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The Art of Compassionate Leadership with Nabeela Ixtabalan

Apr 24, 2022

Learn the art of compassionate leadership with the Chief People Officer of Walmart Canada, Nabeela Ixtabalan.
 
Nabeela is responsible for more than 100,000 employees at Walmart Canada and shared her own struggles with wellbeing and overwhelm.
 
 
These were my top 3 take aways from the interview:
 
1. Well-being is a catalyst for growth. When we focus on well-being, our retention rates are much better. Everything benefits. Happy and healthy staff lead to a more efficient and productive workforce. 
 
2. When we ask someone how they are, we need to be interested in the real answer. This one hit me. We often just ask this question as a formality, and rarely ask it to find out how the other person is ACTUALLY doing. We need to be prepared for honest answers. We also need to start answering honestly. 
 
3. We need to demonstrate as leaders, that we can both achieve success professionally, and holistically take care of ourselves. Show your staff and the people you lead that you can achieve things in a professional sense, but not at the expense of your own well-being.
 
Nabeela shared some amazing insights in the episode. Please share this with people who you think will benefit from it.
 
 

Full Transcript

SPEAKERS 

James Laughlin, Nabeela Ixtabalan 

 

James Laughlin 00:00 

Welcome to lead on purpose. I'm James Laughlin, former seven-time world champion musician, and now an executive coach to global leaders and high performers. In every episode, I bring you an inspiring leader or expert to help you lead your life and business on purpose. Thanks for taking the time to connect today on investing in yourself. Enjoy the show. 

 

James Laughlin 00:39 

In today's show, you're going to meet and learn from the Chief People Officer of one of Canada's largest employers, Walmart, Canada. Nabeela Ixtabalan oversees the wellbeing and human resources for 100,000 staff members. In today's show, we talk about burnout, we talk about the future of work, the role of leadership in the workplace while being set and how we can be more vulnerable as leaders. Sit back and enjoy. 

 

James Laughlin 01:25 

Nabeela, a massive welcome to The Lead on Purpose Podcast. 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 01:31 

Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor for me to be here. 

 

James Laughlin 01:34 

That's special. Well, we want to thank our friend, our mutual friend, Chester Elton, for connecting us. 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 01:40 

Yes, he's a gift. And anyone he says that I should talk to, I talk to. So, I just listen to what Chester says. 

 

James Laughlin 01:47 

I love it. Now Nabeela, what you're doing is amazing. And as the Chief People Officer at Walmart, Canada, you're responsible for the leadership, the wellbeing the direction of I think it's around 100,000, staff members or associates, is that right? Right. That's huge. So, let's not start there. Let's start with your journey. Because I think it's great for anyone listening there to just hear about your journey in terms of getting there. And maybe some of the speed bumps of getting to that position where you're not really leading and influencing other people around you. So where did your professional journey begin? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 02:28 

Yeah, sure. I love telling the story. So, I am quintessential, pull yourselves up from the bootstraps, first-generation immigrants of Lebanese immigrants from Lebanon to the US. And so, I like to actually introduce myself as an American by birth Canadian by choice, but I'm honestly just a bit of a nomad, I live lived in a lot of different places. And I started in the retail sector as a barista making $6.50 an hour to pay my way through university. And what I realized was I was really good at working, like, for whatever reason, I was good at work. I had this natural inclination when it came to leadership and management. So, at 18, I was leading a $1.2 million business leading my own Starbucks coffee Cafe, and one of the major thoroughfares in Houston, Texas. And so, I decided just to you know, really prioritize work. And I went to school at night. And this is very common in the States, you know, lots of people have to pay their way through university because it's very expensive. So, I didn't see any reason why I couldn't work full time and go to school at night, which is really like holding two full-time jobs. And I basically just trained myself to have this really crazy threshold for work. And then, you know, as you're, as I was growing throughout my career, I took on more responsibility kept going to school at night, it took me six years to graduate from university. When I graduated from university, I was seven months pregnant with my first child. So, you know, here we go, going on from two full-time jobs to another two full-time jobs being a mom and being a professional. And you know, and that was basically this cycle I created for myself, just work my way through everything, right? Hard work and dedication and putting your head down and trouble and kind of struggled through. And that was really, it worked really well for me until I had my second child. And I got hit with postpartum depression unexpectedly. And it was like an out-of-body experience where I was actually really good at work. I had high functioning, I was high functioning at work, but at home, I was just, I was a mess. I couldn't even hold my child-like when I got home, and it was just like this really weird out-of-body experience. But again, I kind of trained myself to put my head down and just keep working so no one at work knew, you couldn't tell I was struggling. And then I had my first anxiety attack on the highway of a Houston highway which if you've ever been anyone's ever any of your listeners, everybody, Houston and Texas highways are like pretty anxiety many of them in and of themselves. So, but I had my first thing, and again, I just, you know, put my head down and in silence kept working. And it took me a long time almost, you know, I would say eight years to rebalance my life and figure out, you know, how to take care of myself well, I continued my, my career professionally. And I, I tell this story, because when you look at my LinkedIn, James, everyone's like, wow, you're so wildly successful, and you've accomplished a lot. And you're, I was a Chief Human Resource Officer at a very young age, early 30s. And I know 39, I'll share my age, it's still young for to be in this role. I got where I am really quickly. But there is also a side effect to the speed at which I tried to do things. And that's what I like to talk about now is that you know, this just to create awareness and to not pretend that there hasn't been a consequence to some of the achievement ever I've achieved because there has been. 

 

 

 

James Laughlin 06:00 

That's amazing. And you're right, you know, when obviously you had it up. And for those who are watching the video, like, you know, your LinkedIn is incredible. It's amazing what you've done, who you are, who you lead, your achievements. But you're right, like, what we don't see on there is the collateral, the emotions, the ups, the downs, the trials, and tribulations. So, was there a point where you're like, wow, is this all worth it? Like, I'm feeling overwhelmed. 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 06:25 

Yeah, I mean, there were lots of points when I was feeling overwhelmed. As I said, I think, you know, I didn't know that at the time. But the success that I had worked so hard for, and that I was very proud of was making me sick. And I didn't realize that until I got hit with anxiety after I had postpartum. And I literally big, you know, couldn't function during certain in certain aspects of my life. And it took medical intervention, it took, you know, treatment for many years. And it took a lot of reflection. And it really came down to setting boundaries and knowing myself well enough to know when my stress is leading to it leading into a dangerous place. But I think the real breakthrough honestly, James was when I joined Walmart Canada a little less than two years ago because I had lived through all of this in silence up until two years ago. So, I never would have imagined talking about some of these things at work, never less publicly. But I was on a flight from Copenhagen to Toronto relocating from the Nordics back to Toronto to join Walmart Canada. And I was trying to reflect on I was reflecting on what I wanted to be known for, and how I wanted to introduce myself to the 100,000 associates at Walmart, Canada. And two words just kept emerging in my mind, which stops pretending stop pretending, stop pretending. And honestly, I haven't had an anxiety attack in over two years. And I credit that a large degree to the fact that I'm not hiding it anymore. And that I've you know, I've stopped pretending, which is a huge relief. Because you want to eat one of the big challenges with a stigma around mental health is you don't want to seem capable, you don't want to seem like you can handle things. And when you stop exerting, like spending energy and hiding, you can take better care of yourself. And that's been a huge breakthrough for me. 

 

James Laughlin 08:15 

That's amazing. I want to salute you. I hope people that are listening right now are the one person that listens to this right now that hits home. And if you're a leader, or if you're not a leader with a title, but you're leading others, and you're influencing you're running a family, you know, if you want to stop pretending, where does that start? What what's a micro-step to go? You know what? Today, right? And I'm just going to stop pretending. 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 08:40 

I would just say, when someone asks you, how are you? Answer that question, honestly. Because I think we all are in a different culture and culture, right? Some people, you just say, how are you almost like a greeting? Like, hey, how are you? Like, it's not actually a question people expect an honest answer to. So, I think if we ask someone how they are, we need to be interested in the real answer. And if you get asked how you are, you need to care enough about yourself to answer it, honestly. And I'll give you a great example. One of the things that we're we've done at Walmart Canada is to spend the first few minutes of every meeting asking just doing a personal check-in and asking, How are you really? And you know, midway through the pandemic, I was checking in with one of my managers and I asked that question, and the individual said this was a lockdown that had just happened in Canada. We've had a lot of lockdowns all over the world. And the individual said, quote, I rather put myself in a self-induced coma, then go through another lockdown, end quote. And I was like, Okay, that's a really honest answer. And I think we need to take a timeout, and then have a conversation about how are you really doing? Yeah, and how are you coping. So, it's I think just that simple act of asking with true curiosity and compassion and answering honestly, I think can change so much. 

 

James Laughlin 10:12 

Anyway, that's incredible. And I got to ask you that question right now. How are you really? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 10:18 

Thank you for asking! I'm doing well right now, I wrote an article though, at the beginning of the new year where I was like, I was not doing okay, I am all the plans that I had for the holidays fell through nothing we had hoped to do. We did. And then we kind of capped it off with the whole family getting COVID. And I came into the new year thinking, Oh, my God. And my word is bewilderment. At the moment, I'm doing well, you know, the family's healthy, and we've kind of gotten over that hump. But my world word is that I'm kind of reflecting on is just bewilderment. Because you can't plan anything anymore. Plan not to plan and just be okay. Just really working on being okay with that. It is what it is, you know, accepting what is. And I would say the other part I'm working on is just trying to live on the verge of a smile, just trying to find those moments that you can just smile and be grateful for even when like everything else was wrong, but it's an everyday work in progress. 

 

James Laughlin 11:22 

That's beautiful. That's really amazing. So, for those people listening, you know, when you ask "How are you" know, be prepared for an honest answer. But also, when someone asks you actually to be honest, and I'm guilty. Sometimes somebody will say, hey, I agree. Awesome, amazing, epic, euphoric. Actually, no, it's been a stressful morning, it's been full-on, I nearly had a car crash, you know, all these different things that we tend to glide over as leaders as someone, whether you're leading us as a dad or a mom, and you're the leader of your family, and you want your kids to see this perfect life, and you can handle all this stress. But I guess, how do we let our guard down as a leader no matter what level we're leading that? How can we do that and know that it's okay, because often I remember back in Ireland, being told, you know, if you're leading, or if you're a manager, you just suck it up, like suck it up and put a smile on your face. Everyone needs to see that it's okay, that you can handle it. How do we in this day and age? How do we change that stigma and that mindset? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 12:21 

Yeah, I think there's, I'm still trying to figure out the answer to that question, James. But I do believe there is a balance in being able to do it because I think I see that as leaders, we have two roles, we need to lead compassionately, and you can't leave compassionately If you're disingenuous that I think to be compassionate, you have to be authentic. And that goes back to my message of as leaders, let's stop pretending that mental health anxiety, burnout doesn't affect us, because it's completely false. In Canada, 46% of adults struggle with some version of anxiety, that's half the population. I guarantee you CEOs and CEOs, and all levels of leadership are in that. And if it's not them directly, it's their child, or their partner, or their parent. So, you know, mental health is a pandemic that's going to long Outlast COVID. It has serious consequences, and we need to stop pretending that doesn't exist. That's for some. And I think destigmatizing the conversation starts at the top, if people don't see leaders, at high levels of the realization, having this conversation, they will not have the psychological safety to do so themselves. So that's important. And I would say we have a responsibility as parents and as leaders to give people hope, right? So, it's how do we also help people see, this is a long and painful tunnel COVID has been right, and but there is light at the end of it, right? And show people that path to hope and have hope yourself. So, I think that's what people need from their leaders is the belief that things will get better, and they will. And I think we need that ourselves, right? We also need to believe it will get better. So, I tell myself, as an individual, why also take that responsibility as a leader to leverage the power of vulnerability to be compassionate, and to give people hope. 

 

James Laughlin 14:16 

Stunning, I love that. And if we shine a light on what's happening at Walmart, Canada, and how you guys are as leaders from leading from the top. Now, what are the things that you guys are implementing or the conversations you're having, or the maybe strategies that you have or apps that are working to help your 100,000 teams, your family, helping them to traverse the pandemic traverse postpartum to traverse the anxieties one of the things that Walmart Canada does right now? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 14:46 

I love to talk about that. So first and foremost, I want to say that establishing a culture of wellbeing is not a program, it's not an app. It's not an individual digital tool and doesn't live with any one individual. But our journey actually started six months into the pandemic, when you know, we're Walmart's essential service, we're making sure that Canadians have access to the things that they need. And but we started with just taking a pause six months in the pandemic, everyone was fatigued, personally, professionally. And we asked ourselves, like, you know, how are we doing as an organization? You know, this? And the answer was that the pace at which we were operating was not sustainable, right? And we needed to think differently how about organizational resilience. And we heard a lot about resilience about the pandemic, everyone was talking about resilience, right? So, when we asked ourselves the question, well, what do we believe to be true about resilience? We came out with three beliefs. And I think this is a really important starting point for every organization, big and small. What do you believe to be true what we said at Walmart, Canada's number one, we believe our organizational resilience, the kind of resilience we all need, every company needs to weather, the VUCA world political uncertainty, you know, systemic racism, the bias that exists in society, climate change, and kind of all the uncertainty that's happening from an environmental perspective, that kind of resilience starts with one thing? And it's individual resilience. Full stop. So, if we want an organization that is resilient, we need to increase the resilience of each and every one of our associates across the organization. That was the first place. The second belief was that wellbeing is a catalyst for growth, that we have to stop this idea of that it's either-or, you know that, but so it's not that wellbeing is actually a catalyst for growth. And we know this, I think more and more now, the business case behind wellbeing, which is if people are healthier, they're more productive. They're happier and healthier, you know, they're more engaged. And we know the cost of disengagement, you know, that's been studied over and over again. And the last belief was that it's not, I got asked this question, James, and I reflect on often, is the workplace ground zero for wellbeing? And I don't think it is, because I have two tweens. And I had suggested to one of them that maybe they talked to a therapist, and they were like, absolutely not. There, the stigma around talking to a therapist starts at a very young age before people even enter the workplace. So, it really changed the conversation we need to do, we need to do work individually, we need to do work within organizations around wellbeing, but we also need to change the narrative in society at large, and schools and educate young people and have, you know, ethnically and culturally appropriate and, you know, free access to resources. So, it is both an individual endeavor, an organizational endeavor, and a societal endeavor. So, we started with that. And then we really thought completely about differently, better programs are offered around education, and support for mental health and other types of forms of wellbeing. And I'll give you one great example. One of the things that we heard, was that, okay, I can ask my associate how they're doing, but I feel really uncomfortable when they tell me to say an associate says I'm suffering from anxiety, or I'm thinking of like about self-harm, what do I do? And so, we really have focused a lot on educating our leaders and managers. And one of the commitments we made was to train 1000 leaders to be Mental Health First Aid certified. So just like we expect our leaders to be certified in first aid, we also need them to be Mental Health First Aid certified. And the response to that has been absolutely overwhelming. So, we'll have over 2000 leaders of Mental Health First certified across the business by the end of this year. And we're also on a journey to throw vault to achieve a voluntary certification for psychological health and safety as a workplace. So, lots of amazing things are underway at Walmart, Canada. 

 

James Laughlin 18:48 

That is inspirational. Mental Health First Aid, like incredible, I need to look into that here in New Zealand and Australia, to see if that's the people facilitating and leading that because to me, that's incredible that you guys are doing that. 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 19:03 

There's actually it's something I'm very proud of that Canada has. So, Canada was the first country to establish a voluntary certification for psychological health and safety in the workplace. And part of that is a Mental Health First Aid training and certification. It's you can access it from anywhere in the world. It's available online. And I hope it spreads all over the world because it's a great resource and benefit for everybody. 

 

James Laughlin 19:27 

It's phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that, incredible. And in terms of the future of work. So, the pandemic has changed a lot of how we approach life, how we interact with others, our own space has changed. So, what do you see as chief people officer that you know, what does the future of work look like fast forward 5, 10, 20 years? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 19:50 

Yes, I will say that. I will be bold enough to say that I think well-being individual resilience and organizational resilience is the precursor to the future of anything, and I would say whether that be climate change and the work that organizations and society do around regeneration, or diversity, equity inclusion. And I, I'll give you a great example, it's hard to care about plastics in the ocean, or melting, you know, ice caps, if you're on the verge of burnout and anxiety, right? Like you're in a fight or flight mode, right. So, if we have a society in a workforce that is constantly on the verge of burnout, it's really, it's going to be nearly impossible to drive engagement. And so, and equity, or inclusion or regeneration, all the other things I think so many great companies are striving for. So, I think that's an important part of that, of revealing our belief about the future. And then another really big part of it is around responsible skilling, you know, jobs are changing at an ever-increasing pace. And so how do we work with our associates to help them prepare for the future of whatever those jobs will be? And that's something that we're really passionate about. And we're working with a lot of partners across Canada to figure that out? How do we change the model of development for the future, I think we've gone a little too far in the direction of self-directed learning, I think we saw that through the pandemic to everyone sitting in front of a screen self-directing themselves, can be difficult? And so, we complement the democratization of learning, which has been amazing through the internet, and through accessing all this information with making sure that learning is actually embedded through interaction, through experiences, and through social socialization. So, one of the things we're really focused on is building mentor squads, and, you know, communities of practice and just spaces for people to interact with each other and share what they're learning and their experiences. So that's a huge focus for us. And I think really, I also, you know, an opportunity for everyone. We know, systemic barriers exist. In fact, I would also go as far to say until all the people practitioners out their people processes are, you know, probably some of the worst that have those barriers unconsciously or consciously. So how do we finally hold ourselves accountable for auditing ourselves and making sure that those barriers are removed from our processes so that as we create opportunity, we create opportunity for everyone? 

 

James Laughlin 22:21 

Beautiful! You're absolutely right. And that that is global, no matter who I talk to, from what country? Or what background that that is a global pandemic, in and of itself. So, for you personally, as a leader, how do you remove that bias? Whether it's gender, age, education, ethnicity, whatever it might be? How do you try to approach things and keep things with over super open mind and every one getting an opportunity? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 22:51 

Yes, I think it's, again, first and foremost starts with education. We have to be careful not to demonize bias. And just like we have to be careful not to demonize stress. Because we have this learning through our movement around wellbeing as we started to hear feedback around. Well, I thought the wellbeing movement meant that we weren't going to have overstressed at work. No, as you know, we can't remove all stress from our work. That's and stress is actually a natural response, and in many ways is very helpful. It's long-term accumulated stress, that is dangerous. And bias, we all know, it's normal, or that's just a function of our brains. And we cannot remove it. But we can have mental models that help hold ourselves accountable. Just like we have mental models to know when we're on the verge of burnout, we know the signs of over of stress. So, it is first and foremost, I think, learning and teaching the organization to reframe beliefs that, you know, are not relevant or not true, right. So, a lot of our focus is on these leadership models. And really this belief that you know, leadership is in the mind, and if we have these mental frameworks, and we have can educate ourselves about these models, we're better equipped. So, lots of education around that. And I would say for myself, personally, it's a constant, it's a constant challenge, because, you know, also as a visible minority, myself, and as a female, you know, lots of things that are happening in the world are traumatic, and, you know, it's hard to separate yourself personally, as an example, those situations and not start to experience, you know, the effects of bias. And I, you know, I'll share, I think one of the big things that make a difference is being in a culture of people who ask you with compassion and authenticity, are you okay? So, there was a horrific hate crime in the summer, where three generations of one Muslim family were killed, intentionally Muslim families were killed in Canada. And it was like a very traumatic experience because that could have been me that could have been my daughter that could have been any visible Muslim walking down the street. And I think we have to realize how those events affect us personally. And we have to realize how those events affect other groups that are working with us and then make sure that we're just we're not brushing over it, the horrific attack in New Zealand, in the Muslim community, I was in Sweden when that happened. And I just, I mean, I was like, in a fog for 48 hours after that, I think a lot of a lot of other Muslim community around the world was. So, I think it's just it's not to underestimate, I guess, to summarize, it's not to underestimate how these events affect you, and how deeply rooted bias can be. And I would say that the remedy for that is education and compassion. 

 

James Laughlin 25:47 

That's beautiful. And Nabeela I'm sorry to hear that happened in Canada. And I remember when it happened in New Zealand, it was about a three to five minute most drive away from where I was at the time. And here in Christchurch, and I remember, we were at the private school, and all of a sudden, all of our alarms went off, and we went into full lockdown. And we weren't too sure what happened. And as things unfolded, we began to appreciate what happened and just the gravity of it. For me as an immigrant to New Zealand. I had no idea. I was so naive, I had no idea that this would exist in a beautiful, peaceful country like this. And really highlighted to me that I need to open my eyes, I need to be asking more questions, I need to be more thoughtful. And, you know, I had a student at the school, a beautiful young girl, and her father was actually a surgeon and a Muslim surgeon here in Christchurch, and he had to deal with, with it all upfront. And it was It was horrific. And so, I struggled for weeks, just dealing with it, trying to kind of figure it out. And it has changed me. And I think it's changed the whole community and raised our awareness around being compassionate and understanding that there's a place for everyone and everyone's beliefs. It's a conversation that needs to happen. And I actually think it's a conversation that, certainly for me, and I'm sure others have struggled to talk about and ask questions around. For me, coming from Northern Ireland, we had our own fair share of division and sectarianism. And certainly, it was, let's not talk about it. Let's just move on, let's pretend it's not there. And so, it's something I'm working on myself as asking questions. And, you know, are you okay? And, like, to me, that's a work in progress. And I guess for every great leader, you know, asking people those important questions and being compassionate about their beliefs, is, is a key part of the future of work.  

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 27:42 

Absolutely. And that's actually just having the conversation. As you said, James makes such a big difference. So, after the murder of George Floyd, here in Canada, at Walmart, Canada, we started a courageous conversation series, and we titled it courageous conversations. And it was about finally having these discussions that so many people were nervous about having, we're not sure how to have. So, you know, and it's, we have these series on a regular basis. And they're attended by hundreds and hundreds of our leaders, six 700 of our leaders every single session, and we started doing lifestreaming them on LinkedIn because what I saw thought, you know, what, we're not the only ones that longer Kevin need to have this conversation, the whole business community has to have this conversation. And, and there's been a lot of really traumatic situations that have unfolded in every country, unfortunately. And we need to have those conversations because we can't, the world where I think in the past, we thought that people would leave these things at home. And we know for a fact now that there are no bifurcation people are not leaving these things at home, and nor should they, these things affect who they are as people and their identity. And we need to make space for the conversation. 

 

James Laughlin 28:49 

And you mentioned earlier about, you know, being a minority. And so, for someone who for the large part of my life for most of my life, where I've been, I've been part of the majority. What would your advice be to someone like me, be like, hey, James, this is how you step into our shoes. This is how you can think through our mindset, just for a moment, like what would your advice be to me or a question before me just to help me become more compassionate, be more empathic?  

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 29:19 

Yeah, number one, I would say do your work. You know, in the sense that educates yourself. It is the responsibility of every individual on this planet, to educate themselves. Find a culture of faith that you don't know anything about and learn about it. And I think learn from do your own work. And then I think if you can find communities of others who are open to sharing their own learnings, then that would be great to do that as well. And then I think when you know, you have a responsibility to act, and I have a there was a store manager who was from the rural areas of Alberta in Canada. And he joined one of the courageous conversations we had around it the residential school system in Canada, which is a horrific system that existed for many years. And one of the challenges that we gave everyone at the end of the session is focused on your square meter. So, if you look down, and you think about the influence that you can have in your family, your network of friends, and the people that you interact with every single day, make a difference there. And then challenge each one of those individuals to make a difference themselves and love let that ripple effect of belonging, take hold. And so, he was at an after he came to a courageous conversation we were having about residential schools and the horrifying impact that's had on an indigenous community in Canada. He then went to a family barbecue. And there was a conversation that was happening in that family barbecue, that was inappropriate and racist. And he stepped in because he felt more educated, he had a better understanding of the history, its impact, and he stepped in and he educated his family that was at that barbecue, and that was something he wouldn't have had the confidence to do otherwise, or maybe would have shied away from doing. To me, James, that is exactly what we're trying to do is help, you know, one person at a time, one conversation at a time, slowly, I think to make that type of a difference, because that, that is all worth it. I mean, that makes it all worth it. 

 

James Laughlin 31:18 

Then to me, but what is beautiful about that is literally it's achievable. Because each one of us can have a conversation with another person. And the whole filter of my world is to transform humanity, one leader at a time, and to transform a leader and help them find that transformation. It's through conversation. And so, by you having those courageous conversations with your associates at Walmart, Canada, that then has a massive ripple effect into the millions of people, and you should be so proud of what you're achieving there. 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 31:52 

I mean, thank you for that but I get too much recognition is really the work of many, many people. And you know, I think it really comes down to there's there is something under the surface that well in our Canada that was just there and ready to just be poked at, whether it's our movement around wellbeing where it's whether creating a culture of care and Compassionate Leadership, or whether it's creating a movement around anti-racism and new coming in an anti-racist organization, it was there. And I think what's really exciting is that when we at Walmart, Canada was we're a 100,000. Well, we can demonstrate, and we're learning and we're making mistakes by all, and you know, we don't have this figured out by any means. But when we can demonstrate that we can create this ripple effect that you described as a retailer with a predominantly frontline focused organization across 400 stores of a country of our size. Anyone can do it. No, excuses, you know, so I think that's really the ambition is to use our size and scale, to change the conversation. And to help address these things on a systemic level, but also on the negative. 

 

James Laughlin 32:57 

I love it. I love it. I'm just thinking about where you are right now, that journey to getting out. I always think about anything we achieved, we never do it by ourselves. We've always got people who have supported us always a team effort. So, along your journey, who have been some of those instrumental people, whether it's a role model and inspiration, someone you look up to that's helped you do that with your career in your life? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 33:19 

Oh, there's been so many, um, because I've had the chance to work with some of the most, you know, I think inspiring and recognized brands, the worlds of Starbucks, IKEA, and now Walmart. One person in particular that I'd love to call out is Stacy Brown Phillpotts, she was previously the CEO of an organization called TaskRabbit out San Francisco. So, big economy platform, one of the few if not only black female CEOs in Silicon Valley. And, you know, she came from the very difficult part of Detroit, you know, put her, you know, again, worked her way up into this position of CEO and Silicon Valley broke through all of that noise. And, you know, she's someone that I look up to every single day. She's had many battles, some, you know, very trying ones. And at the end of the day, she approaches her work with a sense of humility, compassion, and an obligation, a feeling of obligation to give back to others in a way that is truly inspiring. And I think that me, is also what drives me when I think about my journey of wellbeing as an example, one of the things that really motivated me to speak is that I know there are a lot of other people out there suffering in silence, thinking, I can't be successful in the corporate world and have anxiety like who does that? I can't have been successful in the corporate world and struggle with postpartum depression. And once I shared my story, so many others came through and said, you know, I've been struggling. This is my story. There's, there's one specific example that I was I have the permission to share and it's an associate of ours. His name is Michael Gill, and he's very has been a very successful leader within our business, and at the same time, he was diagnosed with a pretty severe form of epilepsy. And he, I think trained in the same kind of model, we've all been trained, and he decided the kind of suffering through the diagnosis and the symptoms in silence. Until again, he had heard me share my journey and then decided to have the courage to share his and he's inspired so many others. So, I think we need to demonstrate as leaders that you can both achieve success professionally, and holistically take care of yourself. And we need to create, you know, corporate culture and environments and a world where that's possible. And that's what I'm hoping to do. 

 

James Laughlin 35:41 

I love it. Such an amazing cause, and, and a vision. And I see that you've gone through the international coaching Federation, so you're an executive coach, I also see that you're in there, amazing Marshall Goldsmith, top 100 coaches, like it's incredible. So, I'd like to ask you, what do you see? Or how do you see coaching, playing an important role for executives and for leaders? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 36:07 

I think it was, there was an article, I can't remember the source. But you know, coaching is taking over in terms of significance, you know, above and beyond leadership, just general leadership development, right? Because I think what people craving are Is that true, neutral, genuinely curious person who can help them realize their own potential and doesn't have any agenda besides just truly sharing space with them, right. And I think we're going to, people are going to need that more and more and more and more, as the world gets more complex as things get more confusing and bewildering, it's my word, the world is bewildering. I mean, I just had a team meeting, and we took some time out my entire team around 270. So, Associates, and Mike, the people in the corporate FERS team, and we took time out just to pause and reflect, like, we need that pause, we need that time to reflect and to have another person who can be a mirror for us but help us see things that we ourselves can't see, untangle our thoughts. Hold space with us in genuine curiosity with neutrality. Oh, my gosh, what a gift. I mean, that's what coaches do, right. So, I think the demand for that is only going to increase and, and the power of coaching is something that it's just really, it gives me It fills my cup, James, as I know, probably does yours and all the other books out there really fills my cup. And I know it can move, move so many things for people. 

 

James Laughlin 37:36 

I love it. And I guess because of the way the world is moving, we're talking about the future of work, AI, robotics, and all these different things that come into it. Coaching and communicating with staff, empowering humans showing empathy, do you ever think that it will be possible that the coaching sphere, the human, the human element in corporate culture, do you think could ever be replaced by AI and robotics? So, I would go and see a robot to have my coaching session, as opposed to with a real human? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 38:10 

I mean, the worst of the pandemic has taught me anything it's never seen ever so I think the world would be shut down because of a flu-like virus. No. But you know, so I don't personally believe that we'll be in or that's going to be in our future, I think we will always be people-led and technology-enabled. We're just programmed that we as human beings, we're programmed as human beings to need social connection, to need compassion. And even if I think about the metaverse and everything that's coming out, and you know, virtual reality and the world of the metaverse, it's still going to require that connection with a human being, I think even more so James because we also know that with as more connected, the more connected we've gotten, the more we've also seen increases in anxiety and mental health and other forms of other factors that have resulted as a result in so we need to counterbalance that with a human connection. 

 

James Laughlin 39:06 

I love it. And just before we wrap up, we've got a couple of last questions for you. And we talked about connection. I mean, we are hyper-connected in different ways, largely digitally in this day and age. So, we've got all these connections, and I feel like they're a mile wide, and they're like an inch deep. So, for those who want to have like, really deep connections, you know, an inch wide and a mile deep. What would your advice be to develop a deep human connection? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 39:39 

Yeah, I mean, I think that that deep human connection only happens over time and through shared experiences. And my personal experience, I don't know if this is this is correct, you know, from a behavioral science perspective in my personal experience that happens over time and that happens through shared experiences. And I think you can have that to a degree Online virtually, but that connective tissue, in my mind only really solidifies when you interact in some form or fashion in person. You know, and so I think it has to be a combination of both virtual interaction and personal interaction. And my advice to individuals looking for that is because I think the age of one on one mentoring and, you know, kind of looking for that mentor like that, I don't know that that's going to be scalable for the number of people that need even coaching, I find it's hard to scale, my coaching to the number of requests that I get are people that I think I can help. So, it's how do you, I think, how do you try to do that at scale, and one of my big kind of explorations is building a tribe of people around you that are really kind of your squad or, you know, your, your kind of network of four or five, that you can build those really deep connections with and protect your time with them. So that you can have that connective tissue with shared experiences, lived experiences. And so, you know, I try to figure out who those individuals are, and try to deepen them through shared experiences. And when safe to do so we can all do some more freely, I think, in-person connection. 

 

James Laughlin 41:14 

That's beautiful. I love that. I've got one last question. And this, this question is, I want you to think about your kids. And you've only got one last piece of advice you can give them. And they come to you to say Hey, Mom, how can we lead a life of purpose? What would your answer be to that? 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 41:37 

I think actually, my 12-year-old answered that question. So, her 15-year-old brother asked her what do you want to be when you grow up? And she gave the perfect answer. She said I don't. I want to be happy. I don't want to be any like one thing. And I think that is ultimately the goal, right? Like my advice would be don't put your identity so don't tie your identity so closely to what you do. And we've all heard the quote like we're human beings, not human doings. I think we need to decouple our identity from what we do for a living and define success more holistically. So, in the end, we're just more whole, healthier, happier people. 

 

 

 

James Laughlin 42:17 

That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. I want to wish you and the mission that you're on. Nothing but the best for the future. And I'm going to keep a close eye on how it all unfolds for you. 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 42:28 

Oh, James, I am signing you up. So, I know you are also on a similar mission. So, I see ourselves as partners in this and I want to thank you for having me in. Just I think broadcasting and amplifying this conversation I really appreciate it. 

 

James Laughlin 42:39 

I'm on board 100% of the way! 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 

Awesome!  

James Laughlin 

Thanks, Nabeela! 

 

Nabeela Ixtabalan 

thank you! 

 

James Laughlin 43:05 

Thanks for tuning in today and investing in your own personal leadership. Please hit that subscribe button. And I'd love if you'd leave me a rating and review. I've got some amazing guests lined up for you in the coming weeks. And leaders. It's that time to get out there and to lead your life on purpose.