October 16, 2017

How Numi Tea Leads With Kindness

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Reem Rahim, cofounder of Numi Tea, shares how she sees leadership as a daily practice that can encourage a kinder, more collaborative working environment.

Omega: What inspires you—individually and as cofounder of a family-owned business—to do power differently?

Reem: One thing that has come up for me over the 18 years of running and owning Numi is that doing power differently is both an active choice and a daily practice of what comes up—whatever our backgrounds, whatever our impulses, whatever comes with being a business owner and being in a position of leadership. Part of my personal practice is that I want to be the best person that I can be. I look at Numi as a daily practice. It almost becomes a meditation.

Second, at Numi we are collaborative. It becomes a nicer organization to work with because—while there's somebody who makes the final call—there's a lot of discussion and collaboration along the way.

Omega: How do you approach leadership as a practice throughout the company?

Reem: One example is how we write an email. You could be short and snappy: "I need this," or "Get me that," creating demands and power structures within that framework. Or you could use a question, "Can you do this, please? Thank you." These are common manners lost in email that we try to reinstate.

At Numi, we call it out when that kindness doesn't happen. For example, writing a thank you note. When we're hiring someone and they do not send a thank you note or their emails are short and blunt, that person might not get an offer. We like to hire people that are gracious.

When new people come in they say, "Everybody's so nice to me." We look for kind folks because I believe it's an important aspect in our society that we forget about. We think that businesses are cutthroat and backstabbing, but they don’t have to be.

Another example is when we're in a group setting, there are some people who are quieter and some people who are louder. We make sure the quieter people get heard. We might go around the room and ask, "What do you think?" as a way to empower those that might not necessarily speak up. Then little by little, you start to hear more from them as they feel safer and more comfortable.

There are always going to be people who have different levels of power, but there's a way to empower people and make sure we don't create a culture of pointing fingers, saying, “Do this, do that.”

Omega: Numi has a global presence. Have you noticed differences between how women in the United States and other countries express leadership?

Reem: Women in the United States and in the Western world realize how far we've come. I was born in Iraq; my family came here when I was five. I grew up with the stories of the Saddam regime and all of the torture and horrific occurrences that were happening through Iraq's three wars. My parents came to the U.S. and gave me a better life. They gave me so many more opportunities. But I can't go a day without knowing that somebody else is living that life, not having the comfort that I have.

Globally, the social norms around women in leadership are changing. The more women we see in leadership positions, the more inspired we become to lead in a more collaborative, nurturing spirit. If we can bring that to leadership positions, the world would be a really good place.

Omega: That's what we're working to do at the Women's Leadership Center. We want people of all genders to feel that they can do power differently, in a more nurturing and collaborative way.

Reem: I see us as having a balance between our masculine and feminine aspects. Both are important in business and leadership. The more we can each be balanced in that way, the better. Some of us are a little stronger one way and some are stronger the other way. It takes a village.

Omega: Numi Tea has been a longtime supporter of Omega. What makes for such a strong partnership between Numi and Omega?

Reem: Omega Institute is a great place. Ahmed, my brother and cofounder of Numi, and I are great supporters of people becoming more self-aware. It's part of our own personal work and ethos.

Coffee is for going out into the world, being active and buzzing, doing what you need to do. Tea is more quiet, more of a sit-down-and-stay type of beverage. It's linked to meditation because it creates a calm alertness with focus. Numi and Omega pair well—people come to a conference or a workshop at Omega and while they're there they can enjoy a cup of tea and go inward.