Shada Elborno / 5 February 2023

Go beyond leadership

Leadership is often associated with hierarchical ranking, but it goes beyond a specific position or title. It is a mindset, a style, and a way of living.

"What's my take on leadership, you ask?"

I get this question a lot, even from myself. Of course, my view on leadership is influenced by my own path at work and in life – and it continues to evolve with different experiences. But here is what I say today: we are all leaders in some way at some time in some part of our life. 

Think about it. Conventionally, leadership is associated with hierarchical ranking in organizations and the consequent power and authority. But I realized, though quite recently, that leadership goes beyond a specific position or title. It is a mindset, a style, and a way of living.

My version of it has evolved through trial and error – not just at work but also while living as an individual – friend, daughter, sister, and aunt. As I honed my core values, beliefs, and sense of identity, I found that, to me, leadership means living with a purpose. It is a calling to serve, inspire and empower those around me to reach their potential. My best performance? When I freely mix ‘leadership’ traits – empathy, vision, motivation, reflection, flexibility, courage, resilience, initiative, learning, listening and more – to suit the moment.

And can we honestly claim that such traits are reserved for those who want to be typical leaders? Don’t we all demonstrate them at some point or another? Which is why, here are some practices usually emphasized for leaders that I would like to present to you as empowerment hacks for all of us.

1. Self-awareness is the soul of self-actualization

Why would anyone be interested in the who and why of you if you’re not interested yourself? Invest time to discover your nuances, motivations, and discomfort.

When I consciously walk forward carrying all parts of me, my outlook expands. My steps feel more meaningful, and my choices resonate better with my real desires.

2. Self-doubt fuels a growth mindset

Self-doubt never leaves me. Early in my career, I was constantly battling myself to grow. I had to race, over-deliver and over-achieve to prove myself worthy.

Yes, it helped me up my game, but my process was exhausting. So, I spun the narrative on its head. I told myself, what if, instead of excellence, I pursue becoming a better version of myself, with my doubts and fears leading the way?

Today I use self-doubt as a check point to see where the arrows of my fears are pointing. They point to my latest growth opportunity. Re-framing negative thoughts and cultivating a growth mindset can be a valuable strategy for channelling self-doubt and continuously evolving into a better you.

3. Speak up to stand tall

Wouldn't it be wonderful if each one of us could champion our beliefs and advocate for the change we want to see? Yes, it takes courage, but we must recognize that we have two choices: we either use our voice intentionally to create more inclusive and equitable spaces or let our silence create spaces that deepen our dissatisfaction and sense of instability. Change is coming either way.

Importantly, if you want to be heard, remember to hear what someone else has to say.

When I began speaking up, and in a way that was respectful and considerate of others (so do choose your words wisely, please), I was astounded to discover that I could encourage and empower others to do the same for themselves and for me. Our collective voices upgrade our common well being. And often it must start with a single why not let it be your own?

4. School of life gives great returns

All this emphasis on continuous learning can be daunting. AI, technology, and agendas are on steroids and we're scrambling to keep pace. Yet, if we break it down to the basics, we realize that much of it is manageable.

The cheat sheet for learning is to question and be questioned. Go looking for people who think differently from you. Such people expose our blind spots faster and increase our rewards and returns. I lean on the bonds I make with others to learn and teach in turns, whether I'm doing an online training or trying to figure out the best solution for a client.

The hot tip for innovation is to keep going - even after we fall. Every time I head out in a new direction, if I fall, I celebrate finding that weak link because now that I have found it, it won't be a trap anymore when I (or others) go up that path again.

5. Stay human(e) and enjoy the journey

We are all human…but how quickly we seem to forget how this translates. No person, or leader, is infallible. We all burn bridges and lose our way from time to time. Typically, no one sets out with the intention to harm their fellows. Empathy, compassion, kindness, tolerance, authenticity – it really helps to practice the behaviours you would like to see directed towards yourself.

However, most importantly, give yourself permission to be human, too. This is one of my most treasured life lessons. Remember, we are all trying our best in that moment and we all have off days.

I hope you find these seeds of leadership within yourself and join me as I aspire to inspire a better world from within us all. A world where we go beyond our customary idea of leadership and recognize that we are all leaders in some way.

Shada Elborno

Shada Shaher Elborno is Managing Director Regional Head, Global Subsidiaries, MENAP Corporate, Commercial, and Institutional Banking at Standard Chartered. She is one of UAE’s most senior Emirati female bankers and was recognized for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Banking’ by the UAE Ministry of Labor in 2013. Most recently, she was listed in the House of Rose Professionals’ Break the ceiling touch the sky® as one of the Middle East’s Most Inspirational Women in Leadership 2022.


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