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Leadership Institute mentor Joanne Vena reflects on her experience as a listener, advisor, and coach

Updated: Nov 14, 2021



Leadership Institute is YNPN Chicago’s premiere leadership training program for emerging nonprofit leaders. Over the course of ten months, a cohort of Chicago’s promising nonprofit leaders come together to challenge each other, collaborate, and build relationships to serve them beyond the program. Additionally, participants are paired with an experienced nonprofit leader as a personal mentor and network with monthly guest speakers.

Applications for the 2022 cohort are open until November 28th! Read more from one of the returning program mentors.


Joanne Vena is the Director of Programs at Changing Worlds


I have been a mentor for YNPN Chicago’s Leadership Institute for three years. Over the last three years, each experience with each mentee has been different (as would be expected!). Overall, I found that my mentees have been curious and ambitious people, but also very reflective thinkers. The meetings we have each month encourage deeper thinking about their career path, their goals for their next "big thing", and large and small questions that center around balancing work, life, and self-improvement.


As a mentor, I believe you should combine and model the best practices of listener, advisor, and coach for your mentee. What I did not expect from being a mentor is the opportunity to reflect deeper about my own path and what continues to be my ever-present journey to develop myself as a strong and empathic leader within my own organization. What were the life lessons and guiding support "beams" to my own career? The larger questions that we often grapple with in our mentor-mentee sessions allow me to take a minute to think about personal development in a more nuanced way that extends beyond the sound bite acknowledgement or a favorable thumbs up. One example I remember was when a mentee asked me to explore with her the concept of emotional intelligence. She was not just looking for me to share a couple of articles or key thinkers on the topic - but probing for what I did I really think about the topic as it related to being a constructive, and collaborative leader? It was a good session for both of us and reminded me that this experience is reciprocal for both the mentor and the mentee.


At the beginning of each year of Leadership Institute, I am so excited to hear about the path my new mentee has positioned themselves to embark upon, and, at the closing session, I am always gratified and amazed at the decisions and understandings the mentees share after their year of professional development with the cohort. I love the capstone projects - I am there to cheer on their efforts to invest in themselves! As I have learned, reflecting on ourselves and leaders and as people is something that never ends!


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