Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Zahir Dehnadi, Navabi

Zahir Dehnadi

  Title: CEO/Co-founder

  Company: navabi

  Location: Aachen, Germany


What’s been the most valuable piece of career advice that you have ever received?

Management is not all about ‘getting work done through people’ but is more about ’getting people done through work.’

It’s about understanding and helping to pave the path for your peers and direct reports based on their individual strengths. It’s about enabling their success, in order to make you more successful. You can have an impact on the lives of many and thus can broaden your personal performance and abilities.

You can’t get people motivated through work if you are self-centered and focus only on achievement. True success is a byproduct of genuinely caring for your co-workers and customers.   

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?

That the line between friendship and business should never be blurred. Many told me that doing business with some of my best friends is doomed to fail. It’s an old saying. Yeah right, I say to that. In my current role as co-CEO of navabi, I have been co-running various business ventures now for more nearly 14 years with a very good friend. To me, it’s an ideal scenario, but it comes with certain requirements. You need to be open and honest with your partners, and often you need to provide tough love on some points. You need to communicate openly at all times and put all cards on the table.

If you can make it work, and there is enough mutual respect and trust, you put yourself on the mission to work only with those people you respect. That said you need to know there are boundaries between life and work and to leave hurt feelings at the door.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

I would not make it dependent on an industry. Advice should be valid regardless of the industry you want to work in. That said; before you cast your net, decide which company you want to most work for. Take the time to reflect and ponder what it is you are truly passionate about. Do you wake up and think constantly about tech? Do you dream about concepts, and in your free time, try to learn as much as possible about it? Most people I know just blindly accept the highest offer they’re given in their field, without taking the time to think is this truly what they want to do.

Also, choose your first job based on whether your potential manager is someone you respect and who inspires you. They will be instrumental and can help propel you to become something great, or someone that hinders your growth. Before accepting your offer meet the wider team and get to know them. Are these the right people you want to share your life with?

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position?

Don’t ever try to become the boss. And try not to be a leader who cultivates followers. A leader’s main objective is to help build more leadership into an organisation. Only by putting your own ego by the wayside and trying to absorb the strengths of those who have come before you do you succeed into senior leadership. It’s a very time consuming task to progress linearly, but can be very rewarding along the way. It has a philosophical and spiritual aspect to it. It’s a bit like a Marvel superhero – with great power comes great responsibility.

I believe truly great C-level execs understand the chain of success starts with recruiting and do not see HR as the main department responsible for recruitment. Putting a lot of your lifeblood into building the best team possible is the key. And by best I don’t mean A-players. I mean A-players that have the best fit with your company culture. This implies that a C-level needs to grasp and live the company’s culture. And for me this is the point from which true leadership is derived. It’s hard, but aspiring to be board level means you ‘can't take the easy route'.

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored in your professional career?

Just recently I took a call from a young female entrepreneur. She started a business in ecommerce recently she’s very passionate about. Starting out on your own is hard and more than once you will think about throwing in the towel. She loves what she is doing, and her life has new meaning based on an end result. When you start a business, the lines between working life and real life become extremely blurred, but you get as much passion out of it as what you put in.

My view is that by starting out on your own you set yourself on the best possible path to future success. Decide what your passion is and then have the guts to walk this path. My advice was never to give up on her passion. Accept you may fail, everyone fails at least once. But never stop trying. The universe will set everything in motion to reward you, if you put enough into it. You’re destined to succeed if you relentlessly work on that which you’re most passionate about. 


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