Being a Leader, Not a Boss

An interview with Elissar Farah Antonios – Former CEO UAE and Head of MENA Cluster at Citi


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We speak to Elissar Farah Antonios on the defining moments that have shaped her career. Elissar is former CEO UAE and Head of Mena Cluster at Citi and ranked by Forbes Middle East among the top 100 most powerful and influential Arab businesswomen.





I have yet to encounter a truly successful person who does not have a sponsor, who actively promotes them to others to advance their careers.


What one learning has had the biggest impact on your career? 

The most important lesson has been to get out of my comfort zone. This is about not settling for an established status quo, but to challenge it. It involves continual learning, rather than saying ‘I’m already good at my job, so khalas!’ 

I think this tendency was triggered in me from an early age. My parents say I would always be satisfied if I felt I had tried my best. Reaching the top or beating my peers was never the goal; it was competing with myself to continually improve. I have taken this with me into everything I do in life. 


What drives you to succeed? 

I drive myself to succeed, by competing with myself and setting the bar high. I am continually asking myself ‘what’s next?’. 

I believe success breeds success. If things around me are going well, that inspires me to strive for better. I want to impact others too, so if the team around me is succeeding, there is a sense that I am lifting others up with me and that gives me energy and passion to drive forward. 

I believe there is no firm right or wrong, provided I have self-belief and satisfaction in what I am doing.  


What key drivers have enabled you to get to where you are today?

Empathy has been a key driver in terms of my leadership style, and the focus I have on talent that has worked with me. I know that my teams have valued the way I put myself in their shoes to understand how they feel, and this has enabled me to be a better leader. I see myself as a leader and have never wanted to be a boss. The world we live in today is complex and challenging, and if a leader does not focus on empathy, I am not sure they can ever lead properly.  

In any business, the people are what matter and if you do not have the right leaders and the right team in place, you can flush your strategy down the drain. 

Another key driver for me has been finding happiness and balance in my life as a whole. It is very difficult to succeed at work if you are facing upheaval in your personal life. I believe many women have a motherly instinct which drives us to want to care for something, whether that be a child, a parent or a pet. By fulfilling that need, we can gain a sense of completeness, and this can fuel a happy and balanced approach to the pursuit of professional success. 

Finally, I have yet to encounter a truly successful person who does not have a sponsor, who actively promotes them to others to advance their career.  




Elissar Farah Antonios is former CEO UAE and Head of Mena Cluster at Citi. She is a seasoned international banker, with extensive experience in the financial industry and the region. Elissar is a member of the Board of Directors of Dubai International Chamber as well as for the US UAE Business Council. She is also the senior sponsor of Citi’s Women Network in the UAE.




The interview was conducted by Mina Paul, Consultant at Russell Reynolds Associates, Dubai. Mina is passionate about building authentic and long-term partnerships with clients, teaming up with leadership teams to identify and attract diverse talents.






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