People working in a culture with a balance of boundaries and empathy are more motivated to perform well. That’s what Laila Tarraf realized in her decades of experience as a recruitment and business leader. She carried this realization and successfully developed a work culture that effectively combines high-performance growth and caring culture.
Laila is the Chief People Officer at Allbirds, where she is responsible for guiding and strengthening the company’s unique, mission-based culture. She wrote Strong Like Water: How I Found the Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life at a time when she experienced the grief of losing loved ones yet gained powerful realizations as a mother and business leader. In her view, connecting to our common humanity and bringing hearts to the workplace is the key to creating exceptional organizations.
Listen to this episode as Sean and Laila exchange inspiring thoughts on recruitment and its changes from the industrial to the information age, holistic leadership, and emotional resilience.
On creating the post-pandemic hybrid workplace
[00:15:05] I think a post-pandemic hybrid workplace and meeting greater flexibility in work is all about a very integrated holistic leadership style that can balance being empathetic and caring— compassionate while at the same time focusing on growing the business and holding people accountable. And while the two might seem like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, they’re really not. They’re more like the DNA strands of a helix that are intertwined. I’m always drawing these two intersecting circles where I have business on one side and people on the other, and so there’s an overlap, and that’s the sweet spot. And for all of us, it’s finding that mix, that alchemy that works for us, given our personal style, we all have it. It’s just figuring out how to play in the middle.
On treating employees as a team, rather than as a family
[00:18:24] While you may have made great friends that you think of as family, we’re not a family because you can’t quit your family. You can’t leave your family. We’re really a team, and not to denigrate the connections and relationships because being a high-performing team, when you ask people, what are the most inspirational times in their life where they have the greatest connections, it’s usually when they’re part of a team where they’re trying to tackle a really tough challenge, whether it’s in sports or business, and they came together and were able to overcome whatever this thing was. And that’s beautiful.
On creating a balance between caring for people and communicating their areas for improvement
[00:19:46] The challenge is the counterbalance to being empathetic and being able to hold your boundaries. Because if you don’t, then you’re merging. I think there is a way that you can care for the person and keep your connection to the person while at the same time delivering a message that they’re not meeting expectations or that something needs to improve. It really is as much an art as it is a science to drop into connection and show that you care.
On how she picked the title for her book
[00:24:43] I chose the title Strong Like Water after Lao Tzu’s The Tao Te Ching it’s verse 78, right? Be like water. Be like water is really about how water is actually very powerful, but in a gentle way. And in it, he says water is fluid, soft, and yielding, but water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, water is fluid, soft, and yielding, which will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. And he said that this is a paradox that what is soft is strong. And when I read that, I thought that’s it. And I realized that really life, in general, is all about reconciling these dualities, where we fall into these false paradoxes where we think I’m either weak or I’m strong. But the reality is like the yin yang symbol; there is no hard, there is no soft. It just depends on your viewpoint. We are all both.
- Laila Tarraf on LinkedIn
- Laila Tarraf Official Website
- Strong Like Water™ How I Found the Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00:09] Sean Li: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, we’re joined by Laila Tarraf. She is a class 98 (97 is the correct one) and currently Chief People Officer at Allbirds. Welcome to the podcast, Laila.
[00:00:23] Laila Tarraf: Thank you, Sean. I’m really happy to be here.
[00:00:26] Sean Li: So I do have to share with our listeners how we met. I met you because you are our commencement speaker for the class of 2020 and class of 2021 EWMBA program combined our makeup commencement. And you gave an amazing and really inspiring and personal speech. That was very memorable. Thank you, especially during these really difficult times. And so, thank you so much for being our commencement speaker and for our listeners who do not hear that speech; we would love to learn a little bit more about you, where you came from, where you grew up and how you grew up.
[00:01:05] Laila Tarraf: So my parents were both Lebanese. They immigrated to the United States on student visas, and then my mom got pregnant. And so I was born in Los Angeles, and after she had me, she stopped going to school, lost their student visas. We went back to Beirut when I was just a child, a baby before I was one. And we stayed there until I was seven until the civil war started getting bad in the early ’70s. So we moved back to the United States. We moved to Las Vegas because my father was in the casino business. And so, I grew up in Las Vegas.
[00:01:42] Sean Li: That’s amazing. We have another thing in common. We both moved to the United States.
[00:01:47] Laila Tarraf: Oh, is that right?
[00:01:48] Sean Li: I guess you were born here, but I moved to the United States when I was seven.
[00:01:51] Laila Tarraf: From where?
[00:01:52] Sean Li: From China, Southwest China.
[00:01:54] Laila Tarraf: Okay.
[00:01:55] Sean Li: One of the things that I just learned about Lebanon was I have this friend at the gym that I met; well, my wife makes fun of me because I tend to make friends everywhere. And he is from Byblos, and he was telling me how the origins of the alphabet are from Byblos. I didn’t know that. And I was like, wow, that’s amazing.
[00:02:20] Laila Tarraf: Byblos is actually a pretty cool area. It’s kind of a touristy area. It’s really beautiful right on the sea, right there. There’s a lot of artisans that have their little shops there. It’s pretty cool. I think most people that think of Lebanon just sort of envision bombed-out cars and chaos, which I guess they do have that as well, but there’s just tremendous beauty there. So it’s a shame. But yeah, it’s a fascinating country.
[00:02:43] Sean Li: He said Byblos has one of the oldest fishing villages and ports sitting right on the Mediterranean. So, well, he invited me to visit because he saw his family there. It’s supposedly very well connected there.
[00:02:58] Laila Tarraf: So I’m sure he did, that’s how it works in those small countries.
[00:03:00] Sean Li: That’s why I’m actually quite excited to visit Beirut, one of the cities I’ve always wanted to visit, along with Cyprus. I have a friend from Cyprus, right across the waters.
[00:03:14] Laila Tarraf: Yeah. You can hit both of those in one trip. Cyprus is cool. I’ve been there too, but not just because I’m Lebanese, Beirut has so much more sophistication and more there. I mean, Cyprus is great, but it’s an island, right?
[00:03:26] Sean Li: I dunno if you’ve watched Anthony Bourdain’s episodes in Beirut.
[00:03:31] Laila Tarraf: Yes. The three days in Beirut. I thought it was amazing. I was in Cuba when they shot his Cuba episode. Isn’t that crazy?
[00:03:42] Sean Li: Did you get to see him?
[00:03:44] Laila Tarraf: I didn’t get to see him, but I saw the crew and the shoot, and they actually shot all of us. We were right at this really cool restaurant and all of a sudden we saw the camera, and we were like, what’s going on? And they’re like, oh, this is for Anthony Bourdain’s show. I’m like, okay, cool.
[00:03:57] Sean Li: That’s wonderful. All right. Well, coming back to you, you grew up in Las Vegas, but you ended up back in Los Angeles for school, right?
[00:04:10] Laila Tarraf: Yeah. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my career. My parents, neither one of them went to college and again, first-generation and I ended up going to Cal Poly Pomona because at the time they had the number two program next to Cal Tech in something called computer information systems, which was really just the business side of this new burgeoning field in computer. So I learned how to program Cabal and Fortran and JCL and just got a solid foundation in this emerging field, but it was largely mainframe. Right? And I also got a minor in communications because there was always something I loved about speaking and crafting a narrative. I should have known back that I was going to write a book, and I always say, if I was ten years younger, I might have stayed in technology because I graduated in the mid-’80s.
And back then, it was just all big mainframe and very back office stuff. And I had a job in my senior year of college with General Electrics Aircraft Engine Group, and I was an assembly programmer, and I was responsible for implementing a new inventory management system, 20,000 aircraft engine parts. And there was such resistance to it. I remember once this foreman said to me, I’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive, and this is not going to work I thought, I’m not loving this. And so I pivoted, but having that background, I think, has served me really well because I’m just not as intimidated by technology because I kind of learn the basics. So I feel like it served me in that way, at least.
[00:05:54] Sean Li: You had mentioned that you had some breaks earlier during your MBA program as well.
[00:06:00] Laila Tarraf: Yeah. So I went back to get my MBA after I’d been out of school for about six or seven years. And I started in the evening program because I sort of fallen into recruiting and because I understood technology at the time I recruited engineering and technical positions; this was in the early and mid-’90s, the one that was very early days of the internet starting up. And I started in the evening program at Haas, and then I looked around, and I thought, wait, there are people that are just going to school and not working too. I’m going to do that. So I transferred to the day program. And then, of course, when I got to the day program, I thought, wait, there’s a study abroad program. So I applied to study abroad. And I got into the school, the exchange program just outside of Paris, I should say, is what it’s called.
And then I got to Paris. This is a common theme in my life. I’m always attracted by shiny objects. So when I got to France, I had a friend call me who was at Netscape. And this was again, very early days of Netscape, 1996. And he said, look, we’re building out our European offices. Would you consider staying and helping us build out? They were building offices in Munich and Stockholm, and Dublin. And I thought, well, so I reached out to Haas. I said, can I put my MBA on hold? So I ended up staying in France for a year. And then I came back, and I graduated with the class of ’98.
[00:07:22] Sean Li: That’s exciting. Those are really early days of Netscape.
[00:07:28] Laila Tarraf: Yeah. Really early days.
[00:07:29] Sean Li: I think they were found in 1994. Yeah. Marc Andreessen was still a young kid hotshot.
[00:07:38] Laila Tarraf: I distinctly remember being in meetings with Jim Clark. Oh yeah. It was crazy. And then, when I graduated, I ended up jumping into the hottest startup at the time. Do you remember Webvan? You may not. I mean, it was a flash, and if you look it up, Webvan at the time became the poster child for the internet companies that just completely imploded. I think Goldman Sachs lost $500 million on that investment. It was the first attempt at grocery delivery to home, sort of the last mile to the consumer. Yeah. And the technology was founded by Louis Borders.
[00:08:14] Sean Li: He found the Borders bookstore.
[00:08:16] Laila Tarraf: That’s right, Borders bookstore. Exactly.
[00:08:18] Sean Li: I’m a huge Borders fan.
[00:08:19] Laila Tarraf: He was an incredibly thoughtful, super-intelligent man. And he came up with this algorithm, and because it was the early days of the internet and money chasing deals, everyone was just throwing money at this thing. And we wanted to get big, fast. Yeah. And it’s just such a shame because had we focused on the Bay Area where there was the density and the frequency, we might have proved that model out, but because this was big CapEx. The big expenditures were building out these big warehouses in Atlanta and Chicago, and Dallas, and it just was too early for people. They weren’t going to buy their groceries online and deliver it to their home. This was 22 years ago. It’s like, no, I’m going to go shopping, thank you. So it was a great idea way before it’s time.
[00:09:09] Sean Li: Way before.
[00:09:10] Laila Tarraf: Way before it’s time.
[00:09:11] Sean Li: Right now, I was just reading this morning the information that the hottest funded startups right now are last month’s delivery startups.
[00:09:19] Laila Tarraf: That’s so interesting.
[00:09:22] Sean Li: And that’s crazy. And speaking of Borders, I love Borders. Borders is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’m from Michigan. So I used to go to borders all the time to read; I prefer Borders over Barns and Noble because Borders at these amazing locations are just massive bay windows, and they’re for the cafes. And I was just very well designed and ashamed that they ended up shuttering as well. But that’s the nature of business; you either innovate or you perish.
[00:09:57] Laila Tarraf: That’s right. That’s a perfect example.
[00:10:00] Sean Li: So that sounds amazing. I mean, how did you get to where you are today from there to be the Chief People Officer of Allbirds?
[00:10:10] Laila Tarraf: I wish I could say it was all by design, but it never really is, which should be heartening for people on the front end of their career. Like, don’t stress so much about having it perfectly organized in your mind because you learn along the way. As I said, I had fallen into recruiting, and there were definitely aspects of recruiting that I love, but it was just a little too linear and limited narrow for me. When I was at Webvan, after being there for six, eight months, I was contacted by Accel that had taken a minority interest in the internet division of Walmart, Inc. So Walmart had tried to develop an internet site for their business from ’95 until 2000, once in Bentonville, then they tried to source it out. It was a very early day, and you couldn’t get the talent anywhere but the Bay Area.
And Rob Walton’s son-in-law and daughter both went to Stanford. And I think they didn’t want to go back to Bentonville, and they wanted to stay in the Bay Area. So they convinced Rob and the other executives that we should try to put a walmart.com out there. So because of my six months of expertise in the last mile of eCommerce at the time, I was hired over to walmart.com, and I was employee number seven there. And so it was just this crazy, crazy ride where I was there for seven years. And we grew the company from nothing, seven to 650 people, almost a billion in sales. It went through many iterations over that seven years; the first couple years, we were completely separate as a separately-run subsidiary. And then, of course, 2001, dot-com imploded that holiday season, the following year, it was clear that we would have to be pulled back in. And then, over the following few years, we started becoming more and more of an extension of Walmart.
They used to call us to dot-com as if there were no others. And after seven years, all roads led to Bentonville, Arkansas, and I decided to leave. But after my first year as the head of recruiting, I was hired to be the head of recruiting. We hired 250 people. We didn’t have the head of HR. I had a female CEO named Jean Jackson, and she was amazing, with very tough high standards. And we had looked for a VP of HR. We didn’t find anybody we thought was right. And she said to me, Hey Laila, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you take this? And my first reaction was, I don’t think so because I didn’t see myself as an HR person at all. And I also had this impression that HR people were administrative and sort of back-office and not strategic or not the core of the business. And I think that was the case like 50 or even 30 years ago. That was certainly not the case today. Yeah. And so luckily for me, she gave me that opportunity. I would not have raised my hand, which is such a good lesson for all of us, and I never looked back. So I learned and grew along the way.
[00:13:14] Sean Li: I would really love to hear more about what you just said because you’re absolutely right. It just hit me that the role of HR has shifted from the industrial age to the information age. In the industrial age, it was just about getting people in the door. Get in line, do this, do that. It was less about culture, which is why the unions need exist in many ways, because nobody cared about the employees, except for themselves. Really curious to hear in your 27 years now in this field the changes that you’ve seen.
[00:13:54] Laila Tarraf: Oh my gosh. I mean, I think we’ve seen the greatest changes in the last couple of three years. Twenty years ago, when I started in HR here, at least in the Bay Area, we recognized pretty quickly the importance of getting the right talent in the door. And I remember I used to quote that the right engineer if you were a tech company, could be the difference of 10x in your revenue. Right. And so this idea that employees were talented started to emerge in the tech industry. I think about 20 years ago. And I remember in the early days being so incense that I’d had to pay; I don’t know, 30% of my pay band for an Oracle DBA. And I remember Jean Jackson said to me that when you find great talent, you hold your nose and pay for it. You just have to do it.
That goes for creatives, tech talent, and it was such good advice. And then it got to be more around learning and development and coaching and elevating your employees. And then it was culture, right? Creating the conditions for people to do great work. And now I think post-pandemic and hybrid workplace and meeting greater flexibility in work, it is all about this type of leadership, which ironically is what I end up writing about in my book, which I wrote before the pandemic, which is the need for a very integrated holistic leadership style that can balance being empathetic and caring, compassionate while at the same time, focusing on growing the business and holding people accountable. And while the two might seem like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, they’re not. They’re more like sort of the DNA strands of a helix that are sort of intertwined.
And for all of us, it’s finding that mix, that alchemy that works for us, given our personal style, we all have it. It’s just figuring out how to play in the middle. I’m always drawing these two intersecting circles where I have a business on one side and people on the other, so there’s an overlap, and that’s the sweet spot, I think, for all leaders to try to find where it is for them, right? Like where is that intersection between caring about high performance and driving for results and building the business while at the same time, caring about people and building a culture that creates the conditions for great work and culture and belonging and diversity and all the things that we realize are so, so important today.
[00:16:31] Sean Li: Yeah. And on that last point, I’ve been struggling personally lately, a little bit trying to figure out these circles. And I say this because my leadership style is, I would say, very compassionate and care a lot about growing people, which is why I’m obsessed with building processes. Because I feel like processes set people free, right? Allows people to advance because if they can build processes around their roles, they can advance, showing a deep understanding of their role, right? And then, we can easily refill that role so that you can move up. And we just keep doing this in our organization. But one of the things I’ve been struggling with is building compassion and building a strong culture, and learning how to set boundaries. I remember reading a couple of weeks back, Harvard Business Review sent me this around, should you call your employees or your team a family? Should you use the word family? And they were suggesting that you shouldn’t, but I had quite different thoughts about it. It’s very true. I mean, I don’t completely disagree, but where is that delineation between care and compassion, trust, belonging, and bonding. But where do you draw that line? I’m curious to hear, how do you draw that line?
[00:17:56] Laila Tarraf: I mean, that is such a great question, and it is hard to do. We actually had that conversation and continue to have it at Allbirds. It came up last year where, when you’re a startup and we have such compelling, inspirational founders, and there’s literally five of you in the room and then 20, and then 50, it does feel like you’re a family. And we intentionally said while it might feel like family. And while you may have made great friends that you think of as family, we’re not a family because you can’t quit your family.
[00:18:33] Sean Li: That’s true.
[00:18:34] Laila Tarraf: You can’t leave your family. We’re really a team, and not to denigrate the connections and relationships because being a high performing team, like when you ask people, what are the most inspirational times in their life where they have the greatest connections. It’s usually when they’re part of a team where they’re trying to tackle a really tough challenge, whether it’s in sports or business, and they came together and were able to overcome whatever this thing was. And that’s beautiful. That’s hard to do. And what I realize now is, I don’t know if this is a generational thing, it might; I do feel that I’ve worked at companies that are a little more sharp elbows. I worked in private equity, just very masculine; we eat meat for breakfast and are very competitive. And when I’ve worked for operating company, these like Peet’s that was kind and liberal and progressive and Allbirds also a very kind nice conflict-averse even. And so I’ve had to manage both sides, and I think you said it; the challenge is the counterbalance to being empathetic and being able to hold your boundaries.
Because if you don’t, then you’re merging. I think there is a way that you can care for the person and keep your connection to the person while at the same time delivering a message that they’re not meeting expectations or that something needs to improve. And I think human nature is, oh, I have to disconnect from you to give you this hard message. And what ends up happening is you don’t want to do it. So you pull your punches, and you don’t say it, or you say it so sort of indirectly that they don’t hear it. And then when you finally say it more directly, and I’ve seen this for 20 years, the person will say, well, why didn’t you say that before? And you’ll, and you think you’ve been saying it all along, but you haven’t. And so, it is as much an art as it is a science to be able to drop into connection, to show that you care. And from that place say, Hey, listen, Sean, I want to talk to you about that deliverable the other day. It wasn’t where I thought it should be. And let’s talk about what I was expecting and what you gave me. And I try to own it’s all in the delivery. Maybe I wasn’t clear with my expectations. Maybe there was something going on on your side; let’s talk about it. But you come from a place of understanding and connection, not separation and throwing this ball over the wall.
[00:21:27] Sean Li: Yeah. That is really great advice. One of the toughest things I think about communication is just language. It’s just how you communicate. Preparation, that’s something I learned that someone taught me this year preparing for difficult conversations, which is super helpful, but I think a perfect segue to get your book because I want to get to your book, Strong Like Water, How I Found The Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life. I feel like we’ve been talking a little bit about this.
[00:21:59] Laila Tarraf: We have.
[00:22:01] Sean Li: So we love to hear what inspired the book and what was the impetus for writing it?
[00:22:07] Laila Tarraf: Well, I went through a period in my life where I lost my husband, my father, and my mother in pretty quick succession. And until that point, I hadn’t really experienced much adversity. And I had a very sunny personality. I was super positive to the point where I pushed away negative things that I didn’t want to deal with. And I’d done that for about 40 years. So when these losses came in such quick succession, I couldn’t, for the first time in my life, pretend that everything was okay. And I realized I didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to handle them. And I really broke down, and looking back on it, I realized at the time it was a huge opportunity for growth for me, as most adversity is in our lives, right? We’ve all learned in the last couple of years.
And what I experienced in having to grieve those losses and allow myself to feel feelings. But honestly, I had never allowed myself to feel before. And I thought it would make me weak, and I was going to lose my ability to be strong. I would lose my agency. I wouldn’t be able to be tough. None of those things, of course, were true, and just the opposite was true, but I didn’t know it at the time. My huge learning was that the more I allowed myself to be vulnerable, feel my feelings, and show that I was struggling, the more self-compassion I developed for myself, the stronger I became. It’s almost this inverse relationship. I used to be weak on the inside and strong on the outside, but it was a superficial strong, and now I’m strong on the inside. And so I can be softer on the outside. I don’t have to show you how strong I am because I know how strong I am. I can be a little softer. Right. And I carried that into my work and my parenting.
[00:24:14] Sean Li: I definitely have to follow that up with how’d you come with the title? What does it mean to be Strong Like Water?
[00:24:22] Laila Tarraf: I struggled to find the right title for the book. I wanted something that captured the duality of being a single mom, a nurturer, a female business leader, someone who could be more directive, and something that captured the strength and the tenderness I was trying to live into. And so I chose the title Strong Like Water after Lao Tzu’s The Tao Te Ching it’s verse 78, right? It’s called be like water, and Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher. I’m sure you know, the father of Taoism. Be like water is really about how water is actually very powerful, but in a gentle way. And in it, he says water is fluid, soft, and yielding, but water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, water is fluid, soft, and yielding, overcoming whatever is rigid and hard. And he said that this is a paradox that what is soft is strong. And when I read that, I thought that’s it. And I realized that really life, in general, is all about reconciling these dualities, where we fall into these false paradoxes where we think I’m either weak or I’m strong. But the reality is like the Yin Yang symbol; there is no hard, there is no soft. It just depends on your viewpoint. We are all both.
[00:25:50] Sean Li: Right. I think the older I get, the more I’ve come to that realization of duality. I really like that. I’ve heard this saying, I realize I haven’t put much thought into it. I think I saw it once a long time ago, but the thing I keep telling myself going through challenges is that everything’s a double-edged sword. Similar idea, right? But I actually like the strong like water even better because it’s so true. I mean, I don’t deal with swords. Nobody has a sword anymore. But I see water all the time, especially when I go surfing. Oh, water is so gentle out there. But when you go surfing, the water’s not gentle.
[00:26:36] Laila Tarraf: Powerful. That is so true. That’s I don’t know if you know this, but Bruce Lee, most people attribute the term, be like water to Bruce Lee, not Lao Tzu, because Bruce Lee actually ended up using that term a lot. And when you think of Bruce Lee and how powerful he was, but he used to say that water is formless, you poured into a cup, and it becomes the cup. So he used to say, be like water and how he fought and he would move, and he would use your energy against you kind of that jujitsu move. And again, I feel like really good leadership is a little bit like using that jujitsu move. And taking the energy and kind of putting it back out there.
[00:27:19] Sean Li: I have so much, I want to ask you just around this air area, but I do want to be respectful of your time. One of the things that your subtitle is how to have the courage to lead with love. Right? And one of the things that, in my opinion, is difficult to grasp and learn is how do you lead with love, right? In your book, when you say finding the courage to lead with love, what does that mean?
[00:27:44] Laila Tarraf: One of the things that I’ve learned is to really open your heart, to put yourself out there requires courage because anytime you put yourself out there and care about someone, something, there is a chance that you’re going to get hurt. And so, it requires a certain level of courage to open your heart and to connect. And I realized for me that as courageous, as I looked on the outside, I really wasn’t very courageous on the inside because I was always protecting my heart. And so, I have learned to have the courage, be more open, and be more vulnerable to show how I feel and show how much I care. And from there, I believe is where real connection comes from. And so, if you have the courage to lead from that place, that is where you are going to have the greatest connection with your people, with your employees, and where you’re going to do the best work.
Everybody wants to work with people they trust and respect and feel like they’re connected with beyond the work. Hmm. I always think about how soldiers who have been in just awful combat. All of them talk about how it was the most awful thing. And yet the most amazing thing that they miss is because the connections they make with each other like true deep connections, are greater than anything else that they’ve experienced in their lives. And so I think when you come from that place, that’s when you create the connections and the relationships that get you through working in sort of the world we live in today, which is dynamic and you know, the VUCA world, right? Virtual, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
[00:29:41] Sean Li: Yeah. Naturally, I think the follow-up question to opening yourself up and leading with courage with love is what is the resilience component of that? Say trust is broken when tragedy strikes because you have made this investment into people into your life, others’ lives. Where is the water resilience portion of that? How does that work?
[00:30:06] Laila Tarraf: We talk a lot about developing resilience today, right? Because all of us have been so worn down by having to manage, working, going to school, raising families through the pandemic, there’s emotional resilience as well. I think a big part of developing resilience is self-care. And you have to recognize when you haven’t invested in yourself and to have a certain level of self-compassion for yourself; you can’t give what you don’t have. That’s often the hardest thing for us. It’s easier to forgive someone else than to forgive ourselves. It’s easier to have compassion for someone else than it is to have for ourselves. And so, I think we build resilience by taking care of ourselves and whatever that looks like for us, physically taking care of ourselves, as well as recognizing when our inner critic is on full tilt and quieting. That, and that is, I think, as we start to be kinder to ourselves and not hold ourselves to an impossible standard, we start to build our resilience. There’s a quote that I talk about in my book by this Benedictine monk where he says the anecdote to stress is not resting; it’s wholehearted living. I always think about that again, if you are coming from a place of “I’m taking care of myself, I’m taking care of my people.” That’s how you build resilience.
[00:31:34] Sean Li: That makes so much sense. I love that quote.
[00:31:37] Laila Tarraf: It’s easy to say. It’s harder to do.
[00:31:39] Sean Li: Right. I mean, I’ve been reflecting and meditating on this for quite a bit because I took some days off for the holidays, but I didn’t feel restful. Part of it was because I didn’t feel intentional about the things I wanted to do past weekend. Like I cleaned because I bought a Dyson versus being intentional about cleaning and spending time with my son, but I wasn’t intentional about spending time with my son. And so I didn’t feel like I wasn’t, in his words, wholehearted about taking time with my family about being intentional about my rest. And so that is so true. I have one last question. We were talking about water. I have a very vivid imagination. I was thinking about how one weakness of water is that it can evaporate. Right? Which was a resilience thing. Because if you don’t care for yourself, you’re leaving yourself out to dry. That’s kind of the imaginative thought that I had, and you evaporate.
[00:32:36] Laila Tarraf: Oh, that’s great.
[00:32:38] Sean Li: And it takes a while before you enter the clouds and come back down to earth again and regroup yourself.
[00:32:44] Laila Tarraf: Oh, I truly like that. That’s great. That’s a great metaphor.
[00:32:48] Sean Li: So I was thinking exactly what you’re saying. You have to recognize and have awareness is the key to this one. The hardest thing to have self-awareness is to be aware when you are beached, and you might evaporate.
[00:33:04] Laila Tarraf: Depleted, right? I say all the time that work; this activity is to fill your cup. I say that a lot now because I feel like employees are like, you want what from me? Because everyone feels so burned out. And, I am now very intentional about creating opportunities for people at Allbirds. When I say this is to fill your cup, I’m here to give you something, right. Whether it’s a learning opportunity or a speaker that inspires them or something, and being intentional about using that terminology, right? Because if your cup is not filled, you can’t fill anyone else’s cup at all walking around evaporated.
[00:33:41] Sean Li: Absolutely. So yeah. My last question is, what do you do for self-care personally? What are your favorite things to do? Well,
[00:33:49] Laila Tarraf: I live in Marin County, so I love to hike. The nature here is so easily accessible. It’s so beautiful. I’ve lived in the Bay Area now for 25 years, mostly in the city, but I still go out, and you see these big, beautiful redwoods. And I’m like, my gosh, I live here, and you see the bay and the water, and it’s just beautiful. And to me, that is nurturing, and that is healing. And it’s different if I go hiking and I’m chattering with a friend versus by myself with my dog and using it more as a walking meditation just to reconnect with nature and myself. It’s all about reconnecting.
[00:34:31] Sean Li: That’s right with yourself and nature. Absolutely. Well, for our listeners, please check out Laila’s book, Strong Like Water: How I Found the Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life. I have an audible myself. It is available everywhere. We’ll put a link in the description below in this episode for people to checkouts, but Laila, I definitely want to continue this conversation. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
[00:34:59] Laila Tarraf: It was really lovely to spend time with you, Sean. Thank you so much.