Incredibly organized? Operationally efficient? Or maybe just lazy.

For some time I’ve been thinking about a constant question I get: how do you find time to do all you do (successfully I hope); Work as a leader and executive in biopharma, family with two amazing young daughters, executive MBA at MIT, podcast host, some other entrepreneurship ventures, training, friends… and constantly, I have the voice of my mother telling me when I was younger: “come on, speed it up, do more, stop wasting your time!” Let me share something I never shared before: I really think I’m lazy!

As weird as it can sound, I get things done because I love getting to a point where I can do nothing. This shapes my organizational and operational efficiency. Combined to my constant search for excellence, it always helped me getting things done pretty good and the fastest route possible. When I was at high school and med school, I always woke up at 4 or 5am to get studies done as soon as I could so I can enjoy my afternoons free. And I kept this ever since, but instead of afternoons, it is now more evenings or few hours I intentionally take with my family and/or for myself. Those moments of doing nothing are precious! These are the times where my neurons interconnect and talk to one another unconditionally. This is when I get most creative! 

I finally managed to get things straight on this topic while talking to a Professor last week. I get things done, on many fronts and in parallel, because I’m operationally efficient, which in my mom’s words and in my mind equals to being lazy.

No more fear of some day someone discovering it (yes that goes along with my impostor syndrome). In fact, I will be looking from now on for amazing leaders who spread love in their organizations and are lazy enough to get things done beautifully and efficiently.

Learning After a Year in the USA!

One year today in the US! Beyond all the craziness of 2020, I’ve been so fortunate to be part of an amazing team and lead passionate, dedicated, purpose-driven people. 

My three “people” learning:

  • Unite through purpose

With all the cultural differences that we can imagine, the real true diversity that we have, leaders unite through purpose. It is incredible to come in a new country, go out for work and feel like you never left home. The underlying values and beliefs that create the company’s culture, fueled by genuine intent to strive for a noble purpose, then the power I watched here of deeply valuing hard work, made us navigate crazy times together without ever loosing site of our why and how.

  • Spread Love is universal

I hesitated for months coming here if “love” is a world to stand for at work in the US. I quickly realized that it is universal and desperately needed in our world at home and work if there still is any difference in both… It starts by genuine care, curiosity and listening. I learned so much from leaders’ tough stories, discovered what D&I is really about, educated myself on racial justice and I am convinced more than ever that spread love should be leaders’ priority. Spread love to create an inclusive equitable environment, a place where everyone feels safe to thrive, to have true tough discussions, open debates to advance the world and most importantly to imagine and invent the future… As I shared in a previous article, never forget that real love is not kindness.

  • What “community” really means

Many times, we hear about this outside the US, value of hard work in this country, praising success, looking up-to people, and this is really great! What I learned to be even greater is how people intentionally give-back to their communities, their friends, the causes they believe in. I experienced it even personally with tough moments being thousands of miles away from my birth country and watching it online being destroyed recently by a massive explosion. My teams were here not only to support me but also supported Lebanon through donations to the Red Cross. It is just beautiful to see the power of communities and the real sense of caring for one another.

What about my learning from a business standpoint?

Same personal leadership believes in a totally different marketplace. Everything starts with people first, great diverse talents and leaders striving towards our purpose, intentionally radically focusing on 2 to 3 priorities (making choices) and then relentlessly executing on those with excellence to deliver positive impact to the patients and communities we serve; this translates into great results.

Great Job! For Real?

While every single day, I live the fact that nothing works without TRUST, here is my last experience on “feedback” sessions when true trust is missing…

How many times in a corporate world while driving a project, you just felt like stopping it because of internal hurdles. How many times the project was so painful that teams even lost the essence of why it started and were just happy it ended… Moreover, the aftermath usually looks like a simple mail with “great fantastic job all”! Along this, as leaders we usually feel this urgent need “to recognize the group and celebrate” rather than dig into what happened to make it better.

How many times then have we tried, as good leaders, to do a “post-action feedback review”? Usual result: instead of a string of congrats emails, a beautiful meeting room filled with individuals and leaders congratulating each other. Those untrue feedbacks and enrobed thoughts kill teams, make things so slow in organizations and never put people into a trustworthy relationship to improve continuously.

Thinking through this corporate “politeness”, I remembered my lifetime experience in the Lebanese Red Cross. Basis is trust for sure. True trust between people and the leaders who show daily their trust for their teams and their radical empathy. In this safe environment, everything is possible. A simple exercise we used to do back then was an “evaluation”. Every single mission we did would end – whatever time it was – by an evaluation. Always. No one would go out of the ambulance without this true, sometimes tough, evaluation. Let me detail what this was: During an emergency, you just do not have time to say “sorry” or leave someone do a mistake or risk patient’s life; you just do. Therefore, what was key for teams to learn and grow their capabilities was to discuss after each action how things went, where someone went wrong, when someone did great, if someone put others at risk or patient at risk etc… With emotions and adrenaline, some of those evaluations would go into tough discussions, true talks, real words but they would always end in the ambulance with the mission done. When out of the car, we would go back to normal, back to a real team whatever happened and said there; nevertheless individually and as a team grown.

Three learnings from this experience:

– If trust is there, you can talk true because people really believe that the feedbacks given are not personal. The feedback is given on the work performed, how to improve it and make the individuals and team learn continuously.

– Do an after-action review on every single important project because you can always learn from great things and the day it goes bad you can talk true. If you only do an after-action review when things go wrong, people will always try to find out ways to say that in fact it went great…

– The ambulance… Do the review directly within the action and not in a meeting room after a while… Have a “safe place” environment where people can express everything they want, and when out of the session, things stayed in and only learnings went out with them.

Finally, real trust here is important for a simple aspect: people should know that this is not a performance management process and that as a leader you deeply believe they are doing a good job – otherwise you would have treated this separately. The only reason of the “evaluation” is to grow as individuals by learning and as teams by co-working honestly. Only then, you will start to move fast as an organization and make things better for the people and customers you serve.

Leading a transformation: core is trust but then?

Who of us is not in a transformation mode in this 21st century? Who didn’t notice that the world is changing? Well has it ever stopped changing? Luckily no… Things are static when there’s no life in them. Change is a constant we live with. Its pace has drastically accelerated probably these last years but change is here and is here to stay whether we want it or not.

Now with this word “change” in organizations comes “fear”, rare people see in change “opportunity”, so you can imagine the emotions related to “transformation”, “cultural transformation”. Trust is the core in these situations. Interesting fact is that everyone thinks “trust” is encored in their teams until change or transformation starts. With trust, transformation can be ignited.

We would hear a lot that “it has to start from the top”, other would argue that at the opposite it has to be a “bottom-up approach”, always the same people on the “top” deciding if it has to be top-down or bottom-up… What if we stop for a moment these hierarchical attributes and think of our people in an organization as a bunch of talented and diverse individuals willing to thrive and transform for a common vision and “why”. Once we start seeing this, real transformation begins! It has to be a movement! It’s all about creating this movement, and once there, this community can live by its own and that’s the beauty of leadership to my eyes: we as leaders are not needed anymore, movement is so big it will continue without us… The more diverse and inclusive the community behind the movement is, the bigger chance it has to make it happen.

My learning through leading transformations is that creating a movement can be challenging but so rewarding that leaders and teams are willing to endorse as a community. The biggest “hurdle” though as it grows is not killing it with continuous frustrations within this community… So transformation doesn’t stop once the movement has been created. As leaders, we have to go into the details and understand the frustrations this community is facing (will face) throughout the organization. Map each one of them, work it out with the different parties, coach, train people in the movement and those who didn’t yet onboard. Try to nail down each one of these roadblocks so that the movement grow bigger in the different parts of the organization and delivers its promise.

The most important humanitarian leadership lesson

Googling “leader” or “leadership” gives us great definitions and different perspectives. It goes from command and control to creating a vision and inspiring people. Leadership skills has definitely evolved since the last century and constantly change. We can read a lot about leader vs manager and all that goes with this from command and control to inspire and empower. Nevertheless, in corporations, reality is that a leader (former manager) is a hierarchical position given to a “talent” (many times a technical performer) to command, perform, control and report to a “bigger” leader. But even in this model, we have what people would call a “real leader”, and through my different experiences and talking to teams, it spontaneously goes to a simple sentence: “she/he is someone I would follow no matter what”.

It was tough for me to evaluate in the business world and current organizations how true the “no matter what” is. It might be easier in flat liberated organizations to do so but still…

Thinking through this, took me to my humanitarian experience in the Lebanese Red Cross where I served several years during moments of tensions, war, crisis and terrorism that hit Lebanon. The Lebanese arm of this international humanitarian organization is practically the only emergency medical system in the country taking in charge all “human” emergencies. The team in the Red Cross is extremely diverse; different ages, backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, studies, etc. Nevertheless, we all – truly and deeply – shared the same values, the exact same vision and mission, the same “why”: to help and serve people in need. Being a leader in this organization suddenly looks simple no need to create a vision or inspire for teams to follow you: people come for the same “why”, volunteer, perform, grow and have a real social impact as a team… It’s thus all about coaching them, teaching them emergency techniques, managing them not to perform errors when in an emergency, commanding them to perform the right moves when on the field with a patient and making sure they keep this “flame” and this “why” to keep on volunteering and coming day after day… Easy!

Let’s dig a little deeper though: war, bombing, real life-threatening risks, not only in your community… Would you really follow the leader “no matter what”?

Why would your team follow you in the ambulance? Why would they litterally risk their lives, hear what you say, and execute what you ask? Why would they go into a risky war zone and follow your commands on the field? Because of the “why”? Because of the “adrenaline”? The “heroic act”? The nice “story to tell their kids”? Probably all of that, but the single foundation for me stands to the TRUST you created as a leader… The trust that you won’t let them go, that you would risk your life for them, that you’d go save them if anything touches them, that you’ll back them up, that you’ll run for them as they would do for you, that you’ll care not only for them but for their families and community too… But is this enough? Certainly not… It’s also the trust you create as a leader in the organization they work for and serve. We were out in war zones with no fear because we trusted each other, we trusted our organization and believed that “it” will protect us no matter what, that the leaders will be there, the community will stand for us, the country… We were maybe naive but it taught me this single leadership principle: BUILD TRUST (honest true trust). Without trust, without this “safe” environment, without a real genuine caring community, without love, you can manage, decide and command by hierarchy but will you be leading teams willing to follow you “no matter what”? The “why”, the vision, the mission and the values are the basis of success in any business or organization, but all those without TRUST might bring performance and growth BUT in moments of tensions, moving risky environments and stress would people stay here with you and follow the leader “no matter what”?