Stella BIDA, in conversation with Rania HOTEIT, Multi-Award Winning Entrepreneur, CEO & Founder of ID4A Technologies, Global Impact Leader, Public Speaker, Advisor
Summarised conversation transcript
This is a summary version of the conversation. More details, stories, and amazing insights are mentioned in the video!
STELLA BIDA: Hi everyone and welcome to this new Conversation of Excellence. For today's conversation, we truly have someone who is very dear to me, Rania Hoteit. Rania is an award-winning serial entrepreneur. She's an author, an advisor, but she's also a global leader, providing so much impact across the world, both for the person that she is, but also through her business. She's the CEO and the founder of ID4A Technologies, which is a company which has been globally recognized - through the White House Office of Science Technology, it has been listed as one of America's fastest growing private company, it has been awarded as one of the Best Automated Manufacturing Technology company in 2020, and so much more.
Beyond that, Rania is an incredible human being. Rania, welcome to the Conversations of Excellence!
RANIA HOTEIT: It's a pleasure for me to be with you today.
STELLA BIDA: Is there anything that you would like us to know about you, before we actually start our conversation?
RANIA HOTEIT: I want people to know that I am who I am, so whatever you see is who I am. I am always my most authentic self in any situation, with anyone, whether that is as the CEO of a major company, or someone walking on the street. So I want people to know that they can approach me anytime, that I am a very down to earth person. I truly care about connecting with other people, and I'm always myself.
STELLA BIDA: My first question concerns the fact that you own who you are. Did you have to redefine who you truly are along your journey?
RANIA HOTEIT: I would say it's a mixture of both. When I was growing up, at a very young age, I had a very strong sense of identity.
I have evolved so much. I'm continuously reshaping and redefining my identity within the parameters of my authentic foundation.
But I've been working on myself constantly to redefine who I am in the sense of looking at every shadow aspect, every barrier, every blockage, every internal struggle, every fear.
Also, I’ve been redefining my identity in the sense of trying to refine myself and becoming better and better every single day.
I'm not changing in the sense of losing my authentic and foundational self, that I've known since I was a child, but adding to it, and refining it, and making sure that every step of the way I'm learning and evolving to be better.
Our identities are never set in stone, and if we ever look at ourselves as a static object or a static sculpture of some sort, then we can never evolve and change, and adapt to how the world is evolving and changing around us.
So we have to be as dynamic in the way we shape our identities, just as the world and the universe around us is as dynamic and complex.
We have to respond to our environment, and respect to what we are also capable of in terms of change.
STELLA BIDA: What are for you the skills that leaders need to develop now more than ever, to drive conversations of change forward?
RANIA HOTEIT: This is a great question. I think to start off about leadership itself, I believe that leadership is both an art and a science.
I think it requires creativity, as much as it requires knowledge of human psychology, in order to establish a healthy and productive connection amongst people.
Whether we are in a situation of challenge like we are going through right now, or a crisis, I think we are always in crisis mode. I don't think we are ever not in crisis. I think it is the level of the severity of crisis which changes from day to day.
If you look at our daily life, there's always a challenge that we're facing and it might be very small, but it will require the exact same attitude and skills to deal with something much bigger.
The problem is that most leaders emphasize so much on developing their visionary, practical and strategic thinking skills, but they often fail to master the interpersonal skills. They struggle to effectively interact and communicate, listen and empathize with others.
In times of challenges like this, when you have a higher level of severity of the crisis, you need to have more of those skills in order to deal with the challenges, and bring people along the journey with you.
Empathy and leadership have a major impact on the ultimate success or failure of a company, because they build character traits like trustworthiness, relatedness, respectfulness, caring and fairness. They are the most critical drivers for any leader’s overall performance.
This crisis might be big, but every day we have different levels of challenges that we have to deal with. If we cannot gather these skills of empathy, and mastering interpersonal skills to interact, communicate, empathize and listen, we will continuously fail to lead effectively.
STELLA BIDA: It's really interesting what you're bringing forward, concerning empathy and interpersonal skills. As I'm listening to you, I'm thinking about some of the companies I work with, invested in technology. Sometimes, the feeling that I have is that they’re more focused on the technology part and might tend to forget the importance of these interpersonal skills. What is your perspective about that, and how can companies balance both systems and people?
RANIA HOTEIT: Let me just add to the point that you just made before the question. When you were talking about the human aspects when it comes to bigger tech companies, back to the topic of empathy particularly, there is plenty of substantial evidence on the correlation between empathy and performance.
If we do look at the companies that were top rated at the Global Empathy Index - including Microsoft, Facebook, Tesla and Google - we see that they have been generating 50% more earnings per employee than those that are at the bottom of the index.
So, empathy isn't only fundamental to elevating the quality of human interactions at a societal level, but it's also critical for business growth and leadership success.
To go back to the question that you mentioned about balancing people and systems, I think that at the end of the day, as a business leader, you need to be able to set up the necessary procedures and processes to operate.
Automation at this point is a top priority, in order to increase efficiency, operations, and also in the way companies interact with their customers, and in the way they facilitate collaboration amongst their teams.
If you are aiming for innovation within your company, there are some serious barriers that organizations face. They have to take steps to make innovation part of their strategic planning, to encourage innovation without overloading the process with structure and micro measurements.
So at the end, it's really about what you're trying to achieve within your organization. When it comes to balancing the people and the systems, there will be no balance created if you're not allowing the freedom to play, to explore, to invent, to create. This requires an atmosphere that encourages people to be given the time, space and the financial resources to create.
The creative mind is fueled by the environment. So if you're trying to achieve innovation, you have to understand the creative mind. You have to understand that the creative mind is fueled by sensory input, the give and take of others and the need for play. This can be a difficult journey for any company to walk through.
For leaders, they're going to have to remove some of these rigid rules, they have to write different policies, they have to develop an organization that allows its members to be open, and work towards forming ideas that are clever, innovative and exciting.
You want to be able to grow and scale, by leveraging not only business strategy, but also human psychology and strategies that can elevate empathy. And through empathy, fuel the business growth, create a more healthy and innovative environment that feeds back into the business.
All these things are connected.
If there is a one mindset shift that needs to take place in order to effectively lead change, I think it is being able to break through the barriers that stand in the way of innovation.
STELLA BIDA: I'm going to jump on the fact that it is important for leaders to create safe spaces for their people. How do you think that we can create safe spaces for people to truly share themselves – especially with all the personal challenges that people face with the crisis?
RANIA HOTEIT: For over a year now, our entire team has been working remotely. The only people that are working on the ground are the ones in our R&D facility.
We were already set up in a remote type of environment, because we had set up our systems to enable people to work anywhere, to be able to move around without having to be in one place. As a technology company, we want to be able to implement the most technologically advanced tools, not only for our clients and the technologies that we develop for them, but also in the way we interact, do business and operate internally as well.
Having that kind of system already enabled us to interact, engage and collaborate digitally and remotely from anywhere.
We thought about maximizing all the different activities that we had before the crisis. The programs that we used to do on site were brought online. We would have our coaching programs with our teams online, where we would bring them in circles of safe conversations. They can share what's going on with them at a personal level, what each family is going through. People have been struggling, some people got sick, some people lost family members, others were trying to support other members of their family.
There was a lot that we understood. We didn't want to brush it off, and pretend that there is no human side.
You are doing your job as a leader by making your people feel heard, safe, understood, connected and driven. This motivates them to continue to deliver to the growth and the sustainability of the business.
STELLA BIDA: You are a power source for girls and women in STEM. What is the underlying reason why you take so much time in doing that?
RANIA HOTEIT: Thank you for asking this question. I think it's very important to always highlight the issues they go through.
Women face more complex consideration sets and societal pressures throughout their entire life, in addition to gender barriers that are still contributing to increased disparities on many levels. This is really one of the main reasons for me.
I always think about what would be the best way to empower the next generation. I believe that we have to make radical changes to alleviate pressures and resolve all the barriers across areas of society.
From a very young age girls can be surrounded by expectations, that are destructive to their self-worth. With all that in mind, no wonder we have these same issues or the disparities that are happening in STEM fields for example.
I think that we have to examine the social climate, and what women will face in the future if gender barriers remain unresolved.
It is crucial to nurture the self-confidence in girls from an early age, by encouraging them to develop independence of mind, to express themselves freely, to debate their views openly, to stand up for themselves. It's also important for them to enjoy challenges and not shy away from them, because as a female, you're supposed to be more submissive, less confrontational, less headstrong or less ambitious.
I think also that positive cooperation and partnership with men is a key for the transformation, along with having more female role models from different social and professional spheres, for the younger generations of women to lean on and be inspired by.
Personally, to go back to my story, my experience has been full of challenges and obstacles, since I started my career and entrepreneurial journey. I was a full-time student in college. I was a young immigrant that came to the United States alone, I had no money, I had no family, I had no support.
On top of these challenges of being a young woman, immigrant, and then going into these male dominated fields, I had to break through many gender barriers and confront biases. Especially in the early stages of growing my business and establishing my thought leadership.
I was determined to build a successful business and an impactful brand, and was unapologetically ambitious when it comes to achieving my own goals.
Those are the things that helped me and those are the things that I believe that we can teach girls, and we could teach other younger women who are trying to create something for themselves, whether that is building a career or building a business.
If we can teach them the courage to break their own stereotypes and teach them also the value of developing their own independence, their own sense of identity, and their own definition of success, then our next generation of women will be empowered. The next generation will then have resilience, self-confidence, with adaptability to navigate new paths, seize opportunities and become leaders and shapers in our societies.
This is really what drives me to do what I do. Talented driven and intelligent women deserve opportunities to lead. Societies do need their leadership in order to thrive.
Therefore, we all need to take responsibility of creating entire organizational structures and cultures to support women's advancements and leadership within companies and society, to ensure that they have the best chances to do so.
I take responsibility from my own position and I invite anyone who has been able to achieve a certain level of success for themselves, or a certain level of influence that they could leverage, to participate in such conversations.
STELLA BIDA: I must admit that when you talked about women being more visible, I thought about the talented women that I often meet, who have a challenge being visible or prefer not to. I thought about the work that I’ve been doing too to overcome that.
RANIA HOTEIT: The work you are doing, to overcome that, is part of the things that people don't see. The things that I highlighted earlier as internal struggles, barriers, sufferings, anxieties and fears that we deal with.
These are the things that you face, confronting your demons, the ones that you go to bed with that no one will ever see, no one will ever hear. You are by yourself and those are the ones that you're dealing with on everyday basis. It feels uncomfortable.
You don't know yet how you'll overcome them, you're trying to it figure out, trying to break through these barriers in order to put yourself out there and in order to become more visible, to express yourself and to really bring your gifts to the world.
You cannot make your gifts accessible if you're invisible.
We need to have the determination to leverage our skills, acknowledge our gifts, acknowledge the value that we owe to the world.
STELLA BIDA: If you had the 10 years old Rania with you right now, what would you tell her?
RANIA HOTEIT: I didn't have a very easy childhood. I think the main thing I would tell my 10 years old self is: “Don't take so much responsibility on yourself, don't be scared of your own powers. Don't ever compromise your abilities or your gifts to make other people feel less intimidated by everything that you are. Don't take life too seriously as well”.
I did not have an easy childhood, I was through war, we were displaced, we lost people, we saw so many tragic experiences that happened with us and to others. So I didn't have an easy upbringing in any single way - not in our household, not in the environment we were living in, and not in the country I came from. So I experienced a lot of instability and a lot of trauma very early on.
When you're so young and you see so much happening around, you grow up very fast and you start thinking about the world in very serious ways. You start to skip steps on your way to becoming more self-sufficient, and on the way of carving your path and securing yourself. You start building for yourself what your family couldn't give you, or what your environment couldn't provide for you.
STELLA BIDA: You would tell your 10 y.o. “Don't be scared of your own power”…
RANIA HOTEIT: As an adult, you realize you have gifts, skills and talents. But the reality is that you've always had them.
Maybe others didn't see them in you when you were so little, maybe they did, but they ignored them. Maybe you did, but because others ignored them, you thought they're not valuable.
We go through these cycles when we're so young, where our perception of self is very dependent on how others treat us, or how others speak with us, or what others give us or don't. Our self-perception becomes very much influenced by these nuances of behaviors that people project on us, whether that is good or bad.
As a child, if you have a talent that's just emerging like a little spark of something, and you have a support system that sees that litter spark and fuels the fire in order to make it bigger, you have a completely different sense of self perception. It's a very different relationship that you'll have with yourself when you're that young.
You have to go through your own journey to discover that and to claim those powers. Because as you grow, your self-perception becomes much more inwardly, if you're evolving in the healthy way, rather than being more dependent on others, and on how they treat you, perceive and project on you.
So you either know your powers when you're young, and you have the support to expand on them so early, or you discover that you don't need to be scared of your own powers. Even if you didn't have the support and you didn't have the right self-perception at that age, you have the opportunity to claim that power any time in the future.
STELLA BIDA: Beautiful. Thank you very much for your precious time Rania!
RANIA HOTEIT: Thank you for having me. I truly I hope that everyone who listens to our conversation enjoys and finds value.