Every month LGW highlights a new member of the Leadership Greater Washington Community. This month we had the pleasure of getting to know Mary Abbajay ('06).
Can you give us some background or insight into your personal leadership path – including your sources of inspiration and most important lessons learned?
My first real leadership position began when I started my first business—the Toledo Lounge—in Adams Morgan. I quickly (and a bit painfully) learned that there is a big difference between being bossy (which is easy for me) and being a leader—which requires a whole lot of different skills—especially “soft skills” like emotional intelligence. Since then, I’ve been fascinated about leadership—which I think of as the ability to align and motivate a group of people around a shared vision. I’ve spent the last 20 years studying and teaching leadership—which is why I am so passionate about facilitating the Rising Leader’s Program—it’s so fulfilling to help cultivate the next generation of leaders.
How did you first become involved with Leadership Greater Washington and the Signature Program?
I had two amazing LGW Alumni—Robert Egger (2001) and Angie Fox (2003) push me to apply. And by push, I mean strong-armed me. I still can’t believe I got accepted! I think it was only because I was from Toledo, Ohio and Tim Kime—who was also from Toledo--took pity on me. Plus, I owned a bar at the time—and who doesn’t want a bar owner in their club?
How would you describe LGW - the alumni, leadership, staff, and overall mission of the organization?
I’d call it a cult—but Doug Duncan would glare at me. Leadership Greater Washington is so special that there really isn’t a word for it. It’s partly a family that is filled with love, kindness, support, differences, and forgiveness. It’s partly a club—one that is curated, cultured, connected, and fun. And it’s partly a society for socially conscious leaders who care deeply about our region and the people in it—and are dedicated to making this region a great place to live and work. The truly amazing part of LGW is its ability to adapt and thrive through the decades—thanks to the energy of members (new and old) and a world-class staff. While I’ve only been a member for 13 years, I’m very mindful and appreciative for all the past, current, and future members who keep LGW a vibrant, important, and relevant part of the fabric of Greater Washington.
Can you describe an extraordinary LGW Moment from your experience - a connection you made, something you pursued because of LGW, or a distinctive memory?
Oh, my goodness! This is like a Sophie’s Choice. LGW has had such a profound impact on me personally and professionally chockfull of many extraordinary and life changing moments for me—it’s truly difficult to choose one. I will say that serving as Board Chair was one of the most memorable, challenging, and rewarding experiences of my life. I continue to be deeply honored that I was trusted with that role and deeply grateful for the experience. Finding someone to succeed the wonderful Tim Kime was really scary—but I think choosing Doug Duncan was one of the best decisions that the Board made while I was Chair.
How do you envision the future of the region? What about LGW’s role in that future?
The future of the region is bright and LGW is at the center of it. The Greater Washington region has finally become more than just the Federal Government. Our region is brimming with economic, cultural and social leadership and everywhere you look—bam! There is an LGW member involved. LGW is truly everywhere. LGW’s role in the future of the region is (and has been) bringing together leaders that can make a difference.
How do your efforts and leadership at your current organization impact the future of the Greater Washington region?
My organization is deeply committed to developing the next generation of leaders across all sectors. We have a passion for designing and delivering emerging leadership and early career programs—which is why my company, Careerstone Group continues to donate all our services for the Rising Leaders Program! Facilitating LGW’s Rising Leader Program is a joy for my team and me.
What is your favorite LGW event?
The Fall Kick-Off (by a nose). While I love all LGW events—the Fall Kick Off is my favorite because the cocktail style format as it allows me to (attempt) to connect with lots of people in a short time. It breaks my heart when I have to miss it. I also love facilitating the opening and closing Signature program retreats. Seeing the class on the first day and the last day of their program year always gets in the heart. It truly is a beautiful thing to see their transformation as a cohort!
In what ways has LGW been able to shape the region since you joined?
How hasn’t it? Every major institution in this region has LGW members involved.
How has LGW played a role in your professional life?
Being a member of LGW has helped me professionally in so many ways! LGW has given me a network of friends, clients, colleagues, and mentors. It has enabled me to make connections in so many different industries and sectors. So many wonderful opportunities have come my way due to my connection with LGW. When my book, Managing Up, was published last year—the response from the LGW community was enormous! So many members went out of their way to buy lots books for themselves and their teams. I was floored when people like Rebecca Linder, Sonia McCormick, Heather Raspberry, Cary Hatch, Mike Maxwell, Mary-Claire Burick, Terry Kenny, Jim Dinegar, Lisa Rother, Gina Schaefer, Lidia Soto Harmen, Bobby Moran, and Ken Jones—and so many others--not only bought lots of books—but also brought me into their organizations to give presentations and workshops. Thank you!!!
What are some keys to staying innovative in your field or some tips for success?
Stay curious and humble. The minute that you as a leader you think you know everything is the minute you become obsolete. The world is constantly changing—so those who are able to learn and adapt are those who will remain successful and relevant for a long time.
What do you love most about your LGW Class?
When I became Board Chair—my class showed up for me! They were so supportive—which I really appreciated because being the Board Chair is hard work! And of course, we were the first class to institute an official “Bar Trust,” thanks to Josh Carin, Mike Maxwell, Sandra Aresti, Jon Couch, Cal Bowie, Joe Budzysnki, Allison Cryor Dinardo, Alex Hahn, Steve Stanton, Stan Spracker, Chris Brookfield, and many others!
Please tell us something most people might not know about you.
I’m an introvert. But I’ve learned to be a “highly functioning introvert,” so most people have no idea how hard it is for me to socialize!