Bring Your Best Self to the Table in 2017

Earlier this month I attended the Global WA conference in Seattle, WA. Global WA is a membership organization that supports the global development community in Washington state that is working to create a healthier and more equitable world.

One of the featured speakers, Shelmina Abji, initiated her speech by asking the audience, “How many of you have been to conferences where you get really energized and inspired, and you make a bunch of great contacts, but then a few months later, you find that you are still doing the same thing in your work, and that nothing has changed?” Just about everyone raised their hands, myself included. Shelmina then encouraged each of us to write down one thing we would take away from this conference, and hold ourselves accountable to it. My one thing was a central theme throughout Shelmina’s speech that followed. That theme is to always bring your best self to the table.

Those of us with so-called “do-gooder” careers - those of us who define our organizations’ goals primarily in terms of impact – we have the opportunity to improve our work and make a monumental difference in the world if we become more effective leaders. Shelmina discussed this at length, and provided us with 3 key ways that she learned to be a more effective leader throughout her life and career. Shelmina was born in Tanzania, was the first of her family to graduate from college, spent 25 years at IBM in various roles, finishing as Vice President of the Global Microsoft Alliance, and currently serves on the Advisory Board of United Nations Foundation - Girl Up. Her success was not without challenges. She became a single parent when her children were 2 and 4.

The 3 key ways Shelmina advised us were:

1.     Define what success means to you.
Is it to be the most positive person you know? Is it to add value to every interaction you have? When Shelmina was young, success meant to go to college. She was unable to communicate with her family while at college, which was challenging, but because that was her definition of success, that was what she had to do. Expect your definition of success to change over time as you change.

2.     Learn to set priorities.

The amount of work accomplished doesn’t change how successful you are. Regularly look at all of the work that needs to be done and ask yourself, “what is important now.” Make sure that you set aside time every day or every week to drive forward your definition of success.

3.     Be mindful, present, and in the moment.

To work most efficiently and constructively, focus on the issues at hand, not on the stresses of prior periods or future scenarios. Developing the art of mindfulness means you expend your energy efficiently. It gives you the ability to approach each task with refined skill and concentration, allowing you to walk away from the finished product with more energy to give to the rest of your life. 

When you do these 3 things, you bring your best self to the table and become a more effective leader. In the do-gooder impact world, when you become a better leader, the results can be extraordinarily meaningful, sometimes the difference between life and death, or whether or not there is food on the table. Many thanks to Global WA and Shelmina for this reminder. Here’s to bringing our best selves forward in 2017 and beyond.


Gwen Straley is the President and Executive Director of 3rd Creek Foundation.