Human resources expert Laila Tarraf knows how to cultivate talent. She was a founding member of Walmart.com, adding 250 employees in one year, and handled HR for Peet’s Coffee and Tea as it redefined its values as a national brand. But it wasn’t until she embraced her own vulnerability that she truly understood how to lead.
Tarraf’s leadership journey, however, was not an easy one. Her husband then her parents died in quick succession, sparking the self-discovery that led her to find compassion and authenticity, experiences she recounts in her recently published memoir, Strong Like Water (She Writes Press, 2021).
“I was afraid I would be judged with this book,” says Tarraf. “But actually, it’s breaking down walls and bringing me closer to others.”
Currently, as the chief people officer for Allbirds, a sustainable footwear and apparel company that seeks to impact climate change and make a profit, Tarraf prioritizes genuine connection to develop company culture.
She led Allbirds through the pandemic and social unrest by establishing working agreements, essentially guiding principles for how employees connect with each other, like choosing courage over comfort in conversations and practicing gratitude daily. “If you commit to having the hard conversations with an open mind and an open heart, that’s really what builds greater connection and ultimately creates a stronger culture,” Tarraf says.
Her approach is working. Allbirds was named America’s best startup employer of 2020 by Forbes. “A strong culture acts as the glue in an organization,” she says. “It can propel, unite, and connect you.”