’d be volunteering with kids at a school.



Web: WholeLifeLeadership.net

Telephone: 507-387-1304

Carlienne Frisch

Carlienne Frisch

A freelance writer and college instructor from Mankato.

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