Focusing on the Work More Than the Relationships: Ahmed Aref

Focusing on the Work More Than the Relationships: Ahmed Aref


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My guest for Episode #68 is Ahmed Aref, a global leadership coach, speaker, and strategic partner. He is an Egyptian currently living in Saudi Arabia, so he is my first connected with either country. He is CEO of CorpoCure, which produces the “Values & Leadership Podcast” and I was his guest there for Episode 11.

He is also an Associate Coach with Global Coach Group and Ahmed is an Executive and Team Coach with Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. You can learn more through his LinkedIn page and his YouTube channel.

Questions and topics include:

  • What was Ahmed's favorite mistake?
  • Why was he excluded from a key meeting?
  • What happened with Ahmed focused more on the work instead of also focusing on relationships?
  • Why is it important to spend time on those relationships?
  • How can we give honest feedback with Emotional Intelligence?
  • What mistake did Mark make but then NOT edit out from the recording?
    • Not editing it out was an intentional choice, not an oversight…

Scroll down to find:

  • Video
  • Quotes
  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript

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Watch the Episode:


"Because I was very much focused on the work, on the task. I didn't give the relationship its due investment in time."
"When we try things and we do not succeed, this is not a failure. Actually, this is an opportunity for learning and for growth."

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 68 Ahmed Aref, CEO of CorpoCure

Ahmed Aref (6s):
I was very much focused on the work on the task. I didn't give the relationship it's due.

Mark Graban (18s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistake, For show notes, links, and more, go to Please follow rate, and review. And now on with the show.

Mark Graban (59s):
We're joined today by Ahmed Aref. He is the CEO of CorpoCure. He's an executive coach, a team coach, and he's the host of a podcast called the Values & Leadership Podcast. So Ahmed, thank you for joining us. How are you?

Ahmed Aref (1m 16s):
Thank you. Thank you, Mark. For the invitation I'm honored to be in your podcast.

Mark Graban (1m 23s):
Glad we could talk. And so tell the audience, just to start off quickly, where are you from originally? Where are you right now? Now, where are you connecting from?

Ahmed Aref (1m 36s):
Yes, I'm Egyptian expat in Saudi Arabia, currently in Riyadh. Basically my previous experience was in finance. So I'm finance advisor for the past 22 years. So this is currently why I'm here.

Mark Graban (1m 53s):
Well, you are my first guest from Saudi Arabia. You're my first Egyptian guest. So thank you.

Ahmed Aref (1m 60s):
Great, great. Thanks for being number 1.

Mark Graban (2m 3s):
So if all sorts of things that we'll talk about related to, to your work and experiences, but we always like to just start off with, with your story. So what would you say is your favorite mistake?

Ahmed Aref (2m 16s):
A mistake? Well, it's, I will say it in a way of like a flashback. So I will say as say an incident which prompted what was the original mistake? So initially we during work in finance, I had some, I always work on making improvement in financial performance. So I always making new new reports and radical reports for top management to be able to make a more informative decision and more strategic decision. So I have managed to work with, with my team and we were doing a strategic report and it was very innovative and it grabbed the attention of,

Mark Graban (3m 1s):
Oh, wait, I'm sorry. For some reason I thought it wasn't recording, but it actually was. So now needlessly interrupted. No problem. Can you, can you go back in and, and just start that story again? I was just afraid for some reason.

Ahmed Aref (3m 19s):
Yeah, there is this a red point, which is

Mark Graban (3m 26s):
Why I didn't see that. So,

Ahmed Aref (3m 27s):
But it's good that you are, that that's your focus too.

Mark Graban (3m 33s):
Okay. But, so I, I will, of course do an edit. So I did not to do an edit. It goes to show, well, make mistakes. Life goes on. That's the theme of the podcast. So back to Ahmed, I'll just tee you up again. Ahmed, what would you say is your favorite mistake?

Ahmed Aref (3m 58s):
Yes, actually through my work, as a financial improvement advisor, finance performance improvement advisor. So my job is to make reports which help the top management to make strategic decisions. So I'm always in the job of developing strategic peoples to management. And it was one of these reports that when, when I first released the idea, it was very much accepted and welcomed by the top management. And we worked hard on it for almost one month. And we had a lot of workshops. I was doing the workshops to the top management to even teach them how to understand the simple was, it was very novel in its approach, and it was well received.

Ahmed Aref (4m 40s):
We have spent a lot of time in preparing it and then comes the day where we should be presenting the presentation to the top management to the senior management, to, to give them our, our work. And suddenly I wasn't defined by before the meeting by 10 minutes that I'm not included into, into this meeting. And other people were not, who were not included in the preparation of the report will attend the start of me. So it was like awkward decision. Why then I got, then I got an answer which was not fulfilling and it was not relevant.

Ahmed Aref (5m 23s):
So then I had to act emotionally at that time because I thought it was a very important support. And if I am the one who did it, then why should not buy it. And then they said, the answer was, we already, you already did a lot of workshops to us and we already understand the whole thing and that's it. So then, then there's tuition. But then after that, I started to think what happened. Something's not right. Something's not right. Right. I started to pivot actually out of this situation. And I said, okay, this, this report and this framework of strategic reporting, I will publish it in a book and they start to, to sell it to outside, outside the advisers as well.

Ahmed Aref (6m 13s):
And they will appreciate, and people from USA and people from, from my region and it poses very well as a very good report for a medium size or small size. And this was even enough fulfilling for me. This was the first reaction. The second reaction was later, actually, when I started my coaching and my coaching career, when I had an emotional intelligence workshop and I got started when I realized all this happened, I started to be more self aware about myself. What, why do I feel, how do I feel?

Ahmed Aref (6m 54s):
And how did, and how was I treating people for long years? What was the decisions that I was taking regarding the relationships? Because I was very much focused on the work, on the task. I didn't give the relationship, it's ue time and it's due investment investment in time. And even in the emotion, all of this. And I got to realize that what happened is that this was the mistake that I was not investing enough time and they didn't interact in the right way with others and those not paying attention to others wards.

Ahmed Aref (7m 39s):
So I was very kind of focusing on work and whatever criticism I received or whatever, even feedback or suggestion. I wasn't accepting that. So definitely others thought that I'm not that kind of manageable, or I didn't like the reviews or something. So they started to treat me as a advisor, as an independent advisor, but he is not part of the team is not like this. So this is what I realized. And this is what I discovered that not focusing, not giving that relation, that you time investment and the emotion, and th there should be emotion and feeling in work as well.

Ahmed Aref (8m 19s):
That should feel this kind of relationship. And this is the mistake. And from that, from that realization, I started to be more attentive to, to read three ignite or amplify my listening skills, my listening skills, which I discovered that I already have, but I was like something dumb, dumb. Yeah.

Mark Graban (8m 45s):
Tell me more about what, what do you mean you were shutting them down or not letting it those skills come out?

Ahmed Aref (8m 53s):
Yup. I discovered something while I was studying coaching that only humans have all the skills, but because of some instances or because of some values or because of some personal experiences that when that we were shut down by others for one reason or another. So we started to take a defensive action and we started to be not open with people. We are not sharing what's inside us with. So that leads to be more close of nature and not open to community, to communication with people. And this is, I think, what, what led to that?

Ahmed Aref (9m 33s):
This is one thing, the second thing is that I, I like all those to be productive. So I like always to do things that leads to results or leads to some benefits. So communicating with colleagues was like something like, Oh, we'll talk again about weather, all talk again about food. I don't like this kind of stuff. So I was not having this kind of socialization. So that's why I think that's…

Mark Graban (9m 60s):
I think that, that's, that's really important thing to learn. You know, what I hear you're saying is that time spent on getting to know others, letting them get to know you building those relationships that might have seemed inefficient or a waste of time compared to reports to be written and tasks to be done is what I hear you saying.

Ahmed Aref (10m 29s):
Exactly. And this, and that's covered even later that this is, this kind of mentality is in the world. So the, the thing that you are an advisor, you know, this kind of, I'm wearing the hat of the advisor, you know, I'm thinking I'm doing this thing and I don't need to talk with others like this. And it is one of the ways that people use. I'm not the only one, but some people as well used, and this is not the right way, because there should be an interdependence. And with people trying to find common ground and co co-create together and co-create activities and together and all of those things.

Mark Graban (11m 10s):
Yeah. So that time spent on relationships in a way is an investment that allows us to accomplish more, maybe to accomplish things more successfully because of the relationships that we have within a team or with our clients or whoever we're working for working with. Right.

Ahmed Aref (11m 30s):
Yeah. And even, so I discovered that after years, you know, I have, I have done this for years as well. I felt lonely as well as, as, as a, as a resident. And then I thought that I'm not happy about that. I'm not happy. I'm not happy about being lonely. So actually I should change my beliefs and I should change my behaviors so that I will not be lonely. So it was, it was, my belief will lead to this kind of, of lacking this kind of connection. It's my view, my view, and my self view has led to that. Yeah.

Mark Graban (12m 7s):
So back to when you were telling the story about writing report, not being invited to the meeting, was that probably, it sounds like that was due to not having those relationships where they, they wanted, they wanted your input, but they didn't think having you in the meeting was going to really add, or, Oh, I'm curious. Did you, did you ever have a chance to talk to them about that? You, when you're looking back at it, you're just guessing that the relationship wasn't strong enough and that's why they didn't feel like they wanted to bring you in to the meeting.

Ahmed Aref (12m 46s):
Yeah. I discovered that emotional intelligence is very important at work. And at that time I didn't have this kind of emotional intelligence skills. So, and they wanted to, and this was, and this was required in this kind of meetings. So, because I lack it. So it means that for any reason, I should not be there.

Mark Graban (13m 4s):
Yeah. Yeah. And you know, you say, you know, your background is in finance, I'm an engineer. I've talked to people, let's say, who are software developers, whether we're focused on the task or the facts. Sometimes we can get in trouble. If we say something too, bluntly, somebody, you know, if we disagree or if we think something is a bad idea without proper emotional intelligence that, you know, stating something fact that we think is factual, he said, well, that that's not going to work…

Ahmed Aref (13m 43s):

Mark Graban (13m 44s):
We say that means a lot in terms of how that message might be received, or if we damage the relationship to the point where they now no longer ask us for, for input, that that can be a troubling in terms of the impact on an organization or the impact on Austin, our careers, right.

Ahmed Aref (14m 3s):
This is a really important point. And yes, I had this as well as one of my behaviors. I was saying whatever I'm seeing as factual, as you mentioned, irrespective of what could be the impact on others. So maybe this as well was part of missing this kind of emotional thing.

Mark Graban (14m 22s):
Yeah. Well, that's a really good thing. I mean, that's, it's, it's an, it's an insight that comes from reflection. And it sounds like in your case where you're saying Ahmed was that you, you had, you know, the personal moment of you described loneliness. It wasn't because someone came and said, Hey, you're in trouble. You need to change how you behave. It was very kind of self-initiated, it seems.

Ahmed Aref (14m 48s):
Yep. And there's only one thing I wanted to add is that in a lot of there is not honest feedback and the honest feedback will allow anyone to learn. And this is, and this is what we miss in corporate culture is that people are afraid or they feel, they don't feel good if they give honest feedback, because this will ruin the relation with the other person. But if I got an honest feedback, definitely I could have a changed or something or thought about it.

Mark Graban (15m 24s):
So in, in your work now as a coach for executives and organizations, what are some scenarios where you try to help people navigate giving feedback in a way that demonstrates high emotional intelligence?

Ahmed Aref (15m 42s):
Yep. This is very important question. Thank you for that. Usually the current performance is as long as like a yearly performance review, where unfortunately it is used to school employees or try to penalize them or not to give them, or let's say, no, we didn't before. And that's why you need to do this courses to be better as if you are not a good guy or something. So in coaching, we're saying, no, we should be, you should be having an ongoing feedback throughout the year. So you, as a manager, you should be having ongoing feedback like coaching, dealing with air with your team and include them in the decision before it is taken.

Ahmed Aref (16m 26s):
This is number one. So people feel appreciated and feel valued. And this will open communication with each other all year long, and there will be ongoing feedback and trust as well in the team. And, and we'll be moving into a unified direction and this, and this has a lot to do with success as a team and success as a, as a manager and indeed for individual people. And this is very important.

Mark Graban (16m 56s):
And, you know, I think back and reflect on some of my work I've, I've made mistakes where I've had to learn that having the right answer. Isn't always enough, there's, there's having the right answer. And then there's the ability not just to communicate it, but the, the, the ability to engage with people. And I think that's something that, you know, that, that that's a category of our work life, where we can try to develop better emotional intelligence. I'm I, I, I don't think I don't mind my emotional intelligence. I there's, there's a long way to go where I could improve that.

Mark Graban (17m 36s):
I make mistakes all the time, but emotional intelligence can be developed in a way where I think I cue and we own away our intelligence is what it is, but emotional intelligence can actually be improved upon what are your thoughts on that?

Ahmed Aref (17m 52s):
Definitely. And yes, thank you for bringing this up because being in an advice mode or as an advisor, so you are always giving the answer that I've answered to others, really, this is this, this, this really hurts and this breaks relationships and as well. So in coaching, we are encouraging the, the, the, the communication and the flow of, and opening up discussions. So managers should not be in the meeting having the answer. It should be probing questions, giving question, like, like brainstorming and he is inviting, inviting answers, or there's another way even, even to, to let the team even ask a question.

Mark Graban (18m 41s):

Ahmed Aref (18m 41s):
This is another way to ask a question regarding the subject. So he explains the issue in one minute or two minutes, then he invites questions from each team member. And from that, from this questions, we will realize, we'd start to realize a new, a new, a new situation or new imagination to do to the situation and that, and that's going to enrich the, our collective view and how can we move forward and not having a close, only close view to the problem. So the initial, the situation.

Mark Graban (19m 17s):
Yeah. Yeah. And one thing I've really tried to focus on personally and sometimes get to coach others on is asking open-ended questions. So there's a difference between asking what are your thoughts about that plan versus asking? Technically it's a question say, amen, that's a really good plan, right? It's not really leaving open the door for you to say, I have reservations about that plan, or, you know, I have concerns about that plan is different than saying no, that's a stupid plan. Yeah.

Ahmed Aref (19m 56s):
And yeah, I sense that when you, when you, when you said that the psychological safety, because the tone, even that you use, it can even give a psychological safety or it can, you know, let others react just to react. They cannot think they cannot propose. They cannot show up with their whole self and they cannot give their thoughts and their ideas about

Mark Graban (20m 18s):
Yeah. So if someone says, you know, I think that's a stupid plan. And then I say, what's wrong with you? That's technically an open-ended question, but that's not really

Ahmed Aref (20m 32s):
Yeah. Way to do it. Yeah.

Mark Graban (20m 34s):
So yeah, hopefully listeners that this gives people a lot to think about and sort of reflect upon how we interact with people and focusing on relationships and, and not just the task at hand. So one of question I wanted to ask you, your podcast values and leadership podcasts T tell us, you know, what, what that podcast is about and why was it important to you to start that

Ahmed Aref (21m 2s):
Podcast? The podcast is about inviting leaders from, from the six continents to discuss emerging leadership practices. That's based on that's values based. So for example, corporate owners, advisors like yourself and academics, and even executives from within the companies. So each one discusses his, sorry for that. Each one discusses his values based approach to leadership and how he shares the decision-making and how we share the rewards from, and how we share of the business with the clients, with the customers.

Ahmed Aref (21m 51s):
And in a way that's innovative. So some, some of the, some of the leaders that I invited they are they're employing the employee share scheme. So it's like an employee owned companies, but they are giving the employees voting and controlling rights. So as if the are owners voting only profit share, imagine so I'm giving them and giving the people that, I mean, the engineers let's say because it's an it company that are giving the engineers of skills, like listening, like understanding. So even those, so they don't need to hire a sales team and they are empowering.

Ahmed Aref (22m 36s):
The, even the, you just mentioned this, this example, five minutes back, you mentioned that even some engineers, they don't have this sense of is not, they are giving, making them ready to face customers and clients and have this kind of conversation. And the very understanding to that, to the needs of the clients so that they achieve joint success. Right? So this is the kind of guests and approaches we are discussing, which is values-based

Mark Graban (23m 6s):
People can find the podcast searching for it in, in the usual podcast apps and directories. Is there a website that you would point people?

Ahmed Aref (23m 16s):
Yes. There is a huge YouTube channel, which I can share it with you. You can, we can share it in the show notes and it's important as well, but being called and as well, there is a, there is as well a link. I would share it with you after the, after this room. Yes.

Mark Graban (23m 35s):
Yeah. Yeah. And like you said, we'll make sure we put that in the show notes. So any other thoughts that you would want to share as we wrap up thoughts on mistakes or learning from mistakes that you would want to share?

Ahmed Aref (23m 52s):
Yes. Life is, is full of try, try tries. We try things. Sometimes it, it succeeds. Sometimes it doesn't succeed. And when, when we try things and we do not succeed, this is not a failure. Actually, this is an opportunity for learning and opportunity for growth. It's always as if a door has opened despite of this kind of mistake, but dude has opened for something bigger and something even you have not anticipated before. And this thing can be even much more better than the success that we have experienced.

Mark Graban (24m 29s):
Well, that's very well said, and it's great to, to hear your perspective on that and how, how important that is as, as you've like all of us, we make mistakes, but the positive outcome is when we reflect and learn and improve. That's what the podcast is all about. So thank you augment for contributing to that conversation here today.

Ahmed Aref (24m 54s):
Great. Thank you, Mark. I think it's always a pleasure to see you and meet you.

Mark Graban (24m 59s):
Well, thanks again to Ahmed for being our guests today. Again, for show notes and links, you can go to, please follow rate and review. If you like the episode, the kindest thing you could do is share this on social media or share it with a friend or a colleague. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they've started being more open and honest about mistakes and their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems, cause that leads to more improvement in better business results.

Mark Graban (25m 40s):
If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me my favorite mistake And again, our website is

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.