In an exclusive interview, we speak to Rola Dagher, Global Channel Chief for Dell Technologies, and learn about her passion and drive, and the lessons she continues to learn along her life's journey.
Representation of women at the C-suite level in Canada stood at 55% as of January. Rola Dagher, Global Channel Chief at Dell Technologies, is one of these women. Having spent most of her childhood years in Lebanon during wartime and moving 15 times during that period to stay alive, her rise to the most senior levels of the technology industry is indeed remarkable.
Since Dell Technologies is one of Thomson Reuters strategic customers, it was my pleasure to sit down with Dagher to glean lessons we can all learn from in her extraordinary life journey and career trajectory from the Middle East to Canada.
Wisdom from escaping war
Dagher was born to a family of six girls. She married at 15, had her first child at 16 in a bomb shelter in Lebanon, and escaped the country in a trunk of a car with her 10-month-old baby. She went to Canada for a chance to build a better life. Starting at the entry-level rungs of the technology industry, she worked her way up through technology sales, eventually taking a vice-president position with Dell. Later, she become president of Cisco Systems Canada before returning to Dell in her current executive position.
During our conversation, she dropped so many enlightening nuggets of wisdom. When asked to summarize her career, she does so in one word, determination. “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have — period, full stop,” Dagher elaborates. She credits much of her success to her father because of his philosophy that “life owes you nothing, and it is an opportunity to make the best of.”
Beyond her determination, she also attributes her success to:
- The people around her who consistently pushed her beyond her comfort zone because “comfort and growth don’t coexist.”
- Turning her “wounds into wisdom” and “weakness into strengths”, because “failing is learning, but giving up is never an option”, despite the challenges she faced.
Sage advice to leaders
Exemplify servant leadership — The moment I sat down with Dagher, her energy exuded warmth, generosity, kindness, and empathy, despite being known to some as Terminator Rola. It is also obvious that she embodies a servant-leadership philosophy, which was instilled in her because of her early years escaping war to stay alive. She knew early on that life is precious, and that at any moment, it can be taken away. “Servant-leadership is everything that a leader needs to be now,” she explains. “Leadership is not a box that you check — it’s an action that you take every day to serve your people with your heart, soul, and mind.”
She goes on to discuss the importance of creating psychological safety in the workplace for your team, so they know that “they belong no matter which race, culture, or religion they come from… it starts and ends with people.”
Learn it, earn it, return it — Clearly, Dagher faced difficult challenges in her life and career — more so than most. However, one of the remarkable and generous qualities about Dagher is how she describes her role as a leader, which is as a remover of obstacles in order to lay out an easier path for those coming up behind her. “When I say learn it, earn it, return it… I learned it [success] the hard way because Canada has given me that opportunity… I earned it because trust is not given. Trust is earned. Relationships are earned. Your hard work is also earned. At the same time, when I learned it and earned it it’s time for me as a leader to return it and bring the elevator down for us and lift people up.”
Invest in workplace mental well-being — Dagher has amazing resilience after growing up in a bomb shelter, escaping Lebanon, and moving around continuously just to be in a safe place. At the same time, she understands deeply the importance of mental well-being after being diagnosed with cancer. She says she was concerned that if she talked about her diagnosis, she would be judged, slowing her career progression at work. In addition, her sister’s struggle with mental health, which had its own life and death implications, was a turning point for Dagher to launch into advocacy. Currently, Dagher sits on the board of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital.
Dagher also continues to lead by example. “I continue to tell my team, ‘It’s okay not to be okay.’” In addition, she consistently asks the question, “How are you really doing today?” — not as a simple pleasantry, but as a serious question.
Guidance for young women in the Middle East
I closed out the interview by asking Dagher what advice she would give her younger self, and she left us with some wise lessons:
- “Be yourself,” she says. “It’s hard to wake up every morning and pretend to be somebody that you’re not. It is so awesome to wake up every morning and accept who you are and say, ‘I am enough.’”
- “You are your own writer. You own your story, and you can change it,” she emphasizes. “Wake up every day. Grab that pen, edit it [your story], and rewrite it.”
Most importantly, is the wisdom to believe in your impact, she explains. “I want to continue to give back to every woman in the region to encourage them to believe in themselves and in their ability that they can make a difference every day.”