Mahan Tavakoli is a highly accomplished executive with a multi-faceted background in the US and global operations management. Over a 20+ year career at Dale Carnegie Training, Tavakoli was instrumental in launching, marketing, revitalizing, and turning around underperforming operations on five continents. He leveraged his diverse experience to launch a consulting practice focusing on organizational leadership. Partnering with leaders across organizations and various industries, Tavakoli has significant experience working with executives from large divisions of multinational companies, mid-sized organizations, government agencies, and SaaS startups. Tavakoli is also a published author, co-author, and contributor to industry-leading publications.
Mahan Tavakoli is of Iranian descent and spent most of his childhood in the region. His parents had a significant impact on him while he was growing, and he credits his father as one of his role models who taught him the valuable skill of resiliency. He adds, “My dad was one of the most resilient or, better put, antifragile people I have ever known in my life.”
He explains that his grandfather had left his grandmother, father, and uncles when they were mere kids. But rather than griping about the unfair situation life presented him with, Tavakoli’s father used that as motivation to work and study as a child. He ended up top of his class throughout his schooling years, advancing and receiving scholarships, rising from financial poverty to a good life and striving to be the stark opposite of what his dad had been as a father.
Tavakoli adds, “He was also incredibly loyal whether to his family, his country or his commander in chief. He had many chances to falter but stuck it out, at times even paid a huge price for it but prided himself on loyalty.”
His mother, on the contrary, taught young Tavakoli extreme empathy, especially since they resided in the war stricken country of Iran. He says, “From my earliest days, I remember her helping those that were shunned by others. She saw humanity in people others would choose to marginalize.” Due to her example, Tavakoli is a strong advocate for underdogs and those who don’t have a voice.
However, Tavakoli’s life soon changed; due to the turmoil in Iran, he had to flee the country as a young boy with his family and shift to the US. He says, “Leaving the country of my birth as a child after the Iranian Revolution and the transition as a kid to living in the US during the hostage crisis made it challenging for us Iranians. But the silver lining was that it had a big impact on my empathy for people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.”
This life-changing experience in part also led Tavakoli to seek an opportunity to expand Dale Carnegie’s international footprint, traveling to over 70 countries, falling in love with the people, the cultures, the food and observing humanity that exists in every corner of this world.
While in the US, Tavakoli studied diligently and excelled in his education. He took a Dale Carnegie Course and fell in love with the program in college. Due to this, Tavakoli decided to become a trainer but did not seek that as his career path at the time.
After getting his MBA, he worked in product management and went through the training to become certified to teach an additional Dale Carnegie program over the weekend. He recalled, “The master trainer gave an example of a talk we were to give, and he started with ‘at Dale Carnegie, I help people grow’. I wanted to tease him, so I started my talk with, ‘at Black & Decker, I help lawnmowers grow’ But the joke was on me. For the rest of the week on my drive, I thought that I didn’t want to help lawnmowers grow.” The person managing the Dale Carnegie office in DC had also persuaded Tavakoli to join, so this incident acted as a catalyst to find his life’s calling.
While working at Dale Carnegie, Tavakoli collected several achievements; he transformed a money-losing operation into a profitability center in less than one year. He also expanded Dale Carnegie’s global footprint on four continents and led a stagnant global region to achieve double-digit growth for four consecutive years. Due to all his accomplishments in the organization, Tavakoli eventually became the organization’s Chief Diversity Officer and Chief Strategist.
He then leveraged his eclectic background to help others and founded Strategic Leadership Ventures in 2018. The organization is focused on helping unleash every team’s maximum potential. They partner with purpose-driven leaders with a growth mindset that believe in their team’s true potential.
Talking about his company’s impact, he says, “The primary benefit has been better strategy execution through more effective collaboration with outcome orientation. This has been a function of a few things: one part is the process/system implementation of OKRs (objectives and key results). The other has been coaching leaders on the side. So a marriage of systems and people.” This strategy has helped him achieve success with millions of executives worldwide. His company also boasts of an extensive list of clients ranging from innovative, fast-growing SaaS companies to local government agencies to multiple non-profit organizations.
Due to his commendable work, he has widely been recognized, including being honored for demonstrating outstanding community leadership by The Greater Washington Board of Trade and was also awarded The Golden Links Award. Tavakoli also serves as Board Chair for Leadership Greater Washington (lgwdc.org), an organization of top regional business, nonprofit and government leaders and served as Board Chair when the pandemic hit. In his role, they redoubled Leadership Greater Washington’s efforts, thereby becoming antifragile to better connect and serve the community at a time of need. They also doubled down on antiracist conversations post-murder of George Floyd, a cause that Tavakoli is extremely passionate about.
In conclusion, his advice for all leaders is, “It’s important to recognize that for a whole host of reasons we are going to go through exponential changes (a great book on this is Azeem Azhar’s, ‘Exponential Age’). This drastically faster pace of change requires faster learning and a drastically different mindset toward leadership at all levels. So my advice for ALL leaders is to do two things. One is the adoption of a growth mindset. The other is throwing out all the previous notions of how leaders would lead, all of which were based on an industrial age work model.”