Belonging: My Biggest Takeaway from Career Pathways

Editorial Note: David Daniels is one of 24 members of the 2017 cohort of Career Pathways. He and other Pathways participants have been sharing their experiences on the Council on Foundations blog. Applications for the Career Pathways program are currently being accepted until October 20.

For five years, I have been fortunate to work for a foundation that has implemented continuous learning and commitment into its core values. In holding to these core values, our CEO is committed to intentionally seeking out opportunities for her team to learn and develop. In October 2016, she and our Senior Director of Talent and Organizational Development informed me of the Career Pathways program. With their encouragement, I applied, seeking a deeper understanding of philanthropy; how to increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts; and how to better understand what is necessary to take the next step into executive leadership. Now, with that understanding and beyond, I’ve gained something unexpected and invaluable, both professionally and personally — a clear sense of purpose and belonging as an executive in the philanthropic sector. I owe it, in large part, to three key components of this program.

1. An executive coach invested in my potential

My executive coach, Lawrence, has more than 30 years’ experience, and I would wager that despite all that time, his passion for his work has never wavered. He’s found his calling, and he helped me find and define mine. Understanding my personality type, Lawrence challenged how I show up to work every day — the conversations I lead and raise, how I support my team’s development, how I represent the Bainum family and all that they stand for. Beyond that, Lawrence made an intentional effort to know me personally, always inquiring about my wife and kids and constantly inspiring me to be a better husband and father, as well as a stronger leader in the workplace. He sees and validates my potential — and holds me to a high standard.

2. A network built on genuine friendships

I spent 15 enjoyable and successful years working as an administrator in faith-based private education, where I had built a solid, open, and constructive network among other administrators and educators. I always valued that camaraderie and have felt a gap since joining the philanthropic sector. However, through this program, I developed real bonds and relationships with my peers; ones that I know will last throughout my career and hopefully, a lifetime. Having this network (and these friends) reinforces a level of hope and trust that magnificent work will continue to be done in philanthropy, and the movement to represent the unrepresented will continue. As a person of color, it’s important for me to have a peer group that understands those unique struggles and dynamics. When we’re connected, especially on a personal level, we can continually remind each other that we belong in this space and that we have an important expectation on our shoulders — to implement permanent and effective change for our communities.

3. A newfound strength in vulnerability

During our third learning session in Washington, D.C., Christine Márquez-Hudson, CEO of the Denver Foundation, gave a poignant presentation that truly impacted me. She was honest about the fears and insecurities she faced when she first stepped into her role — admitting struggles we so often sweep under the rug. Her perspective shifted after a conversation she had with her husband, where he reminded her that the Denver Foundation selected her for this position, and to be qualified for it, she needed to focus only on one thing — being herself, the person they hired. The rawness with which Christine displayed her vulnerability exemplified a kind of strength that is real, relatable, and transformative. So much of her experience resonated with me personally. We’re not expected to know everything, but as leaders, we’re responsible for having a thorough understanding of our mission and the communities we serve. From there, we empower our teams and those around us to advance the work and drive change. Then, we find belonging and assist our teams to discover theirs, as well. Ultimately, and most importantly, our communities reap the benefit.

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