Leading people comes easy to Bobby Umar. He has been doing it for more than 20 years now through conferences, corporate events and teaching positions. All of this coalesced into Raeallan, a transformational training and speaking company. His career background is diverse and interesting—with stints in marketing, engineering and the performing arts. Currently, Umar is working on his “Rules of Connection.” Besides his core work, focusing on leadership, personal branding, networking and connection, he also holds workshops on soft skills – communication, decision-making, creativity, improvisation, and presentations. Last year, he featured in a hugely-popular TEDx talk. Generation Next was recently in conversation with this inspirational leader-doer.
Born in Canada, just three months after his parents—originally from Pakistan—moved to this country, Bobby Umar has had an “amazing” Canadian experience. “All my life I have been the type of person to try and find balance between cultural and traditional values and modern, contemporary values associated with being Canadian, such diversity, inclusiveness and individual fulfillment. I enjoy both aspects of being a Canadian Pakistani from the downtown arts and culture scene to my diverse group of friends across all cultures and my family events,” he says.
Raeallan has enabled Umar to do what he does best—connect with people and help them realize their fullest potential. As he says, “I love having worked with Youth for over 20 years, from Shad Valley, Impact Entrepreneurship Group to most of the schools I speak at. Youth have such inspiring minds full of idealism combined with ambition. They see the world as a canvas yet to be painted with a palette full of vibrant and new colours. It’s been an honour and a pleasure to impact lives.”
In these times of economic downturn, when jobs are hard to come by, many youth are finding it tough to stay motivated. What advice does Umar have for them? “Change is inevitable and many aspects of life are cyclical. You just need to be patient. If you really want to make an impact on your life and others, you need to continue your personal development. In an economic downturn there are still people finding success. Even if you are struggling, you can work on yourself. Get to know more about who you are and what drives. Spend time on networking and connecting with new people. Engage in new experiences that will develop you, whether it’s an internship or a mentorship or volunteering for a cause,” he says.
He also has some words of wisdom for employers to ensure productive, motivated employees. “The leadership dynamic is changing…The new leader is one who connects, one who serves others or the organization, one who displays interpersonal intelligence and knows employees very well.” Umar’s top three suggestions for employers are:
“a) Invest in people: Employers must take the time to develop the leadership in all their employees, challenge and support their professional growth. So invest time, energy, and personal attention to make sure employees needs and wants are being met. The more satisfied, engaged, and motivated they are, the more they will produce and stay during tough times.
“b) Engage and Connect: People want to know they are appreciated for their contribution. They want to know that they are cared for by the organization and by the leadership team. Leaders need to be more accessible, rather than just sit in their tower office. Leaders need to walk around, talk with folks, and get to know them beyond the surface level. Leaders need to create a community that is connected so that employees are empowered to do better. Leaders need to create a culture of “Work hard, play hard”, but within reason that acknowledges that work is one of several priorities.
“c) Be honest and communicative: This is a pretty tough one. If someone does something well, they should be acknowledged. But if someone does something poorly, they should also be told. People respond well to honesty, so employers should try harder to be upfront, and even be a good mentor (vs. a disciplinarian). Employers tend to discourage people from being very honest due to fear. So again they should create an environment where honesty and communication are highly valued and practiced, failure is an acceptable option for growth and getting to the truth early is the best way for employees, leaders and the company to move forward and upward.”
Umar is also an example for his children and leads them by example. He takes pride in the way he and his wife are raising their kids. “My children are my biggest passion and purpose these days and I love love love being a dad,” he says. Of course, there are challenges as with every parenting job. Says Umar, “. My wife Ananda and I both work, two kids have varying needs at the same time. We would like both Nyal and Ryah to get one art, one sport, and swimming in their childhood and organizing that is tough because we also want to have play dates and visit my family.”
His biggest advice for parents?
“a) Know your stuff – Do your own research, because everyone (including health practitioners and family members) will give tons of advice that are all CONFLICTING. We had three different hospital workers tell us how to breastfeed in three different ways. You should just take it all in, and then with your knowledge, pick the best one that works for you. When someone asks you why you are doing something a certain way, you should be able to answer that. If you can’t, then perhaps you should be doing a bit more research or asking for feedback.
“b) Do what is best for your child, not what is best for you – The choices we make as parents can sometimes be more for ourselves. No one said parenting was easy, but parenting is a VERB, which mean it requires action and work. We all want the best for our kids. We all say we would do anything for our children. So as soon as you know what the child needs, why would not provide that? Usually because we forget to prioritize their needs over ours.”
We ask Umar what inspires him to work in theatre and find the motivations are similar to all the other work he does. “There is one appeal about taking on a role as a performer, collaborating with actors on stage and then connecting with an audience. There is also a second appeal about working behind the scenes, creating a vision and then seeing it realized on stage. I also like to entertain people, whether it’s a dinner party or singing karaoke, so theatre, especially comedy, was a natural fit,” says Umar.
And the road ahead looks equally exciting for Umar as the journey he has been on so far. The last year has been pretty exciting, from the TEDx talk, to my board work, to my social media launch (Twitter and FB page), and to watching my kids grow. It’s an amazing time!” He says, adding, “I can’t wait to see what’s next. Now that I have found my purpose, my friends are commenting on how at ease I am with every challenge that comes my way or in how I help them with their relationship, work, or family problems. It’s all about connection!”