- The book is a guide for professional women, especially women of color, who want to advance their careers and become leaders in their fields by applying 8 Intentional Strategies.
- The author, Shelmina Babai Abji, is a former IBM executive and a global empowerment speaker who shares her personal and professional experiences, as well as the stories of other successful women who have applied the strategies in the book.
- The book is very inspiring, helpful, relevant, and timely for women who want to show their worth and emerge as leaders at work. The book is full of actionable advice and useful resources that can help women create their own success plan and execute it with confidence.
Show Your Worth (2022) argues that defining success is a personal journey, one where you shape your own path. It’s a guide to crafting a unique success story, understanding the value of your authenticity, and becoming a leader in your own life.
Table of Contents
Women face disadvantages in the workplace, but as more women attain leadership positions, they make the road a little easier for those who come after them. Shelmina Babai Abji – a woman of color, an immigrant and a single mother – rose from poverty in Tanzania to become vice president at IBM. Her message to women: You can succeed as a leader, achieve your personal and professional goals, and help dismantle stereotypes and biases. Abji provides specific steps for attaining a leadership role with an insider’s savvy – along with loads of empathic encouragement, especially for women and minorities.
- Don’t underestimate your ability to become a leader within your workplace.
- Define what success means to you.
- Mindfully allocate your attention to gain maximum returns.
- Find work-life balance.
- Create maximal value in everything you do.
- Grow daily and continuously by going outside your comfort zone.
- Build deep, meaningful relationships to support your success and fulfillment.
- Create your leadership brand.
- When you become a leader, elevate other women.
Introduction: A roadmap for women aiming high in their careers.
Women in the workplace hear a lot about the glass ceiling. But for most professional women, problems start long before they reach the ceiling – it would be more appropriate to say that the ladder to the glass ceiling has a lot of missing and broken rungs. At the highest level, only ten percent of corporate roles are filled by women, and only a small percentage of those roles are filled by women of color.
The statistics are depressing – but they’re not a reason to despair. Smart, driven, dedicated women can reach their full professional potential, by deploying targeted strategies to define success on their own terms, negotiate the competing demands of work and life, and brand themselves as leaders. Do you want to join their ranks, and do your bit to mend the ladder and shatter the glass ceiling? Then this summary is for you.
Define success on your terms
To achieve success, you can’t simply follow a roadmap – you have to program the GPS yourself. Think about it. Allowing other people to define your success is like setting off on a road trip where someone else has picked your destination. Take a moment, and intentionally define what success might look and feel like for you.
Here’s how you can uncover your personal conception of success: Begin by cultivating self-awareness. Delve into your personality and past experiences and ask questions like, “What does success look like to me?” and “What truly energizes or depletes me?” These inquiries are vital because they unearth your unique aspirations and desires.
Next, merge your professional and personal goals into a long-term vision of success. This holistic approach acknowledges that life is more than just a paycheck and a title. For instance, you might aspire to reach the pinnacle of your career while also nurturing a loving, happy home for your children. It’s about prioritizing personal needs alongside professional ones, recognizing that these priorities may shift at different life stages.
Defining your long-term success also involves picturing where you want to be in five years. This serves as a roadmap, providing direction and motivation. Simultaneously, it’s essential to outline short-term definitions of success. These tangible, actionable steps bridge the gap between your current reality and your long-term vision. What milestones will mark your progress along the way?
Set aside a dedicated weekly time for reflection and celebration. This practice helps solidify a success-oriented mindset. It’s about acknowledging the hurdles you’ve overcome, the lessons you’ve learned, and the milestones you’ve achieved. In celebrating your achievements, you’re reinforcing your self-belief and nurturing your motivation to keep moving forward.
For inspiration, look to the story of Verna Meyers. Meyers is the Vice President of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix. Prior to that, the star Harvard grad worked at a prestigious law firm. Despite her high-status legal career and impressive salary, she felt unfulfilled. Her journey took a turn when she chose to follow her passion for Diversity and Inclusion. She ventured into her consultancy in this field, a bold move that ultimately led to an enticing offer from Netflix, which even allowed her to retain her own consultancy alongside her leadership position at Netflix. Verna’s story illustrates that success isn’t just about prestige and a hefty paycheck – it’s about aligning with your true calling, even if it means taking a leap into the unknown.
Allocate your most precious resource with intention
Your attention is a valuable yet limited resource, so you need to make sure you’re allocating it effectively and investing it for maximum returns. The key word here? Priorities. Just ask Johanna Maska, the White House Director of Press Advance for President Barack Obama.
Maska came onto Obama’s team when he was still a senator from Illinois. In the space of a few short months, she found herself working on a Presidential campaign, then organizing a Presidential inauguration, until, finally, she was one of the most senior aides to the President of the United States of America. Working as part of his Scheduling and Advance department, Maska was in charge of allocating the President’s most valuable resource – his attention. Obama’s schedule was not only incredibly full – each day, new conflicts and concerns arose that also needed to be addressed. How did Maska decide which people, and problems, made the cut? She swears by trusting your judgment, even under pressure, and cultivating a deep understanding of the context you’re working within. But above all else? Navigating by your north star priorities. In Maska’s case, any time she had to make a quick call, she’d come back to her number one priority and ask: What would the American people want the President to pay attention to?
So, how can you learn to allocate your attention just as efficiently and productively? Here are five simple strategies.
First off, structure your day with purpose. Are your days a constant battle with an ever-expanding to-do list? Do you often feel overwhelmed by competing priorities? It’s a common predicament, but one that can be resolved with a shift in mindset. Take a close look at how you tackle these priorities and how much time you spend on tasks that are unproductive and irrelevant. Your calendar provides a snapshot of where your attention is allocated, so reviewing it can be eye-opening.
Next up, create a personal success plan. This plan breaks down your yearly, quarterly, and monthly objectives into manageable pieces. Determine your priorities for each objective. This strategic approach ensures that you’re not just chasing vague goals but are actively working toward specific outcomes.
The third thing you’ll want to start doing is ruthlessly prioritizing. This means learning to say “no” to tasks that don’t contribute to your goals. As a woman, you might find that you’re often burdened with irrelevant tasks or expectations that aren’t aligned with your objectives. In case you need it, here’s your permission to assertively decline such requests and focus on what truly matters to you.
Next on our list is the importance of addressing the essentials. While it’s crucial to prioritize your goals, not every task can be directly linked to your objectives. Mundane tasks like emails and administrative work still need attention. Allocate specific time blocks for these essential but less glamorous responsibilities. By doing so, you maintain a balance between strategic progress and day-to-day necessities.
Finally, remember to reflect and celebrate. This practice involves evaluating your daily tasks. Were they all truly worthy of your attention? Focus on progress rather than perfection, understanding that each step forward brings you closer to your long-term success.
Believe in balance
Oprah Winfrey once said that you can have it all, just not all at once. If even Oprah finds it challenging to balance the demands of professional and personal life, where does that leave the rest of us working women?
It turns out that effectively negotiating the professional and the personal is the key challenge many women face in the workplace. Let’s leave aside the admittedly infuriating question of why women, on the whole, are far more pressured to balance caregiving and domestic responsibilities alongside their careers than man, and talk solutions.
There is a secret to achieving optimum work-life balance. It starts with believing that balance is possible. The crux of achieving a harmonious work-life balance is rooted in your mindset. What you believe, you can achieve. Many women desire work-life balance but lack the belief that it’s attainable. The first step, therefore, is to cultivate a balanced-oriented mindset, firmly believing that equilibrium is within reach.
Onto practical steps. Identify your personal priorities and accord them the same significance as your professional ones. These personal priorities are the aspects of your life that rejuvenate and invigorate you. Whether it’s spending time with family, pursuing a hobby, or simply enjoying moments of solitude for self-reflection, these are the facets that deserve your time and attention.
You play many roles – as a professional, a family member, a friend, and more. To thrive, it’s imperative to allocate dedicated time to nurture each of these roles. By doing so, you not only preserve your own well-being but also enhance your capacity to excel in every aspect of your life.
There’s the need to establish a clear distinction between your work hours and personal time. This involves disconnecting from work-related devices and temporarily muting emails during personal hours. This “hard” boundary not only enhances productivity but also motivates you to complete tasks within designated work hours.
Use routines as bridges between work mode and home mode, preventing the spillover of stress between the two domains – think something as simple as changing out of your office clothes when you get home. These routines serve as psychological cues, helping your mind transition seamlessly.
Within your non-work hours, it’s important to create another vital boundary – the ability to say “no” to anything that’s unnecessary or emotionally draining. This safeguards your personal time and energy, ensuring that your personal priorities remain in focus.
Finally, be clear with yourself about what your highest priority is. Life often presents choices, and it’s crucial to understand the trade-offs. When push comes to shove, there should be no ambiguity – your top priority takes precedence.
Your authenticity is your strength
Kathleen Hogan is Chief People Officer at Microsoft. She wants people to see her for the capable, experienced, highly successful professional woman she is. So, in 2007, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Kathleen kept the devastating news to herself. In the workplace she wanted to stay “Kathleen the executive” and not transform into “Kathleen who has cancer”. She wore a wig throughout chemo and only confided her diagnosis in a few people. But she found the subterfuge exhausting. Kathleen recovered. But in 2018 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer again, she decided to do things differently. She didn’t want to overengineer her outward image. She wanted to be real. When she shared her diagnosis she was overwhelmed by her colleagues’ support. The lesson? There’s strength in bringing your whole self to work. Kathleen is now cancer free.
In the workplace, the value you create is the cornerstone of your success, and the more unique your contribution, the more indispensable you become. Having the confidence to bring your full self and experiences to your work is the key to creating significant value.
However, there are significant hurdles to overcome, for women and especially for women from minorities. Often, they find themselves in environments where they don’t see people who share their backgrounds or experiences. This lack of representation can lead to discomfort and the feeling of being compelled to construct a corporate image that doesn’t fully embrace their unique stories and perspectives.
To counter these challenges, it’s crucial not to let feelings of being underrepresented, undereducated, or underconnected dominate your mindset. This involves shedding the remnants of societal programming that suggest women should be seen and not heard, or that men’s voices inherently carry more value.
Effective communication emerges as a powerful tool in this journey. Learning to convey your thoughts succinctly and persuasively is essential. This not only captures people’s attention but also allows them to see you for who you truly are. Don’t undermine your ideas with self-doubt; use strong and assertive language. Instead of saying, “This might be a dumb question” or “Maybe this idea is silly,” communicate with unwavering conviction. In the face of interruptions, it’s important to assert yourself politely but firmly. Saying “Let me finish” when someone talks over you sends a message that your voice deserves to be heard.
Align yourself with projects and departments where your competence can shine brightest. Demonstrating your capabilities in these settings is the most potent way to showcase your value. If biases lead others to question your abilities, the best response is to educate them through your actions, proving them wrong with your performance.
If your unique value consistently goes unappreciated and unrecognized, its time to consider a change. Sometimes, it’s necessary to move on to environments where your worth is fully acknowledged and celebrated.
Brand yourself as a strong leader
How you are known, and who knows you, are two things that will define your professional success. Consider this your invitation to make yourself known as a leader, to the people who can place you in that position.
Your personal brand is essentially what people think of when they hear your name. So, how can you elevate this into a personal leadership brand? Think of it this way: you want to integrate strong leadership qualities into what people already associate with you. Start by identifying the type of leader you aspire to become. Reflect on those leaders who’ve inspired you and those who haven’t. Their examples can clarify what you aim to achieve in your own leadership style.
Now, let’s delve into some fundamental leadership attributes you’ll want to consider:
First on the list is trustworthiness. Building a foundation of trust through authenticity and transparency is a cornerstone of effective leadership.
Next, we have caring. Genuinely caring for your team and guiding them toward success makes you a leader people will want to follow.
Thirdly, we talk about the art of listening. Effective leaders listen actively and attentively. This skill is crucial for understanding and meeting your team’s needs.
Fourth, strong communication is a must. Clear and compelling communication skills are essential for sharing your vision and objectives.
Fifth on our list is inspiration. Leaders have a unique ability to inspire, energize, and motivate their teams.
Our sixth point is facilitating innovation. Fostering a creative environment is a mark of forward-thinking leadership.
Next, we focus on nurturing potential. Recognizing and encouraging your team members’ potential contributes positively to your leadership brand.
Lastly, we talk about crisis management. A leader’s true mettle shows when crisis strikes. Your ability to guide your team through tough times is crucial.
To develop your leadership brand, take a focused approach. Identify which attributes you want to build upon and incorporate them into your Personal Success Plan. If you aim to improve your listening skills, for instance, seek out resources to help you do just that. Share your objectives with trusted colleagues to keep yourself accountable.
Remember, building a strong leadership brand is an ongoing journey. Continually work on strengthening these attributes and take time to celebrate your successes along the way.
Don’t underestimate your ability to become a leader within your workplace.
Women face gender biases in the workplace that can undermine their confidence in themselves as aspiring leaders. You can challenge and overcome stereotypes and biases and help dismantle them. Your motivation to learn about leadership means you have the essential skills for leadership: You recognize your potential and are acting to build on it. You can learn everything else.
“Leaders are not born; instead, they grow out of a lifetime of experiences.” (former IBM senior vice president Rodney Adkins)
Shelmina Babai Abji, a woman of color, rose to the role of vice president at IBM, despite coming from an impoverished family in Tanzania and becoming a single mother at the start of her professional career. For Abji, the power of strategy and intention enabled her to progress as a leader. Applying strategic intention to all aspects of your professional life enables you to reach your goals. Take responsibility for your success, and keep learning, even when you experience setbacks. Never give up your dream of becoming a leader.
Define what success means to you.
You are responsible for your success, so start by defining what success means to you. Get other people’s perspectives, but make the final decision yourself. Only you understand your dreams. Ask yourself what you would be proud to accomplish. Make sure your definition of success aligns with your core values. Aim high, and set professional and personal goals for yourself that will make you grow.
“Aim high… You’ll never know your capabilities until you test them.”
Know the “why” behind your desire to become a leader. Is it to provide for your family? To give your children a different life from what your own? To become a role model for other women? Knowing why you pursue this goal inspires your drive and perseverance. A checklist of things you want to accomplish won’t bring you success unless they align with your “why.”
For Abji, success first meant graduating from college, so she could raise her family from poverty. When she had a degree and a job, her definition of success became home-ownership, and her “why” was so her daughter could play in the backyard. Abji continually raised her definition of success – to become a sales leader and, later, an executive – to provide for her family.
Mindfully allocate your attention to gain maximum returns.
Your attention is your most valuable asset; invest it every day to gain maximum returns. Ask whether any demand on your time is worthy of your attention. Focus on activities that offer returns for you and your organization. You won’t please everyone – but you will gain respect. You can and must learn to say no to protect your attention, keeping it available for the things you feel are worthy. Keep your priorities at the fore; stop being merely busy and become productive. Take time to recharge, so you can stay energized and maintain your productivity.
“You teach others to respect your time when you respect your time yourself.”
Abji learned the importance of prioritizing when she started as a sales representative at IBM. At first, she placed more than 50 deals on her to-do list and started working to win all of them. She was putting in 45 hours a week, but not making progress. When she asked her boss for help achieving her goals, he advised her to choose a few deals to work on – the ones most likely to contribute to her goals were those worthy of her attention. Abji started to make progress and felt excited and more in control.
Create a “Personal Success Plan”: a list of your priorities to guide how you structure your days, help you stay focused on what matters and support your work-life balance. For each of your priorities, list specific tasks and schedule them on your calendar. Schedule other tasks around them, including, for example, email, research and necessary business activities.
Find work-life balance.
You can thrive in both your work and your life outside work – even though you only have a limited amount of energy and attention – by applying intention to creating balance. Achieving balance will help you keep your stress and risk of burnout low and will boost your work productivity and engagement. To find that balance, prioritize your career and your personal life so neither takes over the other.
Abji became a single mother to two toddlers just after she received a promotion to sales leader. She felt exhausted, had difficulty paying attention at work and became short-tempered with her children. Abji had already decided to step down from her leadership position when she had a tearful breakthrough one night. She realized she could choose a more empowering way to respond to the situation.
“Having a successful work-life balance doesn’t mean having a perfect formula figured out; it means to practice the arts of fluidity, adaptability and acceptance.”
For Abji, writing down work-life balance as part of her definition of success made all the difference. Then, she applied the principles of attention to her personal life. She made it a priority to enjoy spending time with her children, and got out of the “task trap,” in which you do tasks endlessly and lose alignment with your priorities and progress. By prioritizing and structuring her time at home as she did at work – along with making healthy choices and adding helpful morning rituals – Abji regained energy, presence and calm. Find balance by believing you can achieve it, nurturing your well-being, always treating challenges as learning opportunities and setting boundaries.
Create maximal value in everything you do.
Approach every interaction as an opportunity to create value, and set an intention to maximize that value. Doing so demonstrates your value to your organization, its stakeholders and to yourself. Stop underestimating your worth. Internalize that you have competence and valuable things to say. This mind-set helps women and minorities who face stereotyping and biases resist intimidation and negative projections and perform at maximum capacity. When these individuals succeed, they help dismantle those stereotypes and biases.
“You can’t belittle yourself to greatness.”
Your ideas can make a difference, even if you don’t yet believe that. Set your fears and doubts aside, and speak up. As you contribute at a higher level, raise your profile within the organization to reap rewards. You have the power to disregard the inner chatter that undermines you and choose to act in an empowering way. This is your “Power Quotient,” which you can exercise at any time to gain power over limiting messages – even those that come from within you – and respond in ways that create value. Women often must overcome past programming that tells them to stay quiet and conform. Rewrite your programming as if debugging a computer.
Grow daily and continuously by going outside your comfort zone.
Set the intention to grow at your maximum capacity via each interaction and experience. Your growth will open new potential situations. Be willing to go outside your comfort zone. For Abji, this meant moving from her familiar hardware sales role into a completely new area: IBM’s fast-growing services business. When she started, Abji couldn’t understand her colleagues’ acronym-filled conversations and felt certain she would fail. But instead of giving up, she applied her Power Quotient, changed her thoughts and reassured herself that her discomfort meant she was growing. Have patience with yourself; take time to learn and ask for help. You can succeed in ways you hadn’t imagined and your confidence will soar.
“Growth and comfort do not coexist.” (former IBM CEO and chair Ginni Rometty)
When you encounter setbacks, put them in the context of your overall growth and remind yourself that they are temporary, and that you can learn from them. Never think of yourself as a failure, and never give up. A defeatist attitude saps your energy and can destroy your hopes for the future. Allow setbacks to build your resilience. Celebrate your successes and aim for new opportunities to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
Build deep, meaningful relationships to support your success and fulfillment.
Your career success hinges on relationships – particularly with your boss, mentors, sponsors and peers. Your relationship with your immediate superior is the most important in your career. Be proactive – don’t depend on your boss to build the relationship. Don’t expect perfection from your boss; look for her or his strengths. How you think about your boss affects your relationship; change any negative mental model of him or her to a positive one.
A mentor can have a significant, positive effect on your career by advising, inspiring, assisting, supporting and guiding you. Even a brief mentorship can make a profound difference: Abji spent only an hour with IBM CMO Jon Iwata prior to a crucial presentation, learning important strategies for the upcoming meeting. Her successful presentation led to the IBM-Microsoft alliance and meant Abji got to keep her job. Treat these important relationships with the respect they deserve.
“Your relationship with yourself will determine the quality of all your other relationships.”
A sponsor will typically hold a position two levels above your own. Your sponsor will serve as your advocate, assisting you in gaining a promotion, moving into a new role or securing a significant assignment. For women, the need for – and difficulty of obtaining – a sponsor is often a primary obstacle to their attaining high corporate positions. Creating a sponsor relationship takes time, so start building ties well before you need that person’s assistance.
Your relationships with your peers support daily collaboration and can increase your enjoyment at work. Remember that someone who is your peer today could become your boss, mentor or sponsor in the future. No one succeeds alone, so nurture your peer relationships with intention. Maintain your integrity, build trust and apply intention to making your relationships deep and meaningful.
Create your leadership brand.
Your personal brand reflects how people think of you and affects how people will engage with, support, invest in, hire and recognize you. Creating your brand doesn’t mean manipulating how people think of you. It means becoming who you want to be and developing the self-awareness necessary to ensure the impressions you make align with that identity. Your brand can and should reflect your individual, authentic personal qualities. These characteristics will set you apart amid the fierce competition for leadership roles.
“It is only when you know your worth that you can show your worth.”
Be deliberate about developing your leadership brand. Find opportunities to demonstrate your leadership attributes and add them to your brand. Be consistent and vigilant in shaping and protecting your brand. Take care not to slip up when you feel out of sorts. Doing so might undermine your brand by creating a negative impression.
When you become a leader, elevate other women.
When you become a leader, you can and should help other women advance their careers, too. You will not only provide them with help, but enjoy feelings of success, gratitude and appreciation.
“Leadership is a responsibility, a gift and an opportunity that can create a rippling impact you’ll never be able to measure, as it can last generations.”
Serve as a role model; other women will see what you accomplish and know they can aim high, too. And people will see you as a representative of those who look like you. Shine under pressure to reflect well on others. Give women opportunities and ease their way as they follow you.
For women aiming to thrive in their careers, there are several proven strategies. First, create your own definition of what success means to you. Second, allocate your attention intentionally, so you’re focusing on what really matters. Third, embrace your authentic self and let it shine through in your professional life. And finally, focus on building a strong personal leadership brand. Through self-awareness, ruthless prioritization, and effective communication, you can dare to become the leader you dream of being.
About the Author
Former vice president of IBM’s Global Microsoft Alliance Shelmina Babai Abji is a motivational speaker and angel investor.
Motivation, Inspiration, Personal Development, Career, Success
The book is a guide for professional women, especially women of color, who want to advance their careers and become leaders in their fields. The author, Shelmina Babai Abji, is a former IBM executive and a global empowerment speaker who shares her personal and professional experiences, as well as the stories of other successful women who have applied the strategies in the book.
The book presents 8 Intentional Strategies that women can use to achieve success, which are:
- Success: Define what success means to you and align your goals with your values and purpose.
- Attention: Develop your Personal Success Plan and execute it with focus and discipline.
- Work/Life Balance: Achieve work-life balance in our disrupted world by setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, and delegating effectively.
- Value Creation: Overcome fear, find your voice, and contribute at your maximum capacity by delivering results, solving problems, and innovating.
- Growth: Seek relevant and meaningful growth by learning new skills, taking on challenges, and embracing feedback.
- Relationships: Connect meaningfully with first-line managers, peers, mentors, and sponsors by building trust, communicating clearly, and collaborating well.
- Leadership Branding: Build and preserve your reputation as a leader by demonstrating your values, showcasing your strengths, and managing your image.
- Promotions: Be strategic about earning a promotion by understanding the criteria, preparing your case, and negotiating your terms.
The book also provides practical tools and tips for implementing each strategy, such as worksheets, checklists, templates, and examples.
I found the book to be very inspiring and helpful for women who want to show their worth and emerge as leaders at work. The author writes with authenticity, clarity, and passion, and draws from her own rich experience as well as the insights of other accomplished women. The book is full of actionable advice and useful resources that can help women create their own success plan and execute it with confidence.
The book is also very relevant and timely for the current context of the world, where women face many challenges and opportunities in the workplace. The book addresses the issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging that are essential for women’s empowerment and leadership. The book also acknowledges the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s work-life balance and offers strategies to cope with the disruption.
The book is not only for women who aspire to be leaders, but also for anyone who wants to improve their performance, productivity, and happiness at work. The book is based on universal principles that can benefit anyone who wants to achieve their goals and fulfill their potential. The book is also very engaging and easy to read, with a conversational tone and a logical structure.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to show their worth and emerge as leaders at work. The book is a valuable resource that can help you define your success, develop your plan, and deliver your value. The book is a must-read for women who want to make a positive difference in their careers and in the world.