Ellen Johnson, president and CEO of The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, understands that the women who work for her have dreams and expectations beyond their jobs.

Whether it’s an employee’s desire to go back to school, volunteer time in the community, or find a college-aged child an internship with a local company, Johnson helps bring those goals to fruition.

At The Children’s Home, like at most other social services agencies, Johnson isn’t able to offer her staff of 230 people stock options, bonuses or high salaries, so she has to be creative in how she keeps them engaged. Promoting a “family first” mentality and holding health fairs and art programs are a few of the ways she rewards them and tries to set her organization apart from others.

Johnson began working at The Children’s Home, where she started as an entry-level youth worker, in 1990. Since then, she has held 10 different roles with the organization. In July 2005, she was promoted to president and CEO, becoming the first woman to hold that position since the agency opened in 1864.

Before accepting her current position, Johnson asked if she could take a sabbatical from The Children’s Home to spend four months working at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation for its president and CEO, Kathy Merchant, the woman Johnson cites as her top mentor.

In turn, Johnson makes time to coach other women in the community, including one young woman seeking a business degree with the intention of working in the non-profit sector. Johnson says, “I took her under my wing and had her shadow me to get a bird’s-eye view” of what it means to be a leader in social services.

Johnson helps college students as a member of Xavier University’s Executive Mentor Program, but she also is often asked to guide existing CEOs and executives in her field.

Johnson is affiliated with numerous professional associations, councils and committees, but she values the policy work most. Serving on regional boards for organizations such as the Ohio Association of Childcare Agencies, as well as on national boards including the Child Welfare League of America, has allowed her to “really make a difference,” she says.

With the goal of becoming a child psychologist, Johnson obtained her Master of Arts in psychology at the University of Cincinnati. At the same time, while working on a special project at The Children’s Home, Johnson discovered her forte was actually business, which prompted her to obtain her Master of Business Administration at Xavier University. Johnson graduated at the top of both classes.

Johnson’s personal challenge is to temper her ambition. She says, “I ‘initiative’ the heck out of things ... sometimes I get running too fast, and people can’t keep up.”