Emirati PhD Scholar Researching Emotional Intelligence and Leadership
Chairman of the Board of Governors of Dubai Carmel School
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Maya Al Hawary. I'm the first PhD scholar to research emotional intelligence and its effect on leadership in the United Arab Emirates. I'm an Emirati, and I'm the chairperson of the Board of Governors at Dubai Carmel School. I'm also the Director of Planning, a consultant on the education and operations side. I do that part-time. My passion is in training. My training is more on soft skills and mostly on positivity, happiness, tolerance, emotional intelligence and communication skills.
I've accumulated about 900 hours conducting training. I also spoke and led lectures for motivational talks and academic conferences, as well as social media training sessions in the UAE. I'm also a TEDx speaker. 2019 marked a big milestone and becoming a TEDx speaker was actually on my bucket list. Out of 100 people, I was chosen, and it was a big thing for me.
A little bit of history about myself: I started as a vice-principal for eight years at Dubai Carmel School. A great opportunity came when His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak asked for a female principal to run his school, which was one of the first schools belonging to the Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai. His Highness wanted to open up a new school that features blended learning, the first of its kind in the UAE. I was chosen to direct that project, which I managed for two years. I’ve come a long way, and after ten years, from being a vice-principal to a principal at the Dubai Carmel School, I now hold the position of Chairman of the Board.
In 2019, you did a lot of work with the Dubai Government's Community Development Authority in the promotion of acceptance and tolerance across the Emirates. Why is that so important to you?
I'm a firm believer that nothing happens by coincidence. When I first decided to speak in TEDx, I submitted my request, and I knew that my topic should be about tolerance. I did some research about it and how I should be speaking in TEDx. I went to the audition last December, and it took them a month to choose. It was a door for me, and I stepped into that room. I was able to learn a lot about tolerance. I was accepted into TEDx, and I think I did well. If you see my Youtube video, the message is quite clear.
Because of my training, I thought that government entities should also implement tolerance in the workplace. In those sessions, we also talked about tolerance leading to happiness. I prepared my course plan and content. I started talking to consultancies, where they offer training to the government. That's how it started.
What is your definition of tolerance?
I will still stick to what I said in TEDx. Number One, accept others. It doesn't mean that you literally need to keep them nearby, and it's also not about ignoring people like you as long as you don't mingle, because that's not tolerance at all. Tolerance is having the courage to make an initial conversation. Make a brief introduction about yourself and make other people feel that you're actually there.
Number Two, understand. Why do they look different? Why do they have special needs? For example, are they American, African, Jamaican or Chinese? Just keep it in your mind and don't literally ask them those questions. From there, you'll be able to understand their differences and how you will make adjustments for them. Note that understanding and making extreme judgements are different, so be careful.
The third step is to forgive. Forgiveness is different from tolerance. Tolerance means that there's something unacceptable that you need to tolerate. In Arabic, it’s al tasamoh—the root word is samh which means forgive. Forgive them for what? Forgive them for acting that way for whatever reasons. It's not forgiving them for their actions, but it's like having mercy in their humanity. You have to see them as human beings. We’re all God's children, and God cherishes them, so we need to give them mercy as well.
Number Four is to unite. In Islam, we say that in togetherness, there is oneness. We're not brought here on Earth to be alone. God created animals and plants so that people will not live alone.
Tolerance is the combination of all these four points—accept others, understand, forgive and unite.
In 2016, the first Minister of Happiness and the first Minister of Tolerance was appointed, and both have their own ministries. In 2015, the first law for ending discrimination was issued. There's a need for those ministries to come up because of the huge diversity in the UAE's population.
To some people Emiratis are unreachable, how do we break that stereotype/generalisation?
We may belong to different nationalities, but I think we’re pretty much the same. To some people, other foreign nationalities may be unreachable too.
I think it's up to Emiratis to open up and be more welcoming. I also encourage expatriates to mingle more with us. For example, try going to coffee shops where Emirati nationals are sitting around or mingle more in the culture, try to visit cultural areas. I know that tourists may be doing that during their excursions, but there is no harm in doing these activities to make friends with the locals.
If you have a child at school, try making friends there and introduce yourself. In the UAE, the cultural diversity is palpable, and yes, we may come from different countries. I really wanted to get to know more people since I'm interested in their cultures.
Emiratis are welcoming people in general. Emiratis radiate hospitality and openness. They're also appreciative, and a good number of them speak other languages. That's because they believe that they're here to serve tourists, and to give them a good image of our country. If every Emirati had that same intention, we'd mingle more with other nationalities. We love to travel. We love to explore, we love to go to other countries, and we like to talk to other people. But I think when you're home, you're comfortable in your own zone with your own family, your friends, and you don't want to venture out. So I think it's a two-way street. I think both sides are putting up their guard and they need to lift it. That's where my role comes in. I speak at conferences and the government. I start with tolerance in the workplace, tolerance with oneself, accepting your family and accepting society in general.
Tell us about your PhD, in which area and why?
I always share this in talks and sessions because I want people to know that I'm not any different. I went through depression for five years, and during those five years, it was quite severe. The last two years I spent it with anxiety. I felt that I completely lost myself. I thought I was worthless, useless, and I began to have devilish thoughts of hurting myself. I also lost myself as a person, together with my career.
I'm a Muslim, but it was a struggle believing in the goodness that the Lord brings when you're stuck in a hole of sorrows. People look at you from afar, and they think that you're perfect, but then your soul, your psyche and your mental health is different. Your well-being is the source of your life and the important people around you. The more you pay attention to your mental health, the more successful you will be at work, with your family, and the more successful you will be in realising your strengths and working on your weaknesses.
When I went through these struggles, I was already a Masters degree holder, but during those five years, I wanted to do something else other than being a principal. I know that I needed to find my passion. I applied to many jobs, but nobody employed me. My husband asked, "why don't you pursue your PhD? You're good at teaching in universities." I was teaching as an adjunct faculty that I loved, and I taught about learning itself. And then I thought, okay, I want to do my PhD.
During those years when my mental health suffered, I felt like I was contained in a room with no corners, like a solid cylinder with no windows. But when I started my PhD, I walked out of that cylinder, and I shut the door slowly. It was difficult to shut the door because even when you're depressed, you're comfortable. You don't want to change. To be able to push myself, I found out that nobody else will help you but you.
I consulted a psychiatrist even though us Arabs don't generally trust psychiatrists and therapists, thinking that we are bigger than our mental health issues. We have an ego that we need to deal with. It took me many years to accept the fact that it's about time to change.
For five years, I did a lot of research to understand why I was like this. I stumbled upon a notion called emotional intelligence. My decision to take PhD studies is based on my own struggle. When I started it, I thought I wanted to do something with education and leadership. When I started at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, I thought to myself: I'm not doing anything for schools. And in my first meeting with them, during my interview, I said, “Please, I'm not going to do anything with schools. If this is something I want to do, would you like to accept it?”, and they did.
I concentrate on the study of Adult Learning because of what I went through as an adult in my 30s, as well as the notion of well-being and futuristic skills. Emotional intelligence is the top skill that we all need to acquire, develop and nourish. Economic reports from 2018 to 2020 indicate that emotional intelligence is the top skill that will enable success in the workplace.
Notions like happiness, positivity and tolerance—you need to talk about it all day to actually breathe it, believe it. When you breathe and believe it, you’ll be able to teach it more effectively. I'm a teacher by profession, but I've chosen to teach life lessons, well-being, and how to become better leaders.
What strategies did you use to get over depression?
For you to overcome this mental illness, you need to accept what you are dealing with in the first place. The mind and the brain work in a very strange way. The brain is the physical organ, which houses your mind and your intellect. The mind represents your emotions, and the intellect represents your logic. The circuitry of our brain is dictated by chemicals and neurotransmitters, which must have ideal levels in order for our brain to function normally.
When your emotions are amplified, several neurotransmitters increase their levels in the brain. When amplified to the limit, such abnormal levels tend to overshadow your intellect. Often, for people with depression and anxiety problems, they might cry and feel depressed for no obvious reasons. They might feel useless, and the reason why they feel that way might point to unknown factors as well. They might feel the negative cloud of emotions even though they know that nothing seems to be wrong and that they have so much going on.
Get help immediately. Don't prolong it. I did. I noticed that educated and successful people delay getting help from others. Why? Because we have high egos. We cannot admit it to ourselves and to others that we actually need help. For me, I thought I was going to be better. I still wanted to know the answer. Youtube was a big help to me. I researched religions, psychology, and how the brain and the body work together.
Another important thing that I found out is that everything happens for a reason. Depression, for example, may be caused by past traumatic events from your childhood that are buried in your subconscious mind. An external event must have triggered it. Undergoing therapy will help you unravel and resolve these internal issues that you have to resolve. You also need somebody to talk to, or you need a best friend. People who are depressed feel that they are alone when they are not.
I have a best friend named Lina. She is a positive person, an empathetic individual who knows how to listen, and understand me. She didn't judge me; she just listened. She tried to make some sense out of the things and the emotions I had.
The thing with having a mental illness is that a simple, intimate conversation with friends might not be able to cut it. Interaction with other people is important, but it is not enough. You have to see a therapist or psychiatrist to get the right treatment. At the end of the day, depression is a chemical imbalance that needs to be corrected.
Once you overcome your personal and mental health issues, you will know what your purpose is. You will understand that everything that you went through happened for a reason. You will come out stronger and build better skills. Remember: patience is the toughest skill that you will learn in life. It might also be the last skill that you will learn. You only know that you've been so patient after the problems have passed.
Now we need more people with the same advocacy as mine to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our mental health. We are all the same. It is inspiring to think that I am an Emirati who can speak to an expatriate and say, “I've gone through this. I'm like you; I’m no different.”
If it wasn't for depression, I wouldn't have become the first emotional intelligence PhD scholar in UAE. Did I choose it? No, it was meant to be. So hang in there.
What are you passionate about?
I'm blessed with the work I have, and that's what I'm passionate about. I'm passionate about changing and improving the well-being of people because the stronger your mental health is, the healthier you are in general.
Leadership is one of my passions too. I’ve said this many times: we are here to lead others, and how beautiful will it be to lead them with triumph, with heartfelt emotions and sincere care? If I show care and love as a leader, people around me will also be productive and listen to me more. We should try to emulate the great leaders of our nation who are driven with great visions. They have led other people with their visions of a great nation.
Other leaders have that same passion, but they also lead others with love. I would love to improve leadership, not only with leading others, but with leading oneself as well. It's important to know that you're not perfect, and that you went through depression, and eventually came out triumphant. Use the experience: be humble, and show it that you care because you've been there.
We are heading towards artificial intelligence (AI), something else I like to educate myself about. According to a Mckinsey report, 60% of big conglomerate companies are pushing towards the use of robots, replacing the general human workforce in part or in entirety. Some leading global companies in the manufacturing and healthcare industry are making this move now. The professional workforce, which includes doctors, engineers, accountants and lawyers may have to be redefined due to the presence of AI. How do I redefine your role under my leadership? That’s the question. The answer is through emotional intelligence and well-being. That’s my role—to help others accept and adapt to change.
Who inspires you?
My country and our great leaders inspire me to be an Emirati woman with strong and bold willpower, and to grasp the honour and opportunity to become the person I envisioned myself to be. There are no limits—the sky's the limit.
A person who radiates kindness is a role model. It could be anyone: it could be the worker who cleans the street who shows humility, kindness, dedication and hard work. In a similar vein, people who are going through hard times and struggling to put food on the table also inspire me.
We are able to pinpoint what we want when we know what our purposes are. For me, our true purpose is to share our blessings with others. If we know what our purposes are, we are going to be the best version of ourselves. We should be our own role models.
My parents inspire me as well. They help me, and they're amazing and beautiful people. I love them so much. Above all, my faith in God and our forgiving religion of peace inspire me beyond words.
What's that one quote you live by?
Kill them with kindness.
Kindness goes a long way. The Quran teaches kindness as a universal human behaviour of tolerance, generosity and benevolence. Kindness begets kindness: it is something that returns to you once you’ve given the same. It could take a longer time to come back to you, but it will come back to you again. I believe in that.
I have some final thoughts for everyone who wants to take lessons from me: believe in your vision and your capabilities. Work hard and work smart, and don’t be afraid to knock on new doors, as you're never too big or too old for new opportunities. Practise humility, as such, also goes a long way and will lead you to the path of success and contentment.