Hello Ahmad. Thank you for participating in this Q&A session. We would like to start by exploring your origin story. Please give us an overview of your background, career and your journey as a business leader?
I was born in Egypt and my family immigrated to Australia when I was 4 years old. When I arrived in Australia I could not speak a word of English and was placed in school where I had to learn on the go. My parents left everything they knew in Egypt including their family, friends, house, jobs to start a new life in Australia. All to provide a better life and more opportunities for their children.
When we arrived in Australia we started from the bottom. So much so, that for the first 6 months we lived in a small one bedroom motel room as my parents found jobs to make ends meet. I have a fond memory of my mother making a big plate of scrambled eggs, and we would all sit around the small motel room table and share this one plate together, very humble beginnings.
My school days were a little awkward, I never really found my place. I was different, looked different, sounded different and behaved differently, which led to me getting bullied throughout school. I was a small brown skinned immigrant with thick glasses and an unkempt Afro, which made some people uncomfortable. As a result of the bullying my self esteem was low, my confidence was crushed and my self worth was non existent. It led to me becoming a very shy and awkward teenager. I didn’t have the confidence to look people in the eyes and I felt like I didn’t deserve to take up the voice space.
As a kid, I used to love to perform, I loved to entertain, it absolutely lit me up. I just no longer had the confidence to do it. Upon leaving school, I went to university to study Commerce and while at University I got a job at a local pizza restaurant. My job was to make pizzas and wash dishes. I would make pizzas all day and then spend hours washing dishes until my fingers were pruned. While at this job I found my first mentor. He was the owner of the pizza shop. A serial entrepreneur that was a big advocate of personal development. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and it boosted my confidence.
Upon leaving the pizza shop he gifted me something that changed everything. It changed my entire trajectory. He gifted me a 24 disc CD set called “Personal Power II” by Tony Robbins. I didn’t know who Tony Robbins was, but I went home, put on that first CD, and as soon as I heard Tony’s voice, I knew this is what I needed. From that point I began challenging my fears in order to grow. I got a job in a call centre to learn the art of sales. I worked as a door to door salesman to build my confidence. Each job I had helped me elevate my skills and confidence. I began getting more creative and started song writing, recording in studios and performing to a live audience to embrace my passion and love of performing. I would volunteer to MC weddings in order to face my fear and build my speaking skillset.
Over the years I built myself up from a call centre, to sales rep, sales manager and sales leadership across a few different jobs and industries. I found myself as a Director of a property consultancy in Sydney. It was at this point that I setup a LinkedIn account and began creating content. Little did I know it would set the stage for the next chapter of my life.
At what point in your career did you decide to take up the mantle of an influencer? Was this an intentional act or an unintentional outcome?
I started a LinkedIn account in October of 2018. My goal was not to be an influencer or content creator. I simply wanted to experiment with it, as I was told that I should check it out. I remember recording my first video. I sat in my car, picked up my phone, pressed record and just started speaking. I was very nervous as I’d never recorded a piece of content before but again, I knew it was a fear that I could over come. It took me one hour to record a 47 seconds video because I kept watching it, deleting it, and recording it all over again. I seemed to always find something in the video I wasn’t happy with. I got to the stage where I realised done was better than perfect, and I made a decision to post it. The response to the video was not huge, I received about 180 views and remember thinking that I was really happy with that. It gave me the confidence to keep going.
One month later I decided to record a video telling a vulnerable story. It was a story about the discrimination I faced during a recruitment process a few years back. I was nervous recording it but I knew it was important to speak my truth and pass on this message of “bias”. To my surprise, upon posting it, the video went viral. Thousands of likes, comments, and more than 100,000 views. I could not believe it.
All of a sudden, I was receiving messages from people requesting to interview me, appear on their podcast, speak at an event. It was overwhelming but I learned one powerful lesson, nobody cares what you look like or sound like, however what they do care about is your message. If you have a message that you know can help someone or a message that can make a positive impact, then you have an obligation to share that message. I found that I became an unconventional “Influencer” overnight. I regained my confidence and started getting creative and innovative with my content. I decided to remove my mask, peel back a few layers and just give people the real me. Not Ahmad the professional but Ahmad the human being. From that point my following started increasing exponentially. What started as an unintentional decision to create content, soon turned into an intention decision to use my platform to create a positive impact, and share myself and my values with the world. I now have a following of 1 Million+. I was announced ‘Top 10 Influencers to follow in 2021’ and also awarded ‘International Man Of Empowerment’. I have not looked back.
What would you say are the key attributes of a successful Influencer and business leader? Influence is having the ability to lift people up to your perspective. You do not ask for influence, in the same way you do not ask for respect, It must be earned. You have to believe in something, you have to have an opinion, you have to have a consistent message, and you need to be willing to share that message.
With visibility people begin to know you, with authenticity people begin to like you, and with consistent authenticity they will begin to trust you. They will then willingly follow you, as you add value in the way of education, entertainment or inspiration. However the first step, the foundation, are your values and beliefs. Once you have great clarity on your values and beliefs, you will begin to build a following of people that believe what you believe. That is the similarity between Influence and real leadership.
Alot of media outlets have asked you how you built a community of almost one million Linkedin followers in the span of two and a half years. In one of your Linkedin posts your response to this questions was "Giving". We would like you to explain and expand on this response further?
Two and half years ago, I made a decision that I was just going to speak my truth, no matter what. That’s exactly what I did. Many ask me how I built a Linkedin following of one million plus in two and a half years. There is no secret hack or formula. I built a community by doing one thing consistently. I did this for hours every single day for two and a half years. Giving!! Giving value. Giving truth. Giving time. Giving support. Giving encouragement. Giving content. Giving education. Giving entertainment. Giving vulnerability. Giving confidence. Giving a huge part of me....every single day. The more love you give, the more love you’ll get. I can talk for hours about content creation, and the need to add content that hits the mark with your target audience, but my one piece of advice is to focus on giving and serving your audience. Remember, it is not about you, it is always about them (your audience). Once you understand that, your social media strategy should shift accordingly.
What key challenges have you faced in your business leadership journey? How did you navigate these?
Through my many failures as a manager, I learned that you do not need to be a boss to lead. Leadership is not about power, it’s about influence. It’s about having a clear vision, and the ability to inspire and empower others to buy into your vision. A leader should not just give you what they have, they should build your confidence to help you discover what you have within yourself.
Has your leadership journey been influenced by any past or present business leaders?
Yes, I have had many managers in the past that liked to manage with fear. I’ve witnessed behaviour from managers that simply wouldn’t be accepted in today’s workplace. The leaders that I respected the most, were leaders who were able to inspire. They did not threaten their team, they did not give orders, they inspired others to buy into their journey. That is called 'Kind Leadership', and it is a leadership style that I resonate with. In fact I believe in it so much that I volunteer as a committee member for the Corporate Kindness Conference and Awards, which takes place once a year and celebrates leaders and businesses who are working hard and working kind.
You currently Host and Co-Host several shows. How do you juggles these with your role as an Influencer and media personality, or do these roles complement each other?
Easy, I don’t sleep. Haha joking. I am very deliberate about everything that I do and everything that I get involved in. What I mean by that, is that I make a conscious effort to ensure everything that I do, is something that I truly enjoy. Of course, there are things we all must do that we don't necessarily enjoy, but those tasks make up the minority. For the most part I love performing, and that extends to presenting, hosting, entertaining, content creation and social media. When you love what you do, it does not feel like work. So that’s how I’m able to put in so many hours each day.
It is becoming very difficult to distinguish between an Influencer's personal brand and their company brand. In a lot of scenarios they are one and the same thing. Can an Influencer's business model remain sustainable without the Influencer at the helm of the company, or is this a goal they should strive to achieve like Richard Branson and Sara Blakely have?
Times have changed, as have traditional marketing methods. Previously the Business Brand or Company brand was the best way to communicate with your target audience. The Brand rarely had an individual person as the face of the company as they didn’t need to. What has changed, is trust. People are now no longer gravitating towards a business that has the best brand or marketing. They are making their buying decisions based on who they trust and who has similar values. As a result, this naturally evolved into connecting with your audience at a more personal level.
You cannot get more personal than connecting with your audience as a human being. If you were to ask me, who I know, like and trust more, either Virgin or Richard Branson, I would say Richard Branson. I would also say Elon Musk over Tesla, Gary Vaynerchuk over VaynerMedia, and so on and so forth. People now first find professionals that they resonate with and use that as a springboard to know what they do. Hence the importance of showing people the human being behind the business, and the human being behind the brand. A business does not need to have one key figure, but they can have a number of brand ambassadors that achieve the same purpose, building trust.
As a content creator, please tell us what process you go through to ensure the content you post online is ethical and doesn’t cause harm?
My focus is on creating compelling content, not offensive or unethical content. To do this, you simply have to be very clear on your audience and ideal client profile. To ensure my content is targeted and adds value, I focus on 2 things:
Firstly, I Solve a problem for my audience. When you solve a problem with free value-add content, you will not only create an impact, but you will earn yourself a follower and fan. You have to know your audience and target your potential clients, by providing solutions to some of their biggest problems. This requires you to research, understand what questions they are asking, and then answer those questions via your content.
Secondly, I tell compelling stories that resonate. There is no better way to communicate a message than via a story. Some examples might include; a case study of a client that has made a transformation using your products or services, or a personal account, showing some vulnerability. Speaking of failure, adversity, and the lesson learned, is a powerful way to articulate a message. There is nothing more impactful than speaking your truth.
Before concluding this interview, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs and business leaders aspiring to become Influencers?
Three pieces of advice:
1) Do not try to impress, try to make an impact.
2) Do not focus on building a following, focus on building genuine relationships.
3) Do not obsess about being popular, obsess about being yourself.
Thank you Ahmad for participating in this Q&A session, and we wish you all the best. Thank you very much and I appreciate the opportunity.