Struggle for health and wellness is very real and you must listen to your body. I wish someone would have told me how hard it is to maintain health and wellness, something we already take for granted. I thought sure, I eat healthy (and still do), work out regularly (not anymore) so how hard could it be? Well, it turns out…VERY HARD. The amount of stress you will undergo, with the emotional ups and downs will put menopause to shame. I used to do CrossFit 4/5 times a week, deadlifting and back-squatting over 300 lbs. Now, I can barely lift 10 lbs without feeling it!! Not only that, the constant cortisol elevation of my body just due to the stress is enough to spiral your hormones out of whack. It does not help when the pressure to #hustle all the time is feeding into every entrepreneur. My advice, listen to your body or you will burn out!! It is not about the hustle but about working smarter and find great, trustworthy people around you. The hustle is worthless if you decrease your lifespan through decreased health — both physically and mentally. Get your sleep! That email can wait.
As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shatha Barbour. Shatha is a passionate leader with a global vision to build bridges between communities locally, nationally, and internationally! She has a diverse background working in the healthcare/pharmaceutical industry, nonprofit sector, and is currently the CEO of Hera Hub Phoenix. Hera Hub is a beautiful landing space and launching pad for women in all industries and backgrounds who use it as a collaborative space for training, workshops, private office and shared office use. In her free time, you’ll find her spending quality time with her husband and three kids.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I had left my corporate career after moving to a new city, taking some time off to be with my young children whom I didn’t spend much time with during my career. I thought we’d only be in this city for a few years and move again, so I threw myself in co-founding a local non-profit organization. However, after 2–3 yrs, I started wondering what was my next career move, my own personal next step. I had this idea that had been looming in my head of starting a company in the healthcare industry, but at that time there were no clear direction or resources in the city to guide you along or point you in the right direction — the city was still developing and growing….and the people I was connecting with made the whole process and advice sound so overwhelming that I thought there has to be more, more information, more resources than this-otherwise no one would start companies. All at the same time, I had heard about what was going on in San Diego through friends — -a growing, vibrant ecosystem for women entrepreneurs and business owners and was intrigued “how did that happen?” I want a piece of that! I was so drawn into the mission and vision of what women in San Diego were creating and kept hearing from women in Phoenix that we want that, we need that, that I jumped in and decided to get on a movement of creating that space and ecosystem here in Phoenix. Having a global background, being born in Syria, in the US, and constantly monitoring global trends, I knew this was just one part of my life mission to help support women globally.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In the work that I do, I have interesting things happen to me every week, sometimes almost every day because you are interacting directly with people, lots and lots of people. My husband tells me all the time that I need to write down these interactions daily, as some of them are memorable and open doors and others are just crazy and funny at the same time. You also realize how crazy small the world is. Recently, I met with the CEO of Girl Scouts of AZ to discuss collaboration opportunities as we are on the same mission of advancing women and girls economically. At the end, we were just chatting about how I was from Syria and the situation there. She had mentioned that through her own contacts she had recently decided to make a donation to a small nonprofit that is helping the situation with Syrian Refugees, especially children. Like all Syrians abroad, every since the war started, was dedicated to helping any efforts for the people of Syria, since our families were still there but had to retire my ‘activist’ role when I started the business. I know most of the nonprofit and medical relief organizations helping on the ground, so I asked which one she donated to. Lo and behold, it was a very small nonprofit started by friends in Chicago, the Karam House! I snapped some pictures to share since its so rejuvenating to see that good, quality work being done around the world does come back! These stories and interactions seem to happen all the time, where I am connecting people not just locally but globally through a web of connections, stories, and experiences for collaborations to help make the world a better place.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but most of them not funny. When you’re starting out, nothing seems funny except in hindsight after years when you can look back and just laugh at yourself One of them being not knowing who exactly you are talking to and how “important” that person might be! I once had a phone conversation with someone who made an email introduction only telling me, he was a “very important person” that I should know and he should know me. Frankly, I did not look up the details to who was and on a Monday morning when he called to get to know me, I was putting out flames and dealing with a number of things in the company so was not in the mood for any “slight” comments or questions made to me about the mission or vision of the company. I just said it like it was, very plainly and boldly on why there is a need to support female founders and female leaders at all levels of a company with some statistics. What I learned, after finding out who he was, is that sometimes being bold might ruffle some feathers with the old guard, but it gives you the gumption to be memorable.
OK, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I was most attracted to the idea of having my career and life focused on a mission and vision. I wanted to be able to pour my creative energy, contacts and work on a vision that would leave a legacy and empower my own children. I have also always been attracted to adventure and continuous learning. Being a CEO is something that definitely brings on extreme challenges and throws you into a steep learning curve fast!
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive leads with full heart, mind, and soul that touches. Even as you delegate and outsource, your vision is what drives every cell at every hour. Other leaders will take on just their functional areas.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I enjoy seeing the vision come alive in the lives of the people we touch. When they smile and understand what you have created, you smile and gives you fuel to move forward.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
It is a 24 hour job. You have to learn how to forcibly unplug and carve out time for yourself and your family, no questions asked, no regrets. You also have to learn how to put guilt away to the side because it is not a friend on this journey. It does not serve you or your family.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
There is a glamour associated with being a CEO that is perpetuated in our society that make it seem like its so easy. The reality is that it is not that glamourous, you have to be fully committed to your vision with the persistence of a tiger unwilling to let go of its prey because it is just not that pretty all the time. The struggle of keeping your vision moving forward, while the number of obstacles in the way surmounts is not for the faint of heart.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Some challenges that are different are the questions and expectations asked of women than men. Female questions get asked not only different questions than their male counterparts but many times irrelevant questions. Furthermore, even though women are starting businesses 3x the rate of men, they get denied access to funding more times than their male counterparts and are constantly facing issues of cash flow to keep their businesses growing to the next level.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought I would be spending more time focusing on the strategic aspect of the business, but actually it requires you at any time to jump in and delve into the operations of an area at any given moment.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
One of the characteristics that helps to be successful is the ability to fly high like an eagle to keep the horizon of the vision alive and steady and dive straight down to grains of sand in your business to see where are the building blocks and gaps in the system. If you think you can handle that regularly throughout your career, you’ll be able to handle the journey. What person should avoid it? Someone who can’t handle vagueness of the future because the future and marketplace is unknown and you have to take the risks to forge through the unknown.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Find not only a support system of family and friends, but also support each other in wellness. Taking care of your health, physical and mental, is crucial to not only the work that you do independently but also for the team. The glamorous idea of the #hustle will only get you so far until you burn out. Work smarter.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Many people will come into your life to get you one step closer. Sometimes they are professional and other times they are personal. The person who recently comes to mind the most is my husband. He was the one who encouraged me to go after my dreams, take risks, and continuously keeps me moving forward despite any setbacks.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One of my missions is to create connections locally, nationally and globally. I try to help others on all levels establish those connections to help them move forward in their lives and careers. This takes the shape of helping people find jobs that walk into our hub when we can make those connections to organizations and companies connect for the greater good.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Longer and harder than anticipated. With the media coverage of glamorous and gloriously successful entrepreneurs, starting your own company sounds like a breeze. Come on, how hard can it be when you’ve juggled multiple projects and worked for larger companies under strict deadlines from senior executives, right? Well, yes, it is harder than what appears from what appears from those that already have had success. Success takes time, takes effort, patience and persistence — something that is not always highlighted in the stories of success. I wish someone had told me, take your projected business plan and timelines and double that! That’s a bit of realism that would be good to swallow.
- Struggle for health and wellness is very real and you must listen to your body. I wish someone would have told me how hard it is to maintain health and wellness, something we already take for granted. I thought sure, I eat healthy (and still do), work out regularly (not anymore) so how hard could it be? Well, it turns out…VERY HARD. The amount of stress you will undergo, with the emotional ups and downs will put menopause to shame. I used to do CrossFit 4/5 times a week, deadlifting and back-squatting over 300 lbs. Now, I can barely lift 10 lbs without feeling it!! Not only that, the constant cortisol elevation of my body just due to the stress is enough to spiral your hormones out of whack. It does not help when the pressure to #hustle all the time is feeding into every entrepreneur. My advice, listen to your body or you will burn out!! It is not about the hustle but about working smarter and find great, trustworthy people around you. The hustle is worthless if you decrease your lifespan through decreased health — both physically and mentally. Get your sleep! That email can wait.
- Make sure you have your personal relationships strong and ready for the bumpy journey ahead. Set your personal life up for success before you even enter this game. You think you have a great supportive family until you start a business — this will test all your relationships! It’ll affect your love life, your parents, kids, and friends. Set your personal foundations on solid footing and communicate often and effectively with those closest to you about the adventure you are about to take. It is a journey and it is an adventure. Have them join you in it, be a part of your dream and your vision. Listen to their needs, even though you’ll feel like the baby craving all the attention most of the time. Share with them that you might be going on an up and down ride, but you are still there for them and love them, and especially need their love and support to help you through it.
- Keep your boundaries, your morals, your professionalism very clear and on point. Your clients, your coworkers, your team will all encroach and test your boundaries and morals — and they don’t mean it negatively. Learn to say no and establish your boundaries of how you work and how you want the culture of your organization to be. I personally had to separate phone lines and make it clear that anything after hours will not be responded to until the next day unless it was an absolute emergency. Again, this goes back to point 2 and 3 above, or else your foundations and structures will crumble.
- It just isn’t that pretty all the time. Let’s be real, there is beauty in the journey of entrepreneurship and being CEO, but there will be many times you are just a hot mess with tears, Kleenex box, and mascara running down your face. Being a CEO is a real test of your professional and personal leadership skills. Yes, its business, but it is also personal. You will care about your team and your clients like you do your family. You will care about your vision and mission as you do about your dreams. You have to do the internal work to pull everything together and showcase the business with heart and soul because after all, that’s why you did it and that’s why people want your company.
- Step up, Step In, and take it Steady!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Help any five people that come your way with just one thing. Make a phone call or open a connection. Pay for their groceries. Give a good recommendation for their career, Anything, keep it simple and make an impact for their future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost
This quote weaves through my entire life from my teenage years, developing into an adult, to full adult years and different career paths I’ve taken — as well as stances I’ve taken based on principles and values!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.