Interview: Rania Hoteit, CEO of ID4A Technologies

I was honored to interview Rania Hoteit the CEO of ID4A Technologies, which was named Best Entrepreneurial Company in America” by Entrepreneur magazine.

She has an impressive bio including being “an award-winning serial entrepreneur” with “recognition from the White House”. She was also among “55 global leaders to speak at the United Nations Global People’s Summit during the UN General Assembly”.

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I have been following her work for a few months and am continually amazed by the example that she is setting in her leadership for women across the world. She was generous enough with her time to share with us about leadership, success, and how we can empower the next generation of women.

How do you personally measure success?

I personally measure success by the levels of self-realization, actualisation, and development. When you have the deepest level of understanding yourself, the highest level of desire to achieve your greatest potential in life, and the highest level of commitment to growth, then you seek experiences and knowledge, challenge your mind and beliefs, learn new skills, implement and constantly strive for the next level of awareness, competence, and achievement. That’s how real success is made.

Whether someone fails or succeeds can only be truly measured against one’s greatest potential and ability to actualise it. It’s not about who others are, what others do and achieve for themselves, or what society’s expectations and definitions are. I don’t judge myself according to anyone’s definitions of anything, let alone my success. I create my own standards to follow and measure my progress in the ways that are meaningful to me. I envision my own dreams, then I set strategies and practical plans to reach them. My goals are not rooted in ego, nor are they driven by external influences and symbols such as money, recognition, status or anything that requires validation from others.

I don’t judge myself according to anyone’s definitions of anything, let alone my success. I create my own standards to follow and measure my progress in the ways that are meaningful to me.

Even though this happens to be an added outcome; they’ve never been my sole motivators. Before I take major actions, I evaluate my true motivations to ensure that I am creating intrinsic goals that are centered around my personal growth, inner fulfillment, and alignment with my identity, vision, passion, and purpose, all while adding value and making a difference in other people’s lives.

It’s very easy to set extrinsic goals and slip into disillusionment by what defines success and how to achieve it. When you depend on external symbols or try to be like someone else, you’re already taking the wrong motivational path, and you have no ‘real’ metrics to measure your own success. Real success can only be achieved when you follow what is true for you. Because as soon as these symbols dissolve or get replaced by new ones, you become irrelevant along with everything you built on this faulty basis. That’s one big lie of a life. It’s very important to recognize this early on to live with integrity and have a fulfilling human experience in the long run.

What leadership advice can you give to those who aspire to be leaders in the future?

For those who aspire to lead in the future, it’s important to understand that becoming a leader is not a “job”. Not every individual who starts a business or holds a managerial or authoritative position of some kind is a great leader. Becoming a great leader is a rigorous and continuous process of self-development and growth that you must commit. Successful leadership is also about influence and the willingness of people to adopt your vision and follow your lead.

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You must have a sharp character and clear vision, along with a broad set of practical, intellectual, social, and communication skills in order to create such influence and assert great leadership. But you can’t lead others when you are not sure who you are yourself and when you lack the competence. Start with defining your unique identity, motivations, values, beliefs, strengths, goals and vision for the future, and how can you improve on weaknesses and learn new skills to become the best version of yourself.

…you can’t develop a wider set of leadership skills or broaden your capacity if your practical experiences are not varying or if you continue to do the work that you are already good at.

As a leader, your development will mainly occur through learning and extracting insights from day-to-day practical experiences and responsibilities, and applying this knowledge to the next phase. But you can’t develop a wider set of leadership skills or broaden your capacity if your practical experiences are not varying or if you continue to do the work that you are already good at.

Push yourself to consciously step into new roles, activities, and situations that test your abilities and challenge your mindset and beliefs. Never lose enthusiasm in the face of challenges. Be curious to explore fresh approaches and perspectives. Never stop learning. Have a winning spirit. That’s the only way you can successfully take on higher levels of risks and reach leadership excellence.

How can we best empower this next generation of women?

Women face more complex consideration sets and societal pressures throughout their lives, in addition to gender barriers that are still contributing to increased disparities on many levels. To best empower the next generation, we have to make radical changes to alleviate pressures and dissolve all barriers across all areas of society. From a very young age, girls can be surrounded by expectations that are destructive to their self-worth due to all kinds of implied undercurrents that are embodied by traditional gender stereotypes related to their intelligence, stamina, appearance, courage, strength, and even careers or paths for success that they are expected to conform to.

It is crucial to nurture self-confidence in girls from an early age by encouraging them to develop independence of mind, to express themselves freely and debate their views openly, to stand up for themselves, and enjoy challenges. Positive cooperation and partnership with men is also key to the transformation, along with having more female role models from different social and professional spheres for the younger generations of women to lean on and be inspired by.

We also have to examine the current social climate and state of the economy, and what women will still face in the future if gender barriers remain unresolved. Based on the latest Global Gender Report issued by the World Economic Forum, the gap between the achievements and well-being of men and women widened in the past year. The data estimates that at the current rates, it will take 100 years before women achieve equality in political empowerment, economic participation, health, and education.

Economic data on gender imbalance also revealed that women’s numbers are not at parity in leadership in any industry, hiring women hasn’t increased along with the number of women earning degrees in areas such as technology and manufacturing given that a large proportion of women are choosing not to go into those fields. And I can speak from my position being in both industries, technology and manufacturing, and one of the world’s few women leaders in these male-dominated fields who refused to accommodate gender role stereotypes. My experience has been full of challenges and obstacles since I started my career and entrepreneurial journey over 10 years ago.

…we need to take the responsibility of creating entire organizational structures and cultures to support women’s advancement in leadership within companies to ensure that they have the best chances to do so.

Breaking through gender barriers and biases turned into a full-time sport, especially in the early stages of growing my business and establishing my thought leadership. Yet staying the course and forging ahead full force have also been incredibly rewarding because I was determined to build a successful business and an impactful brand, and was unapologetically ambitious when it comes to achieving my own goals.

Ultimately, if we can teach girls the courage to break their own stereotypes, and the value of developing her own independence, sense of identity and definition of success, then our next generation of women will be empowered with self-confidence, resilience, and adaptability to navigate new paths, seize opportunities, and to become leaders and shapers in our societies who enable the same sense of meaning and purpose, not only for other women and girls, but for everyone around them, regardless of gender.

At the same time, we have to facilitate their advancement and success by integrating them fairly and efficiently in the global economy. Talented, driven and intelligent women deserve opportunities to lead, and societies do need their leadership in order to thrive. Therefore, we need to take the responsibility of creating entire organizational structures and cultures to support women’s advancement in leadership within companies to ensure that they have the best chances to do so.

In your opinion what is one of the most valuable skills a leader can possess, that most struggle to develop?

Leadership is both an art form and a science and requires creativity as well as knowledge of human psychology to establish healthy and productive connections amongst people and with them. The problem is that most leaders emphasise developing their visionary, practical and strategic thinking skills, and often fail to master interpersonal skills and struggle to effectively interact, communicate, listen, and empathize with others.

While empathy has a major impact on the ultimate success or failure in leadership because it builds character traits of trustworthiness, relatedness, respectfulness, caring, and fairness. It’s the most critical driver of any leader’s overall performance. We’ve seen many examples in recent years of leaders who raised to fame due to their great business schemes, while their people’s leadership failures were ignored. When leaders have the ability to empathize, not only do they only involve and engage their people more effectively, but they also lead their teams and organizations to the most business growth and highest levels of innovation.

Empathy isn’t only fundamental to elevating the quality of human interactions at a societal level, but it’s also critical for business growth and leadership success.

There is plenty of substantial evidence on the correlation between empathy and performance. If we look at the companies that were top rated on the Global Empathy Index, including Microsoft, Facebook, Tesla, and Google, we see that they’re generating 50% more earnings per employee than those at the bottom. Empathy isn’t only fundamental to elevating the quality of human interactions at a societal level, but it’s also critical for business growth and leadership success.

Would you share with us an example of a challenge that you have faced in leading and how you overcame it?

Becoming a boss who is leading a global company and initiatives was an extremely demanding adjustment. Specially that I defied conventions and took the risk of launching global operations and partnerships from the beginning stages of the business. Most entrepreneurs focus on local growth before they consider entering international markets. I did the exact opposite; which proved to be a winning strategy for us. But the process was a major learning curve that came with many demands, and expedited personal growth and leadership skills development. Within one year, I went from managing 2 people to leading collaborations and negotiations between teams, clients, partners, sponsors, investors, suppliers, manufacturers, and other organizations around the world, and these interactions got highly complex over time.

My character and leadership abilities were being tested at every level so I really had to adapt, learn and implement very fast. The key challenge that I faced within my organization and with external partnerships as we started to grow, was managing the diversity of disciplines and the differences in cultural backgrounds; both equally significant in localized and in cross-border negotiations and collaborations because they heavily influence how people operate, interact, view their roles as individuals or within a group, as well as their attitudes towards the importance of time and building relationships.

Decision-making processes were also very arduous as a result; not just in terms of technicalities but also in terms of behaviors and core beliefs. Overall, it took numerous failures, and a lot of strategy and mastery to build a robust infrastructure to effectively lead my team, manage our clients and affiliates in different parts of the world, and adapt to all differences in processes, disciplines and cultures to accomplish such complex collaborations successfully.

Today, ID4A Technologies is a trusted global company that is innovating at the cutting-edge of design technology and recognized as one of the best entrepreneurial companies for mastering leadership, innovation, impact and growth, and for fostering the development of advanced manufacturing in the United States, and the world.

What is the best way to introduce innovative ideas to a team that is stuck in an old method?

It really depends on the larger context within which ideas are being introduced, what methods are we referring to, and what is one’s position in relation to the team. In general, any time you are introducing a new idea, you are creating change. Supposing that being “stuck in an old method”, the context is a traditional corporate environment. In such cultures that are not innovation-driven, big ideas are more likely to be perceived as risky propositions than as potentially rewarding opportunities. Hence, you must be strategic and have the conviction to successfully introduce innovations into your organization and get your ideas to be understood and implemented by your team.

The best way to start the proposal process is:

1. Align your innovative ideas with the leadership’s vision and goals

2. Combine multiple communication tools and skills by creating appealing visualizations and analytical frameworks to convey the value of change and its transformative potential. Also, navigate through negotiations to influence your team and other key decision makers in the direction of your goals.

To what or who do you attribute your success?

As I reflect on where I am today with my life and career, I can’t possibly attribute my success to a single factor but rather to many qualities, talents, and skills along with conscious efforts and genuine desire to constantly learn, evolve, implement and succeed. At a core level, my integrity, optimism, independence, initiative, resilience, creativity, strong self belief, determination and devotion to reach personal excellence have been vital for my success, and gave me the courage to fight, bounce back from many failures, setbacks and disappointments to refocus on my goals, win and strive harder.

I also attribute my success to the haters, naysayers, deprecators, and rivals who put me down and tried to sabotage my efforts along the way.

In tandem with innate characteristics, mastering communication skills, public relations, passion for quality, innovative problem solving, effective leadership skills, collaboration, and successful team and partnerships building, as well as my commitment to help others, all were critical drivers for the global growth of my entrepreneurial and social impact initiatives, and the and expansion of my influence as an industry innovator and thought leader.

I also attribute my success to the haters, naysayers, deprecators, and rivals who put me down and tried to sabotage my efforts along the way. Those who didn’t support me are the ones who made me stronger. On another note, maintaining a sense of humility and humbleness is key to continuous growth and ultimate success. It’s the acceptance to learn more, to seek farther and reach higher, and remain open to all the knowledge that is yet to be discovered. For me, I always remind myself that I am only at the beginnings of what I know and what I ultimately want to achieve, and this fuels my ambition, drive, and curiosity. There is so much more work to do, and more growth and success to look forward to in the future.

What do you do personally to grow as a leader?

The richest source of growth and learning in my life have been real-life challenging experiences and problems. I take a proactive approach to seek out challenges and activities that provide me opportunities to develop new repertoires of skills to improve on weaknesses and practice new behaviors. It’s an intentional, gradual and continuous process that I am absolutely committed to, and I make it a priority to step into new situations that test my abilities to be effective in a wide variety of leadership roles.

I re-examine my responsibilities thoroughly as I expand on my vision further, structure new plans, and strategize to reach new goals, in order to identify what new competencies I have to master to successfully take on higher levels of risks, and what changes I need to make to enhance my leadership skills so I can manage these new responsibilities efficiently.

Specifically, with the work that I do, I have to stay on the lookout for new ideas to stay ahead and maintain constant, ongoing innovation. We are constantly faced with open-ended questions and complex problems with many variables to be calculated and accounted for, and frequent experimentations and failures, so resilience and agility are critical skills for us. We have to fail fast, learn even faster, and find solutions really fast as well.

As a leader, I work very diligently to build enabling strategies that cultivate these skills and create a positive atmosphere to boost idea generation, innovative problem solving and creativity both at an individual and at an organizational level within my team.

What is one mindset shift that needs to take place to be the most effective in leading change?

Years ago I read The Prince, a political treatise by Niccolo Machiavelli in which he wrote: ”There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” And this statement can’t be any more relevant. The one mindset shift that needs to take place is to step away from the control and the hands-on approaches and assume a leadership role. Whether the objective is to create change in society, industry or within an organization, it’s critical to realize that the path forward doesn’t revolve around “I” but rather around “We”.

One visionary leader can have tremendous individual power to bring awareness and initiate movements. However, real change at a scale of significance can only occur when you harness the collective into decision-making and engage others to actively participate in the service of a greater purpose.

…real change at a scale of significance can only occur when you harness the collective into decision-making and engage others to actively participate in the service of a greater purpose.

Hence, your effectiveness in leading change will be determined by your success to turn strangers into passionate believers, inspired supporters and empowered individuals who will participate in bringing your vision to life and making the change happen. The focus needs to shift from being at the center of it all on your own to becoming the power source that drives other people by providing energy, direction, vision, inspiration, motivation, and a system to follow; which fundamentally requires your communication mindset to shift as well.

You need to develop the ability to clearly communicate your goals, expectations, expertise, knowledge, and instructions in ways that are pragmatic and practical, yet articulated in the language of an idealist and visionary leader who inspires action and mobilizes people from deep within.

Rania Hoteit is the CEO of ID4A Technologies which was named “Best Entrepreneurial Company in America” by Entrepreneur magazine under her leadership. ID4A Technologies is a global design technology specialized in the design and development of platform solutions that leverage exponential technologies such as Ai, 3D printing, machine vision, and industrial robots to build manufacturing automation software for robotic technologies. Rania is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, an expert judge on global startup competitions, international speaker, advisor, author and social impact leader in gender equality, women empowerment, education and industry innovation with multiple recognitions from the White House, and other awards.