The leadership mindset shifts that leaders need to make today will help them succeed in the virtual and hybrid world. Leaders must be flexible and willing to work with ambiguity. It’s very much about collaboration and the process of inquiry. On today’s podcast, we interview Laila Tarraf, Chief People Officer of Allbirds and learn about her journey and her powerful new leadership book, Strong Like Water™ How I Found the Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life
Laila Tarraf will show you how to open your heart and step into the type of leadership that is required in today’s chaotic world where no one has the map of what the future brings. Laila encourages leaders to strike a balance between using their heads and their hearts, a place where Laila believes the magic happens. In this episode, you’ll hear Laila’s incredible story where connecting to her heart allowed her to strengthen her leadership.
From “Just keep Going” to “Stop, Process, & Feel”
Laila lost her husband, father and mother in a short period of time when she was a leader and her daughter was only three years old. During this time, Laila realized that if she didn’t allow herself to be vulnerable enough to break down and feel the pain of these tremendous losses she could become emotionally brittle, unavailable and unable to lead and live an authentic life. Prior to these losses, Laila’s coping mechanisms included distracting, deflecting, and denying her emotions, a common action for other leaders. Leaders tend to overlook what they are going through personally, and have a deep desire to stay strong for their team – rather than to stop, process and feel their emotions.
In reflecting on this, Laila explains that the universe gives you what you need to grow, but only if you stop, reflect and grow from it. Had she continued to “just keep going” rather than allowing herself to take the time to go through the grieving process, she would have missed this leadership mindset shift. Pushing through hard times can often hinder a leader’s growth, the growth that they will get only by stopping, processing and experiencing their emotions.
From Having Your “Edge” to Being “Soft” is a Strength
Many leaders struggle to let go of parts of their personal narrative because they think that they’ll lose their “edge.” Some leaders hold on to personal narratives that force them to act in unauthentic ways. They fear being viewed as “too soft.” Inside this mindset, leaders need to consider what their “edge” and what being “soft” truly means. Leaders who develop their emotional intelligence and talk about emotions at work can still carry the stigma that they are “soft” when in fact, all the research shows that emotional intelligence is directly connected to leadership effectiveness.
Laila realized that her journey made her soft, but she realized that the term “soft” as a leader turned out to be a strength for her as a leader. Understanding the value of heart-centered leadership is a vulnerable experience, because intellectually it doesn’t make sense. It’s something leaders have to actually experience to understand the true power of leading from the heart.
From Leadership is an “Outside-in Job” to an “Inside-out Job”
Leaders who focus on what’s going on outwardly first, before recognizing what is occurring within themselves, really tend to struggle. It’s really important for leaders to take time to self-reflect and examine their own internal stories to break down their blind spots. Exposing these blindspots allows leaders to show up more authentically.
The inside out approach is how leaders will be able to succeed in this VUCA world that we live in today. Leaders need to allow themselves to feel whatever comes up and process those feelings to become stronger and more resilient. Leaders also need to realize that they need to bring in strength and power mixed with tenderness and compassion. If skillfully combined, this is the type of leadership that is needed today.
From “Be Unrealistically Hard On Yourself” to “Love Yourself”
Laila’s biggest breakthrough in her journey was realising that if we don’t learn to love and forgive ourselves, we will not be able to lead through tough times. If leaders don’t learn to love and forgive themselves, they end up projecting issues towards their teams and colleagues. In the end, leadership development involves a huge amount of personal development which boils down to one thing, loving yourself. Even if self-love seems too touchy-feely for leaders, it is one of the greatest characteristics a leader can model for their teams.
From “Have All the Answers & Do It On Your Own” to “Tribe Mentality”
Leaders can often lead with a lone wolf mentality. This mentality fosters the belief that a leader must have all the answers. These leaders tend to burn out quickly. A mindshift is needed at this point where leaders openly share that they don’t know all the answers and give their tribes the power to help find the answers.
When leaders don’t have the answers, they can explain that they have the confidence that the answers can be found within the tribe. This mindset goes back to our primordial state where humans instinctively know that they are stronger as part of the tribe. To be a leader, you have to tap into your head and your heart and open dialogue within the tribe. Leadership is no longer command and control; rather, it is very much a collaborative process of inquiry.
From “Leading Blindly” to “Principled Leadership”
Another important element in leadership today is having and leading with your principles. Principled leadership involves listening with a new filter that allows you to have conversations in a whole new way.
Leaders need to listen extremely well to fully understand what’s being said and to identify the common themes and principles that are relevant to determine a way forward. They can do this by listening in different ways, ranging from in person conversations to surveys. Asking the same questions in two different ways helps leaders understand at a deeper level what principles are important and at play.
For example, in the return-to-office dilemma, one of the biggest principles that occurs is flexibility. In a hybrid workforce flexibility is paramount; and leaders need to make sure they have spaces, plans, and teams that will encourage connection, collaboration, quiet time, and flexibility.
Discussing principles like flexibility provides a baseline for decisions and actions going forward. There currently isn’t a playbook for “how to lead in a pandemic.” That’s why the Team Anywhere leadership podcast was created, and by making these mindset shifts and listening to your team right now, you can be well on your way to navigating this ambiguous work environment with a little bit more help.
About Laila Tarraf
Laila Tarraf is a talent management and leadership development executive with over 25 years of experience building teams and advising companies across many industries and stages of growth. She was a founding member of Walmart.com at the height of the first internet bubble, and the Chief People Officer at Peet’s Coffee and Tea as it was redefining its values as a national brand. She then spent seven years working in private equity as the Director of Human Capital at GI Partners and a Human Capital Advisor with Altamont Capital. Currently, as Chief People Officer for AllBirds, she is focused on building a high performance, human-centered organization capable of driving for results while at the same time nurturing a culture of connection and belonging as it grows into a global, sustainable consumer brand alongside a global pandemic and broad social unrest.
Over the years, through professional achievements and personal accomplishments alongside professional setbacks and personal tragedies, Laila has evolved her leadership and life philosophy into one that embraces the inherent duality of life — balancing courage with compassion, integrating head with heart, infusing power with tenderness. Her journey and hard-won insights are what she shares in her debut book, Strong Like Water. Laila is a graduate of the Berkeley Haas School of Business and is also a guest lecturer at Berkeley Law School. She is Lebanese and American, an avid traveler and world explorer, and a proud mom to her teenage daughter, Nadia and her 8-pound Yorkie, Max.
You can find me online at:
My website: www.lailatarraf.com
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