Cisco Canada Blog

“Listen to understand, not to speak”: what I learned from Rola Dagher at Collision Conference

May 13, 2019

On Tuesday afternoon, last week at Collision Conference, I attended a fireside chat between Rola Dagher, Cisco Canada President, and Goldy Hyder, CEO of the Business Council of Canada.  This intimate conversation about female leadership in the digital age was incredibly inspiring for all of us who were lucky enough to attend. 45.7% of all attendees at Collision this year were women (an all-time high). As a result, the room where Rola and Goldy’s talk was held, quickly became filled to capacity, with a mostly female audience settling in on the floor and in the aisles. The result? A full house and the feeling that we were in a safe space among friends with a common understanding of what it feels like to be a woman in tech.

I have the privilege of working with Rola on a daily basis, but we all know what it is like at work. There isn’t always the chance to press pause, take a step back, and look at the big picture. On Tuesday afternoon, that’s exactly what happened. Rola shared personal insights with us on female leadership and lessons learned from her life and career. There were two overarching themes that really stood out – one, her views on leadership and growth apply to everyone, regardless of gender. Two, her outlook is overwhelmingly positive. Anything is possible, as long as you believe in yourself.

So what did Rola say? Here are four insights she shared that made an impression on me and the twitterverse:

“Growth and comfort don’t coexist”

Once you get comfortable, you are in the wrong job. Without challenges that bring you outside of your comfort zone, your growth will begin to stagnate. The best growth opportunities come from discomfort, from challenging yourself to do something new that is unfamiliar and in uncharted territory for you. Although making that next move can sometimes be scary, we as women can support each other when we take those risks. Your career and your growth are in your control.

Rola advocates for mentorship and sponsorship as critical support systems on your growth journey. The first step is to decide if you need a mentor or a sponsor. The second step is to decide what you want from each of those relationships. Be intentional and understand what exactly you want to achieve. Rola suggested finding the smartest and most disruptive person in the room, someone that thinks differently from you in order to explore and understand different perspectives. This is the best way to grow.

 “No one gets on a podium on their own”

 No one is successful in isolation. I see Rola embody this philosophy of “learn it, earn it and return it” every single day and how it inspires each member of our team to achieve more. The success of one is the success of many. Support and uplift those around you whenever you can. If you have been blessed with opportunities in your career, take the time to help those who come after you.

“IQ, EQ, AQ. Intelligence. Emotional. Adaptability” – the three criteria for success

So what does Rola look for when hiring? I was struck by Rola’s ranking of these three traits when looking for new members for her organization. For Rola, EQ and AQ are more important than IQ – IQ can be trained. EQ and AQ are intrinsic qualities – who you are, how you approach challenges and people. Take Cisco for example, you can learn about our products and what they do, but your success relies on your ability to adapt to change and connect with people – your AQ and EQ.

“You don’t know how strong you are. Until being strong is your only option!”

Rola has been amazingly candid about her personal story and the challenges she has faced to get to where she is today. Her persistence, tenacity and desire to succeed in the face of incredible hardships are inspiring to everyone. But how should we deal with self-doubt? Rola acknowledged that self-doubt is perfectly normal for everyone no matter what they have achieved. Although Rola sometimes wonders whether she did the right thing, Rola’s belief in her team is what ultimately fuels her. Surround yourself with people that will ground you, that you respect and who will challenge you when needed, to ensure that you always make the right decisions for your organization and customers.

Watch Rola’s story


While Rola’s insights are relevant to everyone, she shared how strongly she felt about female representation and women supporting other women. The main message? We can do better.  She spoke about Cisco’s Connected Women employee group which I am proud member of. This network aims to build bridges across teams and organizations to connect women and “imagine their possible”. As the Executive sponsor of this program at Cisco, Rola is currently exploring opening up this network to those outside of Cisco – stay tuned!

Sign up for communications from the Connected Women Network

It was inspiring to not only hear Rola’s story at Collision but to be in a room with hundreds of women in tech and men who advocate for equal opportunities for women. As someone who is a member of the Cisco Canada family, I could not be prouder to be part of a team that has a strong, female leader that consistently advocates for dynamic and diverse workplaces.

I’m going to take a page from Rola’s book and own my actions by following her four leadership principles:

  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Don’t take it personally
  • Follow through on what you say
  • Be precise with your words

Who else wants to take the Rola Challenge?


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