Horizon FCB Dubai’s general manager on creating her own path, leading during tough times
Reham Mufleh cuts an inspiring figure. The general manager at Horizon FCB Dubai has never been interested in following the crowd and as a female agency leader she’s something of a pioneer and is keenly aware of her responsibility as a role model to younger women in the agency.
Even as a child, Reham had a strong aversion to mindlessly following, preferring to forge her own path. So, in many ways, leadership has come naturally to her. But that’s not to say that it’s a mantle she takes lightly. Reham’s a highly people-orientated person, and the awareness of the impact her decisions have on the agency’s employees and their families keeps her focus razor sharp.
Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, with Palestinian roots and with both Canadian and Jordanian passports, Reham encapsulates the diversity of the Middle East and the agency itself. Outside of work, Reham also does voice over work and loves to write Arabic poetry.
LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?
Reham> I believe I had several ‘first’ experiences of leadership. At home where I was blessed with parents who protected my strong character, even though I definitely wasn’t easy to manage. At school where I combined being both ‘nerd’ and popular at the same time, socially where my close friends used to come to me for advice, and finally at work where I started playing several roles beyond my job title which helped me grow in my career and naturally sharpen my leadership skills over time.
LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
Reham> Sometimes you have to experience the bad to appreciate the good. In my case, earlier in my career, I worked with great bosses but also unfortunately came across one or two not very good ones. Having worked with them, it made me realise what kind of a leader I definitely didn’t want to be, and consequently what kind of a leader I aspire to become.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Reham> There is no one specific moment, but my biggest lesson is when I realised that my professional decisions can not only affect the employees who work with me but also their families. Try to sleep with that thought.
LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?
Reham> Since my early years, I knew that I didn’t want to walk down a road that was drawn for someone else. I always knew I wanted to walk a different path, create my own footprints and have others follow. As a kid, I always knew I wanted to touch people’s lives, but at that age I didn’t know how.
When I started my career in advertising, I used to take mental notes of the successful people around me, to understand why they are successful and how I can learn from that to create my own path, my own success.
LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?
Reham> There is no secret formula. To some people it comes more naturally than others. And some have to work harder for it. Having said that, leadership is like any other skill, you always need to work hard to maintain it and polish it.
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Reham> To keep people motivated and on board with your vision, especially through tough times. Being a good leader in normal times is easy, the real test is leading in tough times.
LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed while in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
Reham> I definitely felt in several situations that I would have done some things differently had I known then what I know now. Mistakes are human characteristics and there is no manual to leadership. You simply do your best in what you believe is right for your people & your company. But in my opinion, making mistakes is not a failure. Making mistakes is a sign of trying new things. The real failure is playing it safe and not trying.
LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
Reham> I don’t see it as either / or. Being transparent doesn’t contradict with being careful. Life is not black and white; life is full of shades of grey.
LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
Reham> I had so many mentors. Everyone can help you learn something.
My father is the number one mentor in my life. His stories about the way he built himself independently from his family, how he chose his own destiny and everything else he had to conquer in between, always fascinated me. And in this respect, I am 100% his daughter. As I grew older the stories he told me in my youth stayed with me, and now I realise how much his values, his integrity & his principles have influenced me at work.
Another mentor is definitely my friend and my colleague, the president of our group, Mazen Jawad. This person has taught me so much & he still continues to do so. He is literally a financial mastermind with an entrepreneurial spirit. I feel lucky to be able to work with him.
On the other hand, as a woman in my position I am mindful of the young female talents with whom I work day in, day out. I would like to believe that I am setting a good example for them to achieve anything they aspire to.
LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Reham> That’s a very important question. I believe so many of us overlook the mental health of the leaders of the companies while worrying about the employees. Leadership is hard, it can get to you, emotionally and even physically but in such times, self-awareness is essential. I always remind myself and others not to let negativity go through you, but to let it go past you.
LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?
Reham> At Horizon FCB, we have a very politics-free, supportive, friendly and an inclusive culture. In our office alone we have more than 12 nationalities who come from different backgrounds from all around the world. Look at me, I’m a living and breathing example. I am a female living in a Middle Eastern country from Palestinian origins, who heads a multinational agency. This speaks volumes about our management at Horizon FCB.
LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely?
Reham> A company’s culture is crucial to the success of the business. The culture is like a work frame for the company’s leaders. When the pandemic hit in 2020, our chairman & CEO Rafic Saadeh reminded us on several occasions that our Horizon should remain the standing ‘Harbour in the Tempest’ for our loyal talent and clients. This was my guiding star in dealing with the situation back then.
As for the second part of the question, the answer is to be present and stay connected with people. I consider myself a people person, so even though we worked remotely, my ‘Zoom video door’ remained always open. Several employees came to me during that time with challenges they were facing whether on a professional or a personal level and I always made sure to give them time and genuine honest advice. I also tried to keep everyone connected by having lunches together, coffee and tea times, celebrating birthdays together, all over Zoom. I also threw fun competitions to keep everyone engaged and sent ‘small prizes’ to the homes of the winners. Unprecedented times call for unconventional and innovative solutions.
It still was far from perfect, there were challenges for sure, but I have to admit, the team didn’t fail me. It was one of those moments where people truly came together.
LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Reham> The people.