Soulaima Gourani helps people unleash their big potential and aid them in finding talent, purpose, and passion and is a Ted Talk mentor. She speaks over 200 times a year and explains her difficult journey.
Her journey includes being ostracized by her community and being fired from her job while pregnant and expecting her first child back in 2007.
Learn More About Soulaima Gourani
Visit Soulaima Gourani’s website here.
See one of Soulaima’s TED Talks here.
To check out Soulaim’s books go here.
Full Transcript of Interview
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Justin Brady 0:19
We are joined with Soulaima Gourani and she is an absolutely fascinating person I wish I could have been recording before the interview because we I feel like we’ve already done a podcast already. So Lima. Thanks for joining us.
Soulaima Gourani 0:33
Thank you, Justin. Thanks for inviting me. It’s a great honor. Thank you.
Justin Brady 0:37
you have just such a there’s no way we have, you know, we would probably need four hours to you know, do this do you justice on this podcast? But you have this fascinating background. You do 200 public talks per year around the world. And you have advised and spoken for clients that every anyone’s familiar with Samsung DuPont, Lego McKinsey, Dell, Microsoft, a little tiny school called Stanford University, BMW, Cisco and and in a ton what, where did this whole kind of motivational, inspirational speaking thing? How did that whole thing begin?
Soulaima Gourani 1:20
It is it is actually a really good question. And today when I’m speaking with you, I’m sitting in my very nice home in Palo Alto, in Silicon Valley with a great husband that I’ve been with for 23 years. I have healthy kids. And you know, that’s an awesome life. And when you ask me, how did you get there? I have to tell you,
I’m Danish Moroccan have a Danish Mom, I’m born in Morocco. I came to the end like when I was a tiny, tiny baby. They didn’t want to give me my citizenship that I’m you know, I’m entitled to have citizenship because my mom is Danish, right? I couldn’t get my name. Like my mom really wanted me to be baptized, sees a Protestant. My dad is a Muslim, my grandma’s Jewish, you know, some really awkward combination from all parts of the world. And my mom wanted me to be baptized. And the priest said, No, no, no, ceramic cannot be a name. She’s going to have a horrible life. I refused to baptize her. So I was begging priests for 13 years to find one who actually wanted to baptize me. So I grew up in this white white white community. I moved around a lot. My dad my dad was Moroccan he died a few years ago. But he was Moroccan and he spoke sorry yeah, but you know, it’s we’re at that point of life now where we start losing our parents and sisters and brothers You know, that’s just you know, live you can really not enjoy life if you don’t embrace death too. So you know, it’s part of life I’m sad but it’s just life so he spoke very funny Danish Danish is a very awkward language spoken by 5.2 million people he never learned it right he spoke friends and all other kinds of languages but maybe Technische so he was never recognized they couldn’t pronounce his name so they gave him a different name they caught him Peter
Justin Brady 3:17
Soulaima Gourani 3:18
oh yeah you get and they wanted me to be sadness to send it is to San is like a really common Danish name because they couldn’t say sort I’ma so you know, I grew up in this environment where we will not normal and I had a I had a troubled background. You know my dad was traveling couldn’t get a job. My mom tried to work, you know, whatever you obviously could find. We have never money I was kicked out of the school. You know, it wasn’t
Justin Brady 3:43
…were you kicked out of the school because the teachers couldn’t pronounce your name?
Soulaima Gourani 3:47
Ha ha… No, I will tell you why. When I was 13 years old, I left my mom and dad’s house. I had a lot of fights with my dad this is the thing when you are first did generation immigrants as a Muslim in a Protestant country, Denmark, especially, and you start having Dana’s friends you want to hang out with boys. Maybe you want to stop smoking cigarettes. You know, it’s a very free country. And, and I came from a rather strict family because my dad was from Morocco and I was a very strong girl. So one night I just decided to leave my parents house and just run away really. And I don’t I don’t know if if kids still run away. I they do in us but in Denmark is not normal to run away. And and I left behind a letter and I was on the front page of a lot of newspapers. Wow. Yeah. Like they didn’t know
Justin Brady 4:41
It was like an international incident.
Soulaima Gourani 4:43
yeah, it became one and and I refused to move back to my parents. So they put me into an institution, children’s home, foster foster care and all that. So when I finally come back, came back to my old school, my teacher was like, you cannot be here because you have that influence on the other kids. You know, we cannot have such a runaway child at school. And he just left me in the schoolyard. And I went back to my parents and said, I’m kicked off school, and then they try to find a school who wanted to take me but no schools wants to take you is like, no one wants to have anything to do with you. Because you’re such a failure. Right now. You’re stuck. Yeah, you’re stuck in the system. This happens in us too. And I was so sad. And I failed. So not loved. So not included. I was so sad. But then they found a school that that actually wanted to take me but it was a boarding school. So I had to live there. And it was a boarding school for all the kids that no one else wanted. So you can just imagine all the things I learned there.
Other things I didn’t know how to do before I knew them after. So it was it was a bad school like,
yeah, anyway, so I was kicked out of school and no one you know, people thought I will become a teenage mom. Like, I still remember my office was saying to my dad, you know, before CS turn 16, she’s probably going to have a baby. And luckily, I heard that and I just, yeah, I overheard that. And I was like, is that really all that people are expecting from me to become a teenage mom and just, that’s it. So I decided never, ever not not to have sex. But you know, like, I just decided that’s not going to be my destiny. I’m going to change it just here right now.
Justin Brady 6:25
Interesting. That’s interesting. And then you finally end up coming to the US
Soulaima Gourani 6:31
many, many years later. I’ve been here three years now. And I’m on a green cat and Eb one apparently best green card you can get in the world, they only give that to a few thousand people is only given to people who have outstanding competence.
And so you can see, you know, how I by then took a decision when I was 16 that, you know, I, I went back to school, I got a really good education, I decided to work my butt off.
I worked in four different countries. I signed contracts. I got a job at HP. Hewlett Packard was responsible for Microsoft Merced, the biggest shipping company anyway, short story long, I made a decision if that’s what people expect from me, that I that I will be stuck as a 60-year-old single mom, I’m going to change it right here. So I made a big decision that, you know, okay, they might not expect anything from me. But I’m going to change that as we speak. So I started studying and I started, I started to take my life more seriously. And
so that struggle became first one book, then a second book, then third book. So I think I’ve co-written almost 16 books now on my life, and things have happened. And so it’s a great motivation. And that’s actually my introduction to your question about how to get into speaking that story works and motivating, regardless whether I’m in Saudi Arabia, or in India, or in Mongolia, or in I mean,
Finland, wherever, I mean, I’ve been speaking in 35 countries now on my story, and I think they someone like me everywhere, like, it might be a sister, or it might be your neighbor, or I’m not extraordinary, right. So, but I’ve, I have found ways to handle my low self esteem, my anxiety traumas and all that. And I’ve, I’ve simply written that in my books. And people need survival skills nowadays, right? I mean, everybody, so how come I speak to all these amazing companies, I speak to the employees on this, or, or I speak to the employees on my hardcore skills, namely, international sales and customer loyalty. So I have two legs, I have the motivational leg and then I have them all hot core skill that big companies wants to hear about. So speaking was really
it’s a for someone like me, that is not that good in you know, I’m a good writer. Don’t get me wrong, but I prefer to speak. And that’s kind of my element.
When I started speaking, I got amazing reviews, and people liked it. And so yes, here I am having the best speaking agent, I think in the world, big speak in us. And I’m here on my amazing green cat America has said they’ve had they have no one like me. I mean, can you imagine if you’re thinking about it, my story was
Justin Brady 9:30
in March of 2012. So you were selected as one of 192 management leaders from 2012 to 2017, by the World Economic Forum. And I think you know, that all the speaking what most at least a lot of people in my circles are very familiar with is Ted TED Talks. We all know what TED talks and so in, 2016 you are appointed by Ted Talks as a mentor to the speakers. So you have this giant speaking career going on. And now you’re a mentor to some of them. I think what most people would consider the best speakers in the world come to Ted. So I mean, well, first of all, that’s like extremely intimidating know, what are what are what are some things a TED talk mentor does? What what do you what do you do with these people?
Soulaima Gourani 10:17
So first of all, Ted is an amazing brand. And what I love about it is that they give normal people the opportunity to speak about the things they care about, and then turn them into amazing speakers. Because all of them have a passion, they have some research done, or they have accomplished something that other people don’t know about. So it’s actually random, not random. But normal people. But they have great passions. And I love I love nerdy people who know something but don’t have a state yet, right. So yeah, so Ted is an amazing accelerator for those people. And a tech mentor, for instance, right now, my tip mentor for an amazing woman from Syria. She did a TED talk that has been going while like, it’s just an amazing talk. She’s building hospitals in Syria and sees out there. And so she and I are spending a lot of time she comes to me here in San Francisco. Oh, I talked to her on the phone a few times a month. And we talked about how to build a movement, how to build her. I mean, one thing is to get onstage to a good talk. But then, what about after, because after the talk, then what? Right, right. So so I’m helping her to get access to the right, you know, sponsors, money decision makers, all those people who can provide her with money, more stages, you know how to benefit from that one talk. Because when that one talk is done, then you need to execute your brand and the opportunity that you were given. So it’s kind of it’s a combination of branding. And yeah, branding and business, many, many, many TED Talks, speakers, they have no idea about how to turn this into a movement or how to turn this into a revenue model, or whatever, or they don’t know how to raise money. So and then it just, it’s just a talk, you know, then it was inspiration for eight minutes, 12 minutes and that’s it. So a tech mentors finest privilege is to make that person achieve his or her goals in life after the talk, actually
Justin Brady 12:35
You work a lot with them to prepare it, but also after?
Soulaima Gourani 12:39
yeah, after is my main focus. I help them. Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s even bigger than just the talk.
Justin Brady 12:48
I didn’t know about all those inner workings, how long I mean, how does this work? The the TED committee, I’ll just, I’m sure there are better names for it. But you will find someone in the new work with them to prepare your mentees for a talk. And then after the talk, you continue to mentor them. Is that kind of how it works?
Soulaima Gourani 13:08
yeah. So first of all, you get this awesome call. And then, and then you add, then they say, you know, we found this person for you, and we think it’s going to be a great match. And those people are appointed not only as to talk to talk, but they are selected as Ted fellows. So they even more exclusive than the other tech talks. I mean, everyone is it is a privilege to be a TED talk, or don’t work. But, but there’s a door behind the door if you understand me, right. So there’s a club even for Ted Talks, speakers, that is even more exclusive. And that’s called the TED fellowship.
Justin Brady 13:48
Is there free Perrier? That’s what I want to know. That’s how I judge exclusivity of events these days.
Soulaima Gourani 13:57
Justin Brady 14:00
Okay. Good. All right. And we can continue.
Soulaima Gourani 14:03
But then you create this, then you get this call from Ted. And they say, we found to someone and we think it’s a great match. Can you help him or her and then you work with that person for law? I mean, it can be three months, or it can be a year, no one else? Yeah, it’s a lot of work. And, but it gets it turns into a friendship, right? And then, and then someday, that person is ready to fly on his own or her own and then and then you get a new one.
Justin Brady 14:33
So you’ve seen a lot of these people, how many people have you mentored so far?
Soulaima Gourani 14:39
So this is my, this is my second formal, because, okay,
Justin Brady 14:42
so yeah, so yes. So out of the first to them, what are you? Are you noticing the, you know, I guess I would call these individuals that you’re mentoring successful? Are you seeing that successful people do things differently than others? People?
Soulaima Gourani 15:01
Yeah, they are, have a lot of self-awareness, they are open to feedback doesn’t mean they do whatever you say they shouldn’t, right. But they’re open to feedback, that’s, that’s a critical thing, be open to feedback, have a lot of self awareness, know, you have to know your own blind spots. And that’s very difficult, because we all have biases, and we all have blind spots. But do you see them and they all they don’t necessarily know what they would like to achieve in life. But they have a great passion that is like a fire and they can burn themselves on the fire, or they can start igniting others big difference. So it’s really about finding a way for them to find their tribe, find their audience, find the ones who can start helping them building and make this movement moving, even without themself moving it, right. So that’s how we build them movement. And, so that’s critical. And then you have to, then you you have to be willing to I was almost saying work hard. But it’s not necessarily about working hard. It’s about really spending your time in this, because you cannot build a brand half hearted, you have to go all in. And these and these people are brands, I mean, personal brands. So if you don’t like to marketing yourself, if you don’t like to put yourself out there, then it’s difficult for me to help you. So yeah, but I think the two most critical things are probably self-awareness and be open to feedback because they are superstars, you know, solve them have millions of millions of clicks, right? So, right. You know. it’s not always easy to be, you know, humble after certain experience, right? But you need to, you need to understand that Ted is just the beginning of your life. And curious, just the beginning is like receiving a business card from someone you met at a reception, you have no network with that person, you this, this is just an invitation to start building. And that’s really how you look at it, I think,
Justin Brady 17:12
yeah, that’s so that’s, I love that story. After working with these two individuals, and after your experiences it Ted but also working with a bunch of people all around the world, throughout different cultures. This is this is exciting for me, because the cultural perspective you have speaking everywhere the diversity you’ve experienced, you said, You’re a Moroccan Danish which I kind of said sounds like a really great dessert on a menu
what you know you’ve seen a lot of different people a lot of different cultures. So I I’m, I’m fairly certain Yun can recognize at this point talent pretty quickly. So do you have kind of a method for how to recognize talent? Are there certain things you look for? You know,
Soulaima Gourani 17:56
I gave I gave an interview yesterday and one last week and the week before on this theme, how to recognize a talent? And you know, it’s a very good question because you have to understand your own preferences. So when I see someone and I immediately think he or she is a talent, I have to remind myself about the very, very important insight and that is, I love people who look like myself who are like myself, and I like something I can recognize, meaning I’ve seen it before. Sure. So. So that is very critical to remember if you recruit people, or if you’re, if you’re appointed to pick out people or whatever,
Justin Brady 18:41
Keep that in check…
Soulaima Gourani 18:42
Keep that in check. Because how can you? I will leave you with that question. How can you recognize a talent you have never seen before? You cannot,
Justin Brady 18:52
Soulaima Gourani 18:53
So how to spot a talent is probably the most difficult thing to do. What I’m looking for is more chemistry, personality, global intelligence, emotional intelligence those kind of things. Because honestly, speaking, I might have some talents. I might be the best. I don’t know. Give me a sport I’ve never tried. You know, I might be the best within the sport. But since I’ve never tried it, I don’t know. I’m a good at it. Right. So it’s actually I I look more for personality, because I can pretty much turn most people into something pretty terrible if they have the right attitude.
Justin Brady 19:33
So go ahead.
Soulaima Gourani 19:35
So for me, personality does mean a lot more than anything else than talent, because it’s a talent is very difficult to spot. But of course, I go, I go to conferences all the time I travel I see a lot of competent people, young people, very talented and God, I also have to pay attention to is this talent? Is this something we need in the future? Yes, or no?
Justin Brady 19:58
Sure. And okay.
Soulaima Gourani 20:00
I mean, millions of jobs are right now being transformed into artificial intelligence robots. And so far, so, you know, we have to talk about what talents Do we need in the future. And, and that’s the theme of my next book. And I as we speak, I’m interviewing people all over us and all over the world to find out what is the three or five things that we need in the future? That’s not an easy that’s not an easy that’s not an easy question. But but we have to ask ourselves that question,
Justin Brady 20:25
what do you think the name of this new books going to be?
Soulaima Gourani 20:28
So it is called, so it only have a working title, but it’s called dressed for future and dressed it is a Danish title. But it’s a it’s a, it’s, it’s basically it’s basically how to read the trends as a person, how do you how do you read the trends so that you will never be left behind how you have the responsibility for your own life, because no one is going to rescue you. There’s no HR manager, no union, no politician or whatever, who can rescue you. But you need to know what to look for, like the trends, right? What are the trends? So for instance, me as a speaker, let’s just talk about speaking, because speaking is a great profession is probably the most well paid job in the world per hour. And is this going to continue? Yes or No, when you start looking now at how people are spending their conference budgets, you will see a big change, but only if you know what to look for.
And I so you have to understand the themes that companies does care about. Secondly,
Justin Brady 21:29
For example, like right now is it’s all about, I’m assuming engagement is a big one,
Soulaima Gourani 21:34
engagement is important. It has been around for 1015 years, very important still, and it will be in the future, how to work with different generations. big theme for now. And then for the first time in life in history, we have five different generations working side by side.
Justin Brady 21:51
Oh, that’s true,
Soulaima Gourani 21:52
also as consumers, so no one knows what to do about it. And the this the third really big theme is, of course, the fourth industrial revolution, but more in terms of how to work with robots, because they are going to be our colleagues, right? So no one has ever been a manager for robots before you know, right?
So it’s called co-bots, right? As I call it robots. So…
Justin Brady 22:19
love that co-bots. That’s so funny.
Soulaima Gourani 22:22
Yeah, but it’s, it’s a challenge, it’s a real challenge. Because anyways, long story. And then, of course, future of work, future of education, big thing, security, you know, these kinds of things is a big theme for most companies like mainstream companies. So if you as a speaker, don’t read the trends, you have no speaking geeks, two years from now. But not only that, if you are speaker, and if you don’t understand that more and more companies are worried about flying people around the globe, right? co2 footprint and carbon footprint and all that true. If you don’t have a online live broadcasting product, you will also lose geeks, right? And so you know, know what you see, that’s what I’m talking about. Just within my own profession. I know what’s happening the next 2345 years, not only on themes but also on how you deliver your message. And this goes for every profession in the world. But if you don’t know what to look for the trends that is going to hit you three, four or five years from now, you will be left behind and that my book is hopefully going to give people the basic skills to be their own futurists.
Justin Brady 23:31
Well, we’ll make we’ll make sure to touch on that when it comes out here. And make sure listeners are completely aware that I’ve always I’ve always thought when robots start to take over and we, you know, have co bots I already know how to drive them crazy, because I’m just going to be sarcastic all the time with them. And I know that we’re at least a couple hundred years out from robots, understanding sarcasm, so I think I can that’s how I can speak in code other humans. before we let you go, we have two questions we ask every single guest and the first being you’re obviously someone who’s accomplished amazing things. It’s really exciting. And a lot of people listening right now wrongfully assume that you just ended up there. And you didn’t have to go through any fear or terror, and it just kind of fell in your lap. And he got lucky. And that’s obviously not true. But we’d like to tell the people that are struggling right now in a lot of pain right now.
We like to connect them with leaders like yourself. So tell me a moment in your life, you miserably failed. Or you went through some darkness and how you turn that into the successful platform you have today. You know,
Soulaima Gourani 24:37
most of my life has been one big struggle, I’ve survived my own life. But I I firmly believe that life will not let me down. It has invested too much in me. So I will always survive. That’s a good thing. And I was fired in 2007 from my good job. I was pregnant for the first time I was a mom to be, I was hugely devastated that someone could lay off pregnant woman, and I was the breadwinner, and no salary.
I mean, I got my basic three months of whatever, right or
Justin Brady 25:08
Severance or whatever. Yeah,
Soulaima Gourani 25:09
yeah, but I had nothing after that. And I didn’t know what to do. And I couldn’t get a job because no one still does not employ a pregnant woman. So I was devastated. And I was traumatized and then I just took my computer and I thought, Okay, what can I do with my computer and with my phone and I said, I can start doing sales training. I mean, I know how to train people in sales. So I started talking about that I’m going to train people and you know what, that was the beginning of my speaking career I was fired and I need to make a salary and here I am many, many years later with a global trading company for focusing on sales but it started with me crying in front of my computer afraid of the future and a mom to be like how how could I build a company with a baby like yeah, so
Justin Brady 25:57
that’s I mean that’s similar to how kind of my things start it as well I got fired from a company and I just went home and total depression and I remember thinking you know, this is just idiotic. I’ve screwed up and you know, I didn’t I it’s it’s a whole nother story but I didn’t really I didn’t do anything at all to be fired. It was a unfortunate turn of events but I remember that feeling and I remember starting my business and every morning I would wake up I would puke and I would do that even when I didn’t have anything left and we were talking about something earlier about not being you know, making sure to connect with people and I didn’t know that there was another entrepreneur His name is Nathan and finally one day I was just exasperated and I told him I just kind of confessed that I did that every morning for a while and I was so scared and he was like oh my gosh I did the same thing and I’m like ah if I would have known that pain and failure and this anxiety were normal what how would that have might not have been as hard for me and so that’s why this section is possible cast exists but we do have one more question before we let you go and that is and obviously this is within their no magic bullets everybody understands that on this podcast we’re all we all we’re all in agreement here but of the cultures that truly love and care for their employees what are some magic go tues are some methods you use to get your staff or your team thinking outside the box and solving problems.
Soulaima Gourani 27:25
So first of all, I have teams and they are scattered all over the world. We have no titles, they can have as much vacation they like they don’t have to call them some self six in the morning. We have no meetings. And sometimes I don’t see them for one or two years. I am on the phone with them maybe once a month. So I’m a very special leader. My my leadership profile is complete freedom. Almost no people leave my company and we get really good results with what we’re doing. But I am all into freedom. So for me, what I’ve experienced is if you give people the basics, there may be some KPIs things you want them to do and achieve. But right. Not even not even that we don’t even have KPIs. We don’t even have that we don’t even have a budget for things. But we all know what we’re trying to achieve. And if you give them complete freedom, I have to say, you get loyalty, you get creativity. And I’m I I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to a book A few years ago, that is a best selling us called on boss, like remove all bosses basically, right? And I don’t I don’t I do not function well with a boss. So why would my employees do that? So I removed so I removed all that. So go to I mean, I’m sure I’m showing my team love by not controlling them, right? And my newsletters and my blogs on this topic drives people nuts because there’s still a huge amount of people who really really I love being leaders because there’s a lot of status and money and power and they think that I’m trying to remove that layer that gives them security in their life. But yes, but I think it’s time to onboard and free people like to Yeah, so that is where we’re heading. And we are heading that way.
Justin Brady 29:22
So people want to sign up for that newsletter. If people want to track what you’re up to, if they want to reach out or connect with you or learn more about what you’re up to. How do they do that, you know,
Soulaima Gourani 29:33
they go to soulaima.com maybe you can spell it for them as in the
Justin Brady 29:38
post in the show notes for
Soulaima Gourani 29:41
so soulaima.com really and then and then I asked you if you want to sign up and you know I love my newsletters. They’re called straight talk I they’ve been around for 10 years and I take a few controversial topics and post them there and and one of them is of course Let’s remove all the buses and I think that’s a great future ahead of us. If we trust people more we simply trust each other too little and that means you go you I don’t know about you but if people don’t trust me I don’t work well I don’t
Justin Brady 30:08
either and I think that is like that is the best place to leave it right there Soulaima Gourani, Thank you so very much for coming on today. What an honor and a pleasure. I really appreciate it.
Soulaima Gourani 30:20
Yeah, you keep up your good work too. I love it. And thank you so much. It’s been a great pleasure and honor to be on this podcast. Thank you so much.