Elle Davis, Chief Elevation Officer
What drives your work, what is your why?
As a long-time, youth development professional and advocate, it’s imperative that our young people are being molded and steered by caring adults who are equipped with the resources and knowledge to support them on their unique paths. There are several people that have the desire to work with young people, but they are not all gifted to do so. However, I think they can participate in professional development that will equip them to be successful in moving their work forward.
Further, once these same individuals have reached their threshold of working in direct service, they often move to management level roles, ill-prepared to take on the responsibility of leadership and managing people and work. Again, I think professional development and coaching are the key elements to help this group be successful in middle manager roles and beyond.
I have experienced the benefits, first-hand, of training, that sparks creativity and inspiration. It has often been the fuel I need to get through a slump or tough period at work. When I have pulled myself away from my everyday tasks to engage with my peers and colleagues to discuss the challenges, the highlights and the visions we have for our work, I have seen myself become a better manager, a better leader. I desire for all youth development professionals to have that experience and know what’s it’s like to give their all and be their best, especially for the sake of and on behalf of the young people that need them.
What is the moment/event/situation that inspired you to enter the field you are in now?
During the second or third year of my tenure at Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, I was asked to conduct a training for our summer in-service. I was chosen to train our staff on engaging with parents. I had been a participant in several training sessions, but had never led one. I took on the task, certain I could deliver. But in the back of my mind, I had no idea what I was embarking upon. After connecting with a few of my colleagues to inquire what I needed to do, think about and ask how I needed to approach the training, I put an outline together and created some activities.
Fast forward a few weeks and it was show time. I worked my way through my outline and successfully implemented some engaging activities for two sessions. When I was done, I felt invigorated. It was so exciting to lead the process of a think tank space and getting my colleagues engaged in conversation that would help them do their job better. I knew at the completion of that first day, serving as a training facilitator would be in my future.
What do you believe best prepared you to be successful in your career?
Long before everyone was turning their offices into “open” collaborative spaces, my colleagues and I at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago worked together to brainstorm ideas and develop them into full fledged programs or events for the young people we served. I learned early in my career that working in silos would limit my ability to work to my full potential. I learned that having fun while working was the key ingredient to forging ahead in the midst of exhaustion. And, I learned that genuine relationships served as the foundation for my future success. The people I worked with during the start of my career are often the people that hire me now as a consultant or trainer for organizations they currently lead or serve in senior level roles. Ultimately, I believe my willingness to collaborate, learn from and develop alongside has best prepared me for the path I am on now.
Who is the mentor that has made the most impact in your life and why? What was the best advice they gave you, and how has it stuck with you throughout your career?
I first met April Janney when I was in high school. She’s the mom of one of my good friends. Little did I know that about 7 or 8 years after meeting her, I would sit in a large conference room, across the table from her as a NYU graduate (MSW) boasting my ability to do great work and ensuring her she would not be disappointed if she hired me. Well, she took that chance and has continued to bet on me and encourage me throughout my career. Her example of leadership, coupled with coaching and mentoring has been a model I often emulate. April has learned the art of balancing fun with work, compassion with grit and a keen ability to listen and offer sound advice.
I had the opportunity to lead my first team at the age of 25. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was determined. After a somewhat heated battle with my direct supervisor, I found myself in April’s office soliciting advice. Shortly after filling her in, tears started streaming down my face. I am a cry baby and it really doesn’t take much for me. I was so frustrated and full of uncertainty if I was ready for the role I was in. April handed me a box of tissue and let me get out all the emotions I was feeling. She assured me it was okay to cry behind those doors, but once I got back to my office I needed to stand my ground and base my decisions on what was best for the kids we were serving. She reminded me that if I did that and could articulate my decisions with rationale, everything would be okay. And, it was. I eventually got into the swing of my job and became a better manager and leader with each day.
As April continued to have my back through multiple positions and even in new organizations, she always reminded me of the confidence she had in me. Each time she expressed that propelled me forward to do my best. I knew she was counting on me and I refused to let her down.