Choose Positive Living with Sara Troy and her guest Laila Tarraf, on air from May 11th
Laila Tarraf, author of Strong Like Water: How I Found the Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life. As women increasingly claim leadership roles in business and politics, and at a time in our nation when people are seeking authentic leaders, Laila Tarraf offers insights and inspiration for finding a natural balance and leading as a whole person—with compassion and courage, intellect and empathy. To be a successful leader, a woman needs to be tough—for years, that’s what Laila Tarraf believed. She prized her ability to be strong, firm, and impassive, like her hardline immigrant father. Her strength became her power, and, for a while, it served her well in her business life. It enabled her to go toe-to-toe with powerful male leaders and excel in a career that took her from a recruiter for the internet division of Wal-Mart to Chief People Officer for Peet’s Coffee & Tea, the company that launched the craft coffee movement in America. But always being in control and never letting herself be vulnerable bled over into her personal life with disastrous results.
In Strong Like Water: How I Found the Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life, Laila Tarraf shares her journey of awakening and profound transformation as a leader, a mother, and a woman. For much of her career, Laila, like many women, struggled to balance courage and compassion, intensity and flexibility, being respected and being likable. It took a series of three crushing losses for Laila to finally unlock decades of buried emotions and integrate the parts of herself that make her both strong and soft. As she attests: “I have come to see that true power comes from connecting your head to your heart.”
As the eldest of three children, Laila took on the dual role of mediator between her two warring parents and her mother’s comforter. At age seven, when her family left Lebanon for Las Vegas, her responsibilities expanded to serving as a bridge between two cultures and two languages. Her childhood training made her a natural for a career at the intersection of business and people: human resources. After seven years at Walmart.com, she landed a plum executive position with Peet’s in the San Francisco Bay Area. She thrived at work. She had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Yet, intimacy eluded her. After two failed relationships, she fell into marrying Daniel, an attractive and seemingly carefree younger man. Despite the gift of a daughter, Nadia, her brief marriage was troubled and ended tragically—with Daniel’s death from a drug overdose.
In Strong Like Water, Laila recounts her shock—first over the loss of her husband, then at her parents’ lack of response. Struck with the fact that her cold, hard father and needy, helpless mother were both incapable of giving her emotional support, Laila was overwhelmed with grief. As she grappled with Daniel’s death and then faced two more tragedies, she knew it was time to seek out professional help for herself.
LAILA TARRAF is a senior human resource executive with over 25 years of professional experience. After graduating with her MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley, she became one of the founding team members at Walmart.com. She then served as Chief People Officer at Peet’s Coffee and Tea, an iconic Bay Area premium coffee company. Currently, Laila is the Chief People Officer at AllBirds, a trusted advisor to entrepreneurs and investors, and a regular guest lecturer at Berkeley Law School. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her daughter, Nadia.