Show Your Worth, Build Your Confidence, Grow Your Brand, And Emerge As A Leader With Shelmina Abji

Brave Women at Work | Shelmina Abji | Show Your Worth

 

Are you ready for a power-packed episode today? Get ready to take notes or listen to this show more than once. My guest, Shelmina Abji, shared so many wonderful tools on what it takes to show your worth, build your confidence, and emerge as a leader. I wish that I had known Shelmina earlier in my career. Her story was inspiring and motivating to me, and I am sure it will be for you!

During my chat with Shelmina, we discussed:

Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies for Women to Emerge as Leaders at Work

  • Redefining short-term and long-term success.
  • The most valuable resource.
  • How to say no to things that don’t fit our top priorities?
  • The importance of personal brand.
  • The role of sponsorship in emerging as a leader.
  • Strategy to build a work-life balance.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Show Your Worth, Build Your Confidence, Grow Your Brand, And Emerge As A Leader With Shelmina Abji

How are you doing out there? Are you ready for a power-packed episode? I’m serious. This is good. Get ready to either take some notes if you’re a note taker, or you may want to read this one more than once, which I don’t say often, but I’m telling you, get ready. My guest, Shelmina Abji, shared many wonderful tools on what it takes to show your worth, build your confidence, and emerge as a leader.

I can’t even, this was a great conversation. I wish that I had known Shelmina earlier in my career. Her story was inspiring where she got, I don’t want to steal her thunder, and how she took care of herself, and her family, how she came to this country, how she advanced in the ranks in corporate, and now the work that she’s doing with people all over the world. It was inspiring and motivating to me. I am positive that it will be for you as well.

During my chat with Shelmina, we discussed what inspired her book, Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies For Women To Emerge As Leaders At Work, redefining what short and long-term success looks like to all of us. Why Attention and not time is the most valuable resource. That was interesting. How we can say not to things that we don’t know, but rather to things that don’t fit our top priorities, which is something that I struggle with. The importance of personal brand and how we’re creating that brand in every moment. The role of sponsorship and how that plays a big factor in emerging as a leader and key questions that we can ask to build a work-life balance strategy. That one is tough for me because work-life balance is something that I’ve often thought is mythical, but Shelmina says it is possible.

Here is more about Shelmina before we get started. Shelmina is an author board member, speaker, former IBM VP, Angel investor, and distinguished alumni who is devoted to creating gender equality and leadership by helping career women emerge as leaders. Shelmina started her journey with humble beginnings in Tanzania. Driven by her desire to lift herself and her family out of poverty, she left home at the age of fifteen to pursue higher education. When she started her career, she was an underrepresented woman in the male-dominated field of technology. She was also undereducated as compared to others, underprivileged in her economic status, and under-proficient in the language and culture.

She went from being the first college graduate in her family to becoming one of the highest-ranking women of color at IBM while raising her two children as a single mother. She has led global teams in various businesses in multiple sectors. She has delivered over $1 billion in revenues annually and has consistently maintained high client satisfaction as well as team morale. She was a decision-maker in hiring and promoting hundreds of professionals. At the peak of her career, she left IBM to pursue her passion for creating gender equality in leadership.

Shelmina now speaks at corporations, colleges, and conferences globally, and has appeared at TEDx. She has mentored hundreds of women and impacted the careers of thousands. She also serves on the advisory board of Girl Up a global leadership development initiative, positioning girls to be leaders in the movement for gender equality. She previously served on the board of TiE Seattle, Bellevue College, and Young Women Empowered. Shelmina has degrees in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse, and Mathematics from Wadia College in Pune, India. As part of IBM’s top talent, she received extensive leadership training at IBM in Harvard. She was an amazing guest and I feel very fortunate that we were able to have her on the show.

Before we get started, if you are enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. As I always say, if this show has made any type of impact on you, if you’ve learned something, please make sure to share it. I’d love for you to share it on social or via email with a friend, family member, or colleague. If you could take a minute, this is the most important thing you could do besides sharing it, is take a minute and go out to Apple Podcasts or Spotify to leave a rating or review. Why is that important? It helps the show gain traction and grow to all countries of the world.

If you’ve already left a rating or review, I thank you. If you haven’t yet downloaded one or all of my freebies from my website, check them out at BraveWomenAtWork.com. I have created three that I wanted to share with you. The first one is 24 Career And Leadership Affirmations. The second is 5 Steps To Managing Imposter Syndrome, and the last one is Get Paid: 10 Negotiation Tips. They’re workbook-style guides so that you can do them on your own time. I’m all about reflection. I love journaling, and hopefully, these will be great resources for you. You can download them right now. You can learn more right there. Let’s welcome, Shelmina to the show.

 

Brave Women at Work | Shelmina Abji | Show Your Worth

 

Shelima, welcome to the show. How are you?

I am doing fantastic. How are you?

I am happy that you are here and you’re going to be joining me in this conversation. Thanks for being here.

It’s my honor to be here. Thank you for having me.

Why don’t we kick off by asking you what inspired you to write your book Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies For Women To Emerge As Leaders At Work? I love that head title.

I come from humble beginnings in Tanzania and watch my mom struggle to put food on the table. She had a fourth-grade education. She used to cook for people. We used to sell food on the streets. I was convinced as a young child that if I obtained a college degree, then I would be able to lift my family and myself out of poverty. This was a lofty definition of success at the time for me because there was no education past the tenth grade. No one in my family had been to college. We didn’t have any money. Families like us would not qualify for a bank loan. That’s where I started. My journey did pose many internal and external barriers and challenges. However, I was able to overcome all of them through the help of people. That brought me to the United States. I got a degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin in Lacrosse in Chicago.

I was very fortunate that as a foreign student, I was able to find a job because I only had a one-year visa and a company in St. Paul, Minnesota called ETA Systems hired me. When I got the $27,000 a year, that was more money than my parents could make in 10 years. I thought, “This is it. We’re never going to be poor again.” As soon as I showed up to work in a company of 2,000 engineers, I realized I was the only woman of color. This was a technology startup company called ETA Systems. I started looking around. By now, I’ve been in the United States for a few years, I do understand that there are Ivy League colleges. I started looking around. There are people who have Master’s degrees, PhDs from Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, and MIT.

I started thinking to myself, “What would I know that they don’t already know? They’re all smarter than me. They speak better English than me. They come from better socioeconomic backgrounds. They understand the culture better than me.” In my own head, I started undermining my own capabilities and underestimating my worth. That instilled fear of speaking up because I figured that my ideas didn’t matter and that everything I knew everybody else knew.

The good news was I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The reason I say good news is every challenge and every adversity became an opportunity for me to learn, grow, and overcome that challenge. What I mean by the good news is that within a year, if I didn’t figure out a way to create unique value that cannot be easily replicated or replaced, then my company would not go through the expenses of extending my visa.

My dream of lifting my family and myself out of poverty would be very short-lived. That forced me to face my fear, find my voice, and contribute unique value. That’s where I started my journey in my book, in the chapter of Intentional Relationships, I quote Alex Haley, who says, “When you see a turtle on a ledge, you know it had helped getting there.” While my journey presented a lot of challenges and internal and external barriers, there were a lot of people who helped me along the way while I did all the hard work. I always wanted to help them, but I was not in a position to help them. As I was becoming successful and each level of success unfolded more success, I was able to mentor other women. Every time I was able to help someone else become successful, I felt like I was honoring the people that had helped me.

Brave Women at Work | Shelmina Abji | Show Your Worth
Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies for Women to Emerge as Leaders at Work

I rose to become one of the highest-ranking women of color at IBM. At the peak of my career in 2014, I left my corporate role to help others become successful surf as a full-time next career. I learned that a lot of these women and I have shared experiences, they too are discouraged by not seeing other women that look like them. They too are being told to be confident, but they don’t know how and, “Find your voice. Be a power in the room,” but they don’t know how.

I started sharing how I had overcome those challenges, and it’s not just about overcoming challenges. It’s also about making the most of opportunities. As I started sharing my insights with them, they started becoming successful in their careers. That inspired me to do even more. I figured if I could help hundreds of women, then I could help thousands, if not millions if I wrote a book. They inspired me to write this book.

Thank you for sharing that story. On a much smaller scale, I will share that we have written, my co-author and I, Hope Mueller, two women’s anthologies, Brave Women At Work: Lessons In Confidence, and then we wrote a prior book on resilience. I’ve had a couple of women that have reached out to me and said, “Your story has inspired me. This book has helped me.” Isn’t that what it’s all about? To me, that is what brings me joy.

Being an instrument to help someone else become successful means it’s a lot more satisfying than your own success.

Redefining The Long-Term Success

I’m going to pick a final metaphor. It’s no matter what your beliefs are. Let’s use the metaphor of Christmas, Kwanzaa or it could be any of the holiday seasons. I have a young child that’s five watching her joy in me giving her a gift is so much better than me getting a gift of my own. That’s what these books are. I hope that’s what this show is for women who are reading. You touched on success. That’s a great segue that you can share with us how can we intentionally define what short and long-term success means to us and why?

I will share a little bit of a story here. I talked to you earlier very quickly in my career, I realized that the only reason my company was going to extend my visa and keep me is if I was difficult to replace. I became very intentional about contributing value at my maximum capacity. I became very intentional about leaning into my authenticity because that allowed me to look at problems in a different way. That allowed my diversity of thought to make my company more innovative and competitive. I got wired into intentionally creating value in every interaction because I recognized that’s the only reason I had a job. Three and a half years after I started my first job, that company ran out of money and they shut down then I got hired by IBM. They had already processed my green card. I learned some very critical market-relevant skills.

I had many offers and I picked to go work for IBM. Because I was wired to contribute value at my maximum capacity, I had won an award. It was called the Rookie Systems Engineer of the Year Award. That award got me invited to a women’s round table with our senior executive Susan Whitney, who used to live in Chicago. She was our Midwestern general manager. She had come to Minneapolis for this round table. My boss’s boss had asked me to walk her back after the meeting. First of all, Susan says, “Congratulations on winning such a prestigious award.” I’m blown away that she knows my name and that she knows that I won an award. I am like, “Thank you so much.”

As casually as someone would ask you your restaurant preference, she says, “Where do you want to be in five years?” I looked at her with a glazed look in my eye and I said, “I don’t know. I get so focused on doing the best possible job in my current role that I don’t think about where I want to be in five years.” What Susan told me in those two minutes changed my career trajectory. She said, “It’s critical that you do the best possible job in your current role, and it is equally critical that you know what you want to do next. That way you’re always working towards something bigger. You have so much potential.”

Do the best possible job in your current role. Click To Tweet

That conversation shifted my thinking. It shifted how I was looking at my job. I started thinking about strategizing for a career long term instead of doing my job. While I didn’t have the answers, because there was no one who looked like me in any roles that I was doing or I would’ve potentially aspired to do, she put the seed in my head that got me thinking that I have potential. I should be thinking about what I want to do next because inadvertently I was settling for small success.

Where I came from, making $40,000 a year in being able to rent a one-bedroom apartment was feeling highly successful. I did realize that I was settling for small success. This is why I tell women that they must intentionally define their long-term success. Your short-term success should be a stepping stone to what takes you there. What I also ask women to do is to aim high, because many women like me when they don’t see leaders that look like them, that they can identify with, or come from humble beginnings or are immigrants, we have a tendency to settle for small success. I ask them to aim high. While it’s scary to aim high, what’s scarier is to settle for small successes and never know what you’re truly capable of. The first thing is to aim high.

The second thing is I ask women to align their definition of success with what’s most important to them personally and professionally because oftentimes we get carried away by looking at what others are doing, how others are becoming successful, what society’s expectation of success, and then we are achieving somebody else’s dream or we’re living their dream life. We’re not living our lives on our own terms and our careers on our own terms.

I ask women to intentionally sit down, do some introspection, what will make them jump up and down in five years with joy, look back, and say, “That was hard, but I did it.” You talk about confidence. How do you build confidence when you set your vision high, when you step outside your comfort zone, when you struggle, when you ask for help when you achieve something that you were scared of when you first started and when you look back and say, “I figured it out.” That starts building deep-seated confidence that you take with you wherever you go.

I want to highlight this. We’ve talked about the idea of the permission slip here before. What you’re giving is you’re giving every woman the permission slip in my mind to dream big, have a bigger vision for their career, their life, and all that. You mentioned at the front that there are many women that you run into and maybe they feel stuck or they don’t know how to get there. I will raise my hand. This has happened to me where I’m focused on doing a good job at the moment and I want the work to speak for itself. I’ve become myopic on the longer-term vision. I was talking to someone about one of my younger daughters about a separate issue and talking about, “How can I advocate for her?” You’re talking about being an advocate for yourself and not focusing on the work. Focusing on the work is important, but it’s not the only thing.

First of all, I’m not giving anyone permission to dream bigger. I want them to give themselves permission. It shouldn’t come from any external forces. It has to come from within because if it’s coming from an external force when the going gets tough, you are going to give up. When it’s coming from your own personal space here, what’s important to you, you have to give yourself permission to dream bigger. That’s what the first chapter is all about. For you to sit down and intentionally define what success means to you.

You don’t need anybody’s permission. You need your own permission to dream bigger. I tell women, “Don’t wait for someone else to tell you or something else to shift outside of yourself. It’s akin to the table getting set for dinner and then sitting down. No, you set the table, you sit down, you have dinner. We have that power. We don’t depend on external things to make us successful.” That’s one.

2) Advocacy. It’s a good thing that you’re advocating for your daughter because she’s young, but what’s even better is you teach her how to advocate for herself. External advocacy is important. External advocacy is important, but frankly, when it’s internal, when you show up, it’s advocacy in action. It’s not about talking about what you’re doing. It’s demonstrating the value you’re creating. It’s speaking up in every interaction. When you speak up, you are contributing value towards the success of your organization. That’s how you get the visibility. That’s how you self-advocate. When you show up in your full glory to contribute towards the success of your organization, that’s self-advocacy.

When you speak up, you are contributing value towards the success of your organization. You self-advocate when you show up in your full glory to contribute towards the success of your organization. Click To Tweet

Thank you for sharing that. I love the idea of the permission slip for ourselves. I’ve shared with my audience I’m a recovering people pleaser, that’s probably a little bit of that lingering, asking for permission instead of taking it on my own. I appreciate that clarification very much.

Can I double down on that? Most women, including me, are people pleasers. We’re wired to be that way. We want to be liked by everyone. Here’s the thing, I was fortunate that I had my first-line sales leader who when I was working 60 hours a day and not making any meaningful progress I was saying yes to everything and everyone because I wanted them to like me, he taught me an important lesson. He said, “Aspire to be respected, not to be liked. How do you aspire to be respected? Doing the right thing for your organization, for your boss, yourself, and yourself will contribute maximum value toward the success of your organization. That’s how you win and earn respect. Even if people don’t like you, they’ll respect you. They’ll recognize that you are all about doing what it takes to make your organization successful.

I completely agree with that. Thank you for doubling down on that. I thought this was interesting that I was reading and researching before we got online here. I’ve always said, “Time is the most valuable resource or commodity.” You’re like, “No, I think attention is our most valuable resource instead of time.” Can you explain that a little bit more?

With this virtual work environment and all that, this becomes even more important. When I first started, I used to use time as our most valuable resource, perishable, then I realized that people had their devices attached to them. They were getting distracted by text messages and breaking news. While they were giving their time in a meeting or to an individual, they were not giving their attention to that meeting or that individual, then you are not there.

I tell people, “It’s not about giving time, it’s about giving attention. Don’t be distracted by anything else. Focus all your attention on what is most important to you, because when you start looking at texts, you are indicating that those messages are more important than the individual you’re having the conversation with or the meeting that you’re sitting in.” We are very intentional about allocating your attention to your highest priorities and being 100% present wherever you are.

Easier said than done. Is that a practice that you’ve cultivated over time?

Yes. In fact, for all the strategies that I’m teaching you, I am asking you to seek progress because doing this work is difficult work. It’s not you turn on a light bulb switch and it, and you’re like, “Now I’m very good. I’m allocating all my attention.” No, this requires, first of all, making a decision and a commitment that I’m going to allocate my attention to what is most important to me. In my book, I have exercise in every chapter to introspect and to look at your behavior and say, “Was I allocating my attention to my highest priorities?”

If you were not, quickly, course correct, but don’t dwell on that and belittle yourself because that’s the other thing women are wired to do. We’re such harsh critics of ourselves. We belittle ourselves. You can never belittle anyone to greatness when you make mistakes, look back, correct those mistakes, and then quickly start celebrating what you did right. Quickly start celebrating the time when you did allocate your attention to your highest priorities, and celebrate yourself for attempting to make this change because when you start celebrating small successes, you start building a success mindset. That energizes you to pursue your success the following week, and you feel successful from the inside out.

Look back and correct those mistakes when you make them, then start celebrating what you did right. Click To Tweet

I wrote this down and I want to highlight this. You said something that is quotable, “You cannot belittle yourself to greatness.”

We do this all the time.

That’s a mic drop right there. I got a little bit of a goosebump feeling from that one. Talking about saying no. I’m asking you questions that I need to learn. One of the ones I struggle with that I’ve shared on the podcast is I struggle saying no and having those boundaries, but let’s focus on no. How can all the women reading, me included, say no to the things that are not our top priorities?

How To Say No

I’m going to start out by quoting Warren Buffett. He says that the difference between successful people and highly successful people is that highly successful people will say no to almost everything. Starting with that, I am teaching you in the chapter on intentional attention because women are wired to say yes. They want to be liked. They want to be considered a team player, but in the process, we end up taking too much on our plate, which dilutes our attention. In order for you to emerge as a leader, the number one thing you need to do is understand how to prioritize, how to create your definition of success, and then how to truly figure out what your top strategic priorities are, then you structure your days around those strategic priorities. That automatically means you have to say no to lesser priorities.

We don’t want to say no in a confrontational way and an apologetic way. We want to say no in a kind and firm way. We’re kind to the person we’re saying no to. We’re firm on our decision. However, when you say no, you must help them understand. You must educate them that you are focusing your attention on the highest priorities and that we contribute maximum value towards the success of your organization.

That’s how you’ll start earning respect. They’ll understand why you are saying no to lesser priorities because they’ll know that you want to accelerate the success of your organization. What that does is it creates a brand for yourself that you don’t take on any project that does not contribute maximum value towards the success of your organization. People will stop coming to you with those requests. How do you say no matters?

These are the same people who are sitting around the table when your promotion is being discussed. These are the same people that you’ll be saying yes to next week or the week after. When you do it the right way, you not only earn respect, but you also deepen your relationship with them because they get to know you better and you get to know them better. Have a dialogue. Have an understanding. If in that dialogue, they share information with you that you didn’t already know, then change your decision because, with new information, there needs to be a new decision. They’ll feel heard. They’ll see that this is not about your ego or being apologetic. This is truly about working towards the success of your organization.

There needs to be a new decision with new information. Click To Tweet

Even broader, the success of your life. Look at it even bigger.

What’s an organization? It’s a bunch of people. When a bunch of people are successful, guess who becomes successful? This is all related. There is nothing selfish in this.

If you come about it from that vantage point, you can drop all that stuff that women carry like, “I’m being a people pleaser. I’m not doing this.” We are doing what’s right by the organization by learning to say no. You’re reframing this.

I tell women, “If you are afraid to say no, start this way. When you are saying no to something, you’re essentially saying to something more important because ounce energy and any attention that is focused towards something that is less important, you are taking it away from what’s most important.”

That one hits hard too. Thinking about the things that I’ve said yes to, I don’t want to should on myself, but what am I taking away from, let’s say it’s my kids, let’s say it’s this or that or whatever that might be more important, but I’m trying, like many women, to balance it all. You’re reminding me that it’s a recipe for non-success. It’s a recipe for disaster.

You are not modeling good behavior for your kids either.

Let’s step away from the priorities. You talked a lot about this like stepping out of our comfort zone. How can we do that? It’s all one thing to say, “Go step outside your comfort zone.” I want to talk about it, and I want you to give us some wisdom on how we accelerate our growth. How do we start doing that? How do we start stepping outside of our comfort zone to do that?

Thank you for asking that question. We already talked about how you are hired for one reason, and that reason is the value you create for the success of your organization. I want you to understand that the value you create is directly proportionate to your competencies. The more competent you are, the greater the value, the higher the value you create for your organization. If your competence, and by the way, your competence is intertwined with your competence, and we’ll talk about that later.

If your competence remains at the same level and you are incrementally growing competencies, then the value that you’ll create for your organization five years down the road is going to be incrementally more than what it is now, but if you intentionally and strategically seek growth, and there’s an entire chapter called Intentional Growth, there’s an entire chapter called Intentional Value Creation. When you step outside your comfort zone to seek growth of competencies that are relevant, and meaningful, that will move you towards your five-year vision of success, then you will struggle because it will push you outside your comfort zone.

You should expect to struggle. However, that struggle is how you succeed. When you struggle, you’ll push the edge of your competencies and it’ll force you to learn new competencies. When you struggle, you should ask for help. In fact, ask senior executives for help. They should know that you took a chance on yourself and you’re demonstrating growth potential by taking on an assignment that you don’t feel fully qualified for and by taking on an assignment that requires you to learn and to ask for help, they will then also take a chance on you because the world takes you at your own estimate. If you take a chance on yourself, they will take a chance on you. They will also help you because nobody becomes successful without someone else helping them. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.

You don’t want to ask for help for little things because then you’re showing them that, “I don’t know these little things.” You want to ask for help when you are completely outside your comfort zone and when you are tackling such a big hairy problem for your organization that will create high levels of value toward the success of your organization. You’ll have people coming to help you. These same people will become your mentors and your sponsors.

The best thing about this is when you finish that project, you look back and say, “I was scared. Guess what? I figured it out.” That starts building this deep-seated confidence because the experiences themselves don’t matter over time. What matters is who you become over time the more competent you become, the higher value you create for your organization. The other benefit, and you’ve heard this is, “Women get paid based on their performance. Men get paid based on their potential.”

What you do is you take it in your hands to demonstrate your potential. You too will get paid based on your potential because they have watched how you are growing and how you are unfolding your potential. When we apply for leadership roles, no one has done those roles before, but the person who gets those roles are the people who have demonstrated their capabilities by stepping outside their comfort zone and learning the competencies that are required to excel at that role.

I have to share a mini story here that I hope encourages other women. It all comes down to what you’re saying. It all comes down to confidence and self-concept in your willingness to step out of your comfort zone. I’ll give you a very simple example. In one of my prior roles, there was something that they did at the organization called Talent Management Review with the HR team and the managers or the executives at that organization, and this is when I was letting my work speak for myself, and I wasn’t behind a podcast and I was probably a little quieter. Then they would say, “Jen is not a real leader. Jen’s not management material.” I took that and it was hard for me to hear, but I had an inflection point there I had a decision that I had to make.

I going to let them decide my fate, decide my trajectory, or was I going to step outside of my comfort zone and show them what my potential was? I wrote this in one of the chapters of one of the Brave Women At Work anthologies where I ran into those same people and I do respect them all. Many years later, they probably don’t even remember this, they said, “We always knew you had it in you.” No, they didn’t. I had to make the decision that I had within myself and then show them the potential that I could be bigger than what they were thinking. I wanted to share that story because it does come down to you making that decision.

This is why I have an entire chapter in my book called Personal Leadership Branding because what people say about you when you are not in the room, “Jen is not leadership material,” determines your career trajectory. First of all, that feedback is a gift. I tell you, if people didn’t care enough about me to give me feedback on the areas I could improve upon, I would’ve never become the leader I became. When someone gives you that feedback, it hurts, but giving negative feedback is difficult. It took a lot of courage and bravery for them to tell you that. When you got that message, you now decided to act upon it and create a leadership brand, it’s not about stepping outside your comfort zone. It is about every impression you’re leaving behind stepping outside your comfort zone is part of it, but it’s not the only thing.

You create your brand with every impression you leave behind. How are you showing up in every interaction? Whether it is a one-on-one conversation, a group conversation, or a meeting with a senior executive, it doesn’t matter. Every impression you leave behind is forming your personal brand. If every woman reading this steps back and says, “What are the personal attributes of leaders that I admire the most?” You write those down. You say, “I want to be talked about in the room where I’m not present with these attributes.”

Your personal branding is not just about your business acumen. It’s also about your personal characteristics. You decide what you want to be known for and what you want people to say about you, and then you show up to work every single day. You leave behind impressions that are aligned with the brand. This is not about pretending to be that person you’re not. This is about becoming that person. When you become that person, you thrive in any role you take. When you intentionally define for yourself a personal leadership brand, a brand that you’re aspiring to have, what do you want people to say about you in the room when you’re not present? You start leaving behind impressions that are aligned with that brand, and that’s how you’ll become known.

We’re having truth bomb after truth bomb here. You had mentioned getting into leadership and those places where you have a seat at the table. Everybody needs help. You said beautifully that asking for help is not a weakness. It is a sign of strength. We’ve got to have relationships that help us get to that leadership position. What would you say are 3 to 4 types of relationships that can help us emerge and become that leader that we know we can be?

International Relationships

I have an entire chapter called Intentional Relationships. In the chapter, I quote Alex Haley, who says, “When you see a turtle on a ledge, you know it had helped getting there.” That’s my story. I had many people help me get to where I got. In particular, the four categories of relationships that help you at work are your peers, your boss, your mentors, and your sponsors. I teach readers how to build these professional relationships because so many times women will show up to work, put their noses to the grind, and work hard, and they don’t take the time to build relationships.

Let me tell you something you might succeed to a certain level, but when you are getting ready to move from middle management into executive-level roles, I have yet to meet a woman who becomes an executive without a sponsor. A sponsor is the person who is sitting around the table. A sponsor is a person who will put their credibility on the line and say, “I trust Jen to do this work,” because when these executive-level positions are being discussed, no one’s done that role.

They wouldn’t be on that slate if they didn’t have a successful track record or a personal leadership brand. You won’t even be considered because the stakes are too high. That’s the ante to enter. What becomes a difference maker in those levels at executive levels and senior executive levels, are people who have watched your growth potential. They’re not going to advocate for you because they like you, because if they advocate for you and you don’t thrive, it goes against their credibility.

You have to take ownership of showing your growth potential, of showing up to work to show your worth in your full glory all the time, especially when the times are tough. When the business has a downturn or when the economy is going through a difficult phase or when the pandemic hits, or when there is a challenging environment, you need to raise your hand to truly go the extra mile to contribute towards the success of your boss and your organization.

This is how people watch you, that you are showing up, showing up to pour energy into a situation that is difficult. You are showing up to motivate your team, to energize your team because you care deeply about the success of your organization. When people watch you do that, when people watch you show up in your full glory, when times are tough, they will know you have leadership potential. You have to demonstrate all that. someone will put their credibility on the line and say, “I trust Jen to be an executive at our company.”

This next question, a bunch of people and I’m thinking of me before I made these choices before a lot of things, but they’re probably going, “You guys are asking for a tall order. How can I create a work-life balance or is that even possible?” I know that you talk about having questions that to audit our life, our work, we’ve talked about saying no that we can have this balanced strategy that we can create space to do some of these tall things, these tall orders that we’re asking women if they want to get to that next levels. Let me simplify it. What are some of those questions that women can ask themselves so that they can get to that work-life balance?

Before I answer that, I’d like to set context and credibility. It took me ten years to ask for my first promotion. Within a year of becoming a sales leader, I suddenly and unexpectedly became a single mom. My kids were 2 and 4. I was devastated. I was dealing with emotions I had never dealt with before. I couldn’t sleep. I was worried, I was concerned, preoccupied and overwhelmed. I was showing up to work, not being at work. I was at home not being at home, and I was failing as a leader and as a mom. It got bad that I decided I was going to give up my leadership role because I couldn’t give up my children. I wanted to be there for them, and I didn’t want to fail my team. I will go back to being an individual contributor so if I fail at work, then just it’s me and not my team.

I had 10 people in a quota of $120 million. I am devastated. I decide that I’m going to give up my leadership role. When that thought made every ounce of my body reach because I had worked so hard to get that sales leadership role, my body was rebelling against that decision. That gave me a glimpse of my former self who was this fast-forward-moving, eternally optimistic, always showing up in her full glory. I had forgotten who that person was. I was devastated. I saw a glimpse of that woman, and then I realized that “I can do this.” That shift in my own head that went from, “I can’t be a leader and a mom to, I will figure this out,” was the first private victory I needed.

When we start convincing ourselves that, “This is a whole order and I can’t do it,” we’re going to prove ourselves right. The first thing you need to do is you have to have trust in your own self to say, “I’ll figure this out. Yes, it’s going to be challenging, but I am not my challenge. I rise above my challenges. I take challenges as platforms to learn and to grow. Whatever challenge comes my way, I’ll figure it out. I’ll ask for help if needed.”

With that mindset first, that belief that you can make it happen is important. 2) Taking care of your own mental, physical, and spiritual well-being because I recognized when I was feeling out of sorts, I was bringing a sub-optimized Shelmina to all my interactions. I was neither succeeding at work nor was I succeeding at home because of what had happened prior to me becoming single, I was very good at intentionally allocating my attention to my strategic priorities at work. That’s why I was thriving as a sales leader.

At home, I never had to worry about that because my ex-husband was my 50% partner in raising our children as well as our home. I never had to intentionally think about, “What are my top strategic priorities at work? What are my top strategic priorities at home? At work I did, but not at home.” These are the questions. The same principles that I applied at work where I structured my days around my highest priorities and said no to my lesser priorities. I had to do the same thing for my away from work, my life. I had to figure out what was important, and what really mattered, and then structure my time away from work based on those things that mattered the most and say no to everything else. That way you are always focused on what matters the most and you’re saying no to everything else.

Say no to everything else to focus on what matters the most. Click To Tweet

That’s how you balance your work and life what you also do is every week you reflect on your past week. We talked about this. We learn, course correct, celebrate our small wins, and energize ourselves to pursue our professional and personal success the following week. Success or work-life balance doesn’t happen in one fine day. It happens in your everyday choices, in how you show up, what you pay attention to, what matters to you, how you course correct, how you build yourself up, how you energize yourself, and what brings you joy. You do this day in and day out because no matter how great our careers are, we women are never about our careers.

We’re mothers, wives, sisters, volunteers, and caregivers. All these roles give meaning to our life. They energize each other. However, we have to be very strategic and intentional about where are we going to focus our attention. I tell women, “No company ever succeeded without a strategy. No woman will realize her maximum leadership potential personally and professionally without a strategy. You define what success means to you. You create a strategy, you know what your priorities are. You know what matters the most to you. You focus your attention only on what matters the most.” The entire chapter in the book is called Intentional Work-Life Balance. I’m teaching women’s health.

This has been powerful. I’ve taken pages of notes, even myself, which I don’t do all the time, but this has been great for me to know as well. What do you believe are one to two ways that women can be braver at work? I don’t know if it’s the same or different than you’ve already shared but feel free.

I saved the best for last. As you get on this journey to truly unfold your maximum potential personally and professionally, remember there will be situations and people, and there will be internal and external barriers. You are never defined by those barriers. You are defined by your responses. Expect barriers, and a lot of them are internal like women are saying, “This is a tall order. I can’t do this.” No, you have to ship that. I have coined a term called Your Power Quotient. As you have your intelligence quotient and emotional quotient, you also have your power quotient.

Brave Women at Work | Shelmina Abji | Show Your Worth
Show Your Worth: The internal and external barriers do not define you. Your responses to those barriers define you.

 

Your power quotient is your ability to pick an empowering response to a disempowering stimulus. Whether that stimulus is internal or external. People are not always going to be the way you want them to be. Situations are not always going to be the way you want them to be, but you can intentionally be and show up the way you want to show up. When that negative voice shows up in your head, quieten it down, amplify the voice that enables you to show your worth, and respond accordingly because situations don’t define you. People don’t define you. Your responses define you. When you exercise your power quotient, the more you exercise, the better you get at it. When you exercise your power quotient, you are always in your full glory, full power and always showing your worth in every interaction.

That’s a first. I haven’t heard that. I love the fact that you shared to expect barriers because we don’t want to admit that we all want everything to be easy breezy, but what we’d like, but that’s not how life is. That’s not how work is, and not that’s being negative. It’s being realistic that if we expect barriers and understand our responsibility to overcome them with resilience, this whole conversation has been riddled with resilience. You’d have to take responsibility to get over those hurdles.

It’s not just the resilience of bouncing back. This is bouncing back empowered.

You should probably trademark that, “Bouncing back empowered.” There’s something in that. It’s been such a pleasure and a joy to have you on. How can women find you and your book, Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies For Women To Emerge As Leaders At Work and your work online?

You can find me on my social channel. LinkedIn is where I do most of my posts. I also have a website, but that’s static. On LinkedIn, I keep putting out fresh content. However, because of International Women’s Day and the theme of inspiring inclusion, and all the work that I’m doing around gender equality and leadership roles, I am now using the power of artificial intelligence. I will be launching an app called ShowYourWorth.ai. I’ll put all that information on my LinkedIn where my insights will be in your back pocket. Whenever you have a question, you’re struggling, or there’s a challenge or an opportunity you want to make the most of, you’ll be able to ask me a question, and I will be able to respond immediately based on all the insights of my book, as well as continued fresh content in my app.

Is that launching during, as we’re recording this right around International Women’s Day, or is it coming later at a point in 2024?

The plan is to do a soft launch on International Women’s Day, then we’ll continue to improve. This is a very new technology. We are learning new things every day as we go. We want to make sure that women realize that this is a soft launch and if they purchase my book for International Women’s Day, especially if they gifted it to their mentee to inspire inclusion, I’m going to give them a couple of months of subscription for free. There is going to be a free part for women all over the world, but it’s going to be limited. If you want more information, it is subscription-based. I’m going to give you two months for free you can give it to your mentee in addition to the book, and you’ll put them on track to make sure that they remain committed to emerging as leaders and create an upward spiral to the highest level roles in whatever field they choose.

I am excited about this app. I will definitely be checking out your book and connecting with you. I hope we stay connected. Thank you for being on the show.

Thank you for doing what you do to empower others.

That does it on my discussion with Shelmina. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is available on any other podcast platform you enjoy. Until next time, show up on own your worth, and be brave.

 

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About Shelmina Abji

Brave Women at Work | Shelmina Abji | Show Your WorthShelmina Babai Abji is an author, board member, speaker, former IBM VP, angel investor, and distinguished alumni who is devoted to creating gender equality in leadership by helping career women emerge as leaders. Shelmina started her journey with humble beginnings in Tanzania. Driven by her desire to lift herself and her family out of poverty, she left home at the age of 15 to pursue higher education. When she started her career, she was an underrepresented woman in the male-dominated field of technology. She was also under-educated as compared to others, underprivileged in her economic status, and under-proficient in the language and culture.

Shelmina went from being the first college graduate in her family to becoming one of the highest-ranking women of color at IBM while raising her two children as a single mother. She has led global teams and various businesses in multiple sectors. She has delivered over $1 billion in revenues annually and has consistently maintained high client satisfaction as well as team morale. She was a decision maker in hiring and promoting hundreds of professionals. At the peak of her career, she left IBM to pursue her passion for creating gender equality in leadership.

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