Challenging to Improve, Supporting to Succeed
Mitch Isaacs on his mentor Jeannine Harrold
Life is full of surprising relationships.
I first met Jeannine Harrold while I was working at Ball State University, almost 8 years ago. My career had just started as her career was finishing. Of course, I knew a little bit about her before that meeting. I knew she had single-handedly built the Career Center at Ball State. I knew people I respected, respected her. I knew she had a reputation for tactful, but honest, feedback.
I quickly learned that Jeannine’s reputation was well earned. We worked together on a scholarship committee, listening to young college students share their leadership journey and talk about their aspirations for the future. Jeannine’s job was to hear their stories and make sure we selected candidates who reflected the spirit of the scholarship’s namesakes. It was clear in those interviews that Jeannine has an eye for talent. She found ways to help different kinds of students, open up in different ways, to share their stories. Her genuine interest in who they were, made the students more comfortable talking about who they wanted to be.
Jeannine however, wasn’t just evaluating the students, she was evaluating me. Apparently I made an impression because she invited me to consult for LEAD ECI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to community leadership development. At the time I was working with Ball State’s leadership program, so it seemed like a great opportunity. I accepted her invitation, provided some feedback, and helped where I could.
Our relationship continued off and on for a few years after that, mostly connecting through her role on the scholarship committee. However, things changed in the fall of 2014 when she asked me to serve on the Board of Directors for Shafer Leadership Academy. In the years between my consultations, LEAD ECI had evolved into Shafer Leadership Academy and Jeannine believed I was in a position to provide support to the organization. I had never served on a nonprofit board but as a result of Jeannine’s recommendation, and the encouragement of others, I accepted the appointment.
After joining the board I felt like the junior high kid at the high school party. So many of the board members were accomplished, respected individuals in the community. I hardly felt equipped to sit with them. Jeannine urged me forward. She encouraged me to chair a committee, and share my views in meetings. She reminded me that I was on the board for a reason, and that I shouldn’t let my youth keep me from contributing. She guided me through the nuances of the nonprofit world, and helped me understand organizational dynamics. She gave me the confidence, and insight I needed to succeed.
So, I wasn’t completely unsurprised when a little over a year later in the February 2015, she asked if I would apply for the executive director position. At the time I was very happy in my role at Ball State, but more importantly, I felt ill-equipped to run a nonprofit. I’m not typically short on confidence, but I had never worked in a nonprofit before. I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge. Jeannine accepted my thoughts, and then waited.
I’m happy to say that I eventually took Jeannine’s advice and applied, and in fact, I recently completed my first year as the Executive Director for Shafer Leadership Academy. Although I have a strong background in leadership development, I’m “new” to the nonprofit profession. Given that we share a background in higher education, Jeannine has provided me hours of insight, conversations, and advice about how to transition from a college campus to the nonprofit world. She sends me regular emails with articles and professional development opportunities. She also makes herself available for regular phone calls, lunches, and other meetings. She has helped me make sense of the unique organizational dynamics of the nonprofit profession.
I’ve told Jeannine a number of times that I would never be here without her. She helped me see potential in myself that I never knew I had. But encouragement is easy, and a good mentor does more than simply encourage. A good mentor not only sees their mentee’s strengths, they see their challenges and drives them towards improvement. Jeannine is constantly encouraging me, but she also challenges me when I need it, and suggests patience when I don’t have it. She asks the difficult questions that I don’t always stop to pose, and she provides the insights that I sometimes miss. She strikes the perfect balance of challenging me to improve, while supporting me to succeed.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Jeannine has changed my life. She altered the trajectory of my career and opened me up to a new world of possibilities. Jeannine has also done this for countless others. Jeannine has remained committed to our community through her career. She grows the community by growing the people within it. She often jokes that since her retirement, her mission is to wake up every day and stay relevant. Jeannine is relevant. She’s relevant to me and she’s relevant to the community.
Mitch Isaacs is the Executive Director of the Shafer Leadership Academy (www.shaferleadership.com) and a Big with Big Brothers Big Sisters. He is committed to enhancing the leadership skills of the community and dedicated to Shafer Leadership Academy’s mission to ensure that individuals who have the desire to demonstrate leadership have access to world-class leadership training close to home.
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This story originally appeared in Mentoring in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware County in Muncie, Indiana.