Nonprofit Executive Leadership: Mentorship and the Value of Emotional Intelligence

Early in my nonprofit career, a colleague suggested looking into mentorship. I didn’t think much of it, other than it could be a vehicle to expand my professional network. Even though my ambition slightly tainted my motivation, mentorship became vital to my career success. This is primarily because of the heavy emphasis on emotional intelligence as a core character trait of executive leaders. 


Eventually, I managed to identify a senior leader that could extend my network. I was still very delusional about my mission. I didn’t realize I was in for an awakening. Mentorship became a journey of discovery that created a better understanding of executive leadership through the lenses of someone else’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence 

As I pursued my mentoring relationships, I understood how emotional intelligence is an essential component. Having issues, small or large, is the norm for executive leaders. They’re not only responsible for solving internal organizational challenges but external issues related to the many individuals and communities they serve. At the time, my mentor was a city manager. After agreeing to mentor me after a few weeks, the city faced an insurmountable internal challenge. 

The finance director misappropriated funds, which occurred on my mentor’s watch. The city was in complete turmoil within nanoseconds, and the community no longer had confidence in my mentor’s leadership. Despite all the challenges they faced as a city manager, I witnessed a high level of ‘can do’’ attitude about whatever came their way. My mentor possessed the ability to guide staff and the city through a significant organizational storm because of their ability to exemplify executive leadership supported by heightened emotional intelligence.

Executive Leaders Manage Emotions and Behaviors 

This moment was defining for my mentor. I appreciated their vulnerability in sharing the experience. To lay witness to what it meant to face an organizational challenge of that magnitude as an executive leader was a teachable moment. I wasn’t only offered an opportunity to be mentored but to understand the emotional intelligence needed to get to the other side of the issues. 

As leaders, practicing emotional intelligence is not only about self-help. Emotional intelligence is a tool used in managing others as well. My mentor gave me a glimpse of how best to manage emotions and behaviors by

  • Having the ability to show empathy toward others – which screams leadership
  • The ability to lean into others’ feelings and perspectives
  • Taking an interest in their concerns, ideas and perceptions
  • Being watchful to what others are feeling during challenging or tense situations
  • Being self-aware with a constant inward evaluation of your own emotions and behaviors 

Executive Level Mentorship

Fortunately, I gained from my mentoring relationship experiences. I’ve been blessed to have had three individuals support me on my executive leader journey. Each mentor brought something different to the table, transforming my way of thinking. Mentorship gave me the confidence to expand my personal commitment to organizational culture. The experience defined my career choices, allowing me to develop emotional and social competencies that foster success. Having a mentor helped me focus on emotional intelligence developed a broad collection of skills, behaviors and knowledge. This enabled me to perform effectively as a leader. There is less demand or willingness for mentoring in our current nonprofit environment. If you find yourself not unable to locate a mentor, consider investing in executive coaching. The folks at Nonprofit Enthusiast offer an array of services that could meet your professional and organizational needs with our Do For Services, Do With One-on-One Coaching, or Cheer On Group Services. 

Click on the link to learn more about Nonprofit Enthusiast’s Services:  

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