Trailblazers: Elissa Hansen

Trailblazers: Elissa Hansen

A Trailblazer is someone who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo; who believes that the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way we’re going to do it.

Highlighting 7 female leaders who continually evoke a deeper connection to the reason why they’re blazing a trail in the first place: to create a new path and opportunity for others. They are inspired by a sense of community that is pervasive across the board. These Trailblazers willingly share their knowledge and encompass a vast community of learners and leaders. They embody the concept of pushing the envelope and fearlessly navigating the unknown.

In this article, we interview Elissa Hansen, President and CEO of Northspan.

What’s your mission?

Unleashing human passion.

If you could have a conversation with anyone, past or present, who would it be?

My Oma, my grandma. She lived such a different life than me, and I felt so close to her right before her passing, and I think of her all the time. I truly believe she’s one of my guardians.

Quote you live by: 

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”  – Maya Angelou

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Being proud of my failures!

What has been your biggest challenge in this role?

Building a strong, caring team who lifts up everyone in their own ways.

How do you define success?

It’s that feeling in the morning — on those days when you are ready … ready to go get it!

What, in your opinion, is the key to your success?

Building and maintaining long-term relationships through shared passion for humankind.

If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?

Become fluent in French.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Curious, driven and intuitive.

What would you say to others to encourage them to become a leader in an organization?

Learn how to fail fast.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Travel more!

Three key words to describe yourself:

Authentic, adventurous, strategic

Why Minnesota?

More than anything, my family and the lakes, and specifically the big lake, Lake Superior. She continues to call me back no matter how often or how far away I travel.

Do you have a motto or philosophy that you live by?

Be kind, and give grace to yourself and others every day.

Is there a piece of advice you’ve received that brought you to who you are and the meaningful work you do today?

Someone shared this quote with me early on in my professional life: “Nothing great has been and nothing great can be accomplished without passion.” – G.W.F. Hegel

Because my work feeds my passion, most days it doesn’t feel like work.

What words of wisdom would you want to tell your younger self?

Let go of needing to know; instead allow yourself to imagine what could be possible. “To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.” – Anatole France

Favorite place in Minnesota? Why?

Our family farm in Alvwood. It’s the one place where I feel connected to the grass, the trees, the fields, and my family, even though I never farmed the land and I never met my ancestors who did. We are connected through the land.

What does the world need more of?

Women leaders and women politicians.

Elissa Hansen leads Northspan with more than 20 years of experience in business, community, organizational, and economic development across Minnesota and Wisconsin. She invests her time creatively advancing others’ capabilities. In Elissa’s role, she engages with and elevates every client by facilitating tough conversations and moving organizations forward with action-oriented strategic methods. She works to create a setting for meaningful communications that respects diverse perspectives, creates joint resolve, and inspires individual and group action.

Featured alongside Elissa are:  


Read more of our stories in Issue 22 of Lake and Company.