Four years ago, I arrived in the Pacific Northwest as the new CEO of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and in May attended my first membership luncheon. I knew no one, but was ready for Chamber adventures in the land of whales and cherry blossoms.
Back then, I was especially glad for the safety of the luncheon podium, because it reigned in my secret anxiety. What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t really want new programs? What if they drop memberships? What if they think I am too strange and don’t accept me? Back then, What if and they were adversaries— ready to attack my character, waiting for me to fail. Honestly, walking unknown into a room full of business and community leaders, who among us hasn’t felt that way?
But in my tenure, I’ve had a revelation. There is no THEY. It’s a powerless word. They are merely the shadow bricks in our minds – building barriers to economic growth, keeping our businesses in silos, hampering connections which will sustain our community. Back then, I had yet to discover there was no place for the internal fearmongering They incite. At our Chamber, there is only WE. And What if… is a welcome, strategic question that brings a thoughtful, generous, inclusive We to our community.
Looking to our shared future, we must ask, What does it look like if everyone is invited to the table and all voices are heard? What does it look like if we use our positions, titles, money and resources – not to shut out or exclude those who are different than us, those with opposing views – but to be reasonable, flexible and patient as new and innovative ideas are considered.
Our business leaders know that when we no longer fear the other – be it business competitors, different cultures and genders, or people who just don’t look and think like us – we embrace a wider marketplace, enriching our professional and personal lives. Our hearts beat stronger. Our commerce grows.
I ask you to look, as the Chamber has done these past four years, for the We as you go about your day. Do leadership teams and volunteer committees include both men and women? Do businesses reach consumers in the wonderfully diverse population of the south Puget Sound? Are We working collaboratively with as many partners as possible toward a long-term, long-range vision of community prosperity?
And finally, importantly, are we shopping Chamber, including Chamber, celebrating Chamber? Because Chamber members are the We that has invested in this community and will sustain it.
Who knows what Chamber adventures are yet to come? I know only this: For every single day of these past four years, and for every day yet to come, I truly, passionately believe We can create jobs and generate wealth if we walk along a path to business success and, together, Take The Federal Way.
Rebecca Martin is CEO of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.