Words by Meher Khan | Photos by Marie Ketring
Imposter syndrome can affect even the most accomplished leaders, including Metropolitan Alliance of Connected Communities (MACC)’s Vice President of Member Advancement Trisha Reinwald. Trisha has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in nonprofit management, as well as extensive experience with nonprofits including Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. She’s also served as executive director of the Minnesota Jaycees, and is the founder of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities. Leading nonprofit organizations is Trisha’s thing. But the fear of being called out as a “fraud” seems to affect accomplished leaders like Trisha because of an important quality they all possess: their groundedness and humility.
It’s no surprise then that much of the advice Trisha gave the YNPN Leadership Breakfast attendees on July 15 centered around setting aside any notions of entitlement—for yourself or others—when it comes to being a good leader. Aside from skills building, very little of Trisha’s talk was about focusing on yourself. Instead, she focused on how to surround yourself with smart people who you can learn from and who you can teach you a think or two. Ready to learn more about Trisha’s path to leadership? Here’s a snapshot of her leadership journey, with key steps to self-growth and building a strong network of smarties.
Identify a project you might like to work on collectively and then go find people who want to join you. Get involved with an organization. Volunteer, serve on a committee, join a board. Look to the person beside you and start a conversation. Surround yourself with people who have skills you don’t posses, or skills that complement your own. Learn from them and grow as a leader.
If you are with an organization, cross train within, and have each other’s backs. Don’t be the only person on staff who knows how to do what you do. And when working with partner organizations, identify the sweet spot of self interest between you and the other person or organization. Start the conversation with lots of questions about their challenges. Be an active listener.
Mentors can be found anywhere.
Your mentors don’t have to be people in higher leadership positions. They could also be your peers. When you take away the notion that mentorship only comes from the “higher-ups,” you open yourself to learning from the people already around you, working with you to accomplish a common goal. Trisha and her peers learned many aspects of leading and managing a nonprofit on the fly at a young age—a process she described as “a real slog” as they spent the first two years getting the Twin Cities chapter of YNPN started. However, she reminisces about the safe learning environment YNPN provided. During that time, she formed some of her strongest professional relationships, ones she still maintains today. Additionally, since Trisha valued bringing people into the group that had skills she and the other board members didn’t possess, she brought in opportunities for herself to learn from them. Once the board became more diverse in ability, things like firing a volunteer or other tricky aspects of nonprofit work suddenly became possible.
Put your heart into your work at every stage in your career.
Start with where you are. If you are looking for opportunities to learn, Trisha highly recommends Hamline’s nonprofit management graduate program. While her liberal arts degree gave her the skills to think critically, what Trisha learned in the nonprofit management program allowed her to speak the language of her board and the consultants with whom she worked. Even if you decide not to do this particular program, be on the lookout for opportunities to expand on skills you can use in the nonprofit world, whether through formal education or through other classes and workshops. Trisha recommends getting trained in the Art of Hosting, a facilitation community of practice that connects people and gets to solutions quickly and meaningfully.
Searching for a new position? Trisha cautions against turning down opportunities based on salary alone. If you can take a position that teaches you the ins and outs of a nonprofit, take it! As Trisha says, “consider it an investment in yourself and your career.” Trisha’s time as the executive director of the Minnesota Jaycees allowed her to learn every aspect of nonprofit management. Another perk to the small size of the organization was that Trisha could make mistakes and learn from them, while still having support from her board.
In a position to influence the culture around you? Practice what you want to see. Take your vacation. Don’t respond to emails at 10 PM. Trisha reminds us that this work is challenging and taxing and you need time to renew. Remember, she says, “nothing will burn down if you don’t update your organization’s Facebook page.”
Looking for a board to join? Start with the issues that are important to you. Look for volunteer-led and grassroots organizations, membership organizations, professional networks (like YNPN), political campaigns. You will pick some wrong groups, but that is all part of the process. Once you’ve settled in with a group, when you realize you’re not contributing at the same levels as others at the table, it’s time to step back, let others lead, and move on to the next thing.
Connecting people and organizations may come naturally to Trisha, making her a perfect fit for her position with MACC. But the leadership skills she’s learned along the way and taught us are extremely attainable when ego takes a backseat. You couldn’t ask for a more accomplished and relatable “imposter” to learn from.