My perspective on leadership

By Sharbel El-Haber

There are numerous definitions of leadership, and many books continue to be written on this important subject. In my own experience, leadership starts with awakening my being to do service in the world by using my innate gifts and talents. It is about alignment with my truth and soul purpose, and leaving a legacy by making a difference in the lives of others.

A demonstration of my leadership role is following my calling to be a messenger of peace in my war-torn country and troubled Middle East region. In fact, I recently launched a Facebook page to share my poetry on peace. In a future post, I will share my reflections on how and why I became a messenger of peace and transformation. For the purpose of this post, however, I share below perspectives on my leadership style and skills at work.

Leadership example at work

My 16-plus years’ work experience in engineering design of mechanical systems for multimillion dollar and light industrial projects in a multinational consultant firm has brought with it a multitude of experiences and allowed me to progress from the position of a fresh graduate in mechanical engineering to a company group leader in computer fluid dynamics simulations (CFD), sustainable studies, and energy modeling for LEED certification.

Being motivated to promote green building design strategies that benefit our society, my role as a sustainable energy consultant and energy modeler began in 2009 with a unique and transformative experience that resulted in the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification of a mega project in Saudi Arabia. In fact, I formed and led the team that was responsible for the energy models for Princess Nora University, a 2.8 million square meter fully developed campus that is the largest higher education facility in the world.

Actually, I was the first in my company to assume a leading position in promoting sustainable design and LEED certification of projects. In addition, I established a new sustainable design unit with the purpose of supporting design teams in integrating sustainable design practices in the company’s projects as well as facilitating LEED certification.

In addition to my team’s success in meeting all expectations and supporting the various design teams in meeting the sustainability goals and project energy conservation measures, the following achievements are noted:

  • Building two teams, one in Lebanon and the other in India, comprising 12 engineers whom I trained and supported in getting LEED accredited.
  • Spreading awareness throughout the company on the principles of designing for sustainability by leading by example and offering several presentations on the subject.
  • Training engineers on the Integrated Environmental Solutions Program, a state-of-the-art energy modeling software.
  • Preparing design manuals and procedures to support design teams in integrating sustainability principles in design process.

Reflecting on the experience

Meeting the task of forming a team to handle a complex and fast track project without prior experience in LEED certification and energy modeling was quite challenging. I was aware that I had to exercise various roles and even tap into my untapped potential to lead the project to success. Among the main leadership roles that I exhibited included training, serving, visioning, planning, collaborating, coaching, storytelling, and leading by example.

My first step was to become a LEED-accredited professional and train my team to become accredited too. This was essential to do the job effectively and show credibility to the various project participants as well as to the client. In addition, I had to teach myself the principles of energy modeling and how to use specialized software to accomplish this task. For this purpose, I convinced my boss to have the team registered for online professional courses and training workshops that were essential to acquiring the knowledge and specialized skills.

Being aware of the time constraints and the stressful work environment, I used a collaborative learning style to disseminate and integrate the knowledge. Every team member was responsible to learn some methods, and then exchange the knowledge through weekly meetings and daily communication.

It was important for me to set the vision of where we expected to go and to focus on the value of what we are intended to do. The perspective that I shared with the team was that we were the seed of a sustainable design initiative in the company. Thus, I prepared them to eventually be leaders in environmental sustainability.

Collaboration and nurturing relationships between the team and other designers was crucial. I stressed the importance of communication and shared freely all project information. This was a bit risky, but I knew that this would empower the team to own the job, grow, and appreciate the learning process. More important still, I supported joint decisions, brainstorming sessions, and even planned work breakdown steps with the team.

Another key that supported employee engagement was visible in showing dedication to the team and portraying servant leadership. In fact, I requested that the team members write their individual goals and promised to support them in achieving all of what they had written. Some successful endeavors to sustain career growth were to send team members to professional workshops, take online courses, and get valuable certificates.

I led by example and modeled what I believe leadership entails. This, I believe, had the biggest impact; the feedback that I received from my team was that they learned so much from me and in a very short time.

In addition to exemplifying a compassionate leadership style, I worked hard to convince management to acknowledge my team’s exceptional hard work by offering grade promotions, bonuses, and salary increases. Simultaneously, I acknowledged their achievement by writing notes on beautiful cards, giving out gifts, and frequently inviting them for breakfast.

My coaching skills were quite effective in building my team and nurturing their growth. In additional to goal setting, listening to their needs, and sustaining a nurturing environment, I enjoyed telling true stories in meetings to communicate important values and principles. I also worked on keeping their morale high and sent an inspirational quote every morning to begin their day.

It was also important to keep track of progress and resolve problems while co-creating effective strategies to get us around tough deadlines and unrealistic expectations. Sharing our problems and successes strengthened our bonds and resulted in a significant amount of synergy and creativity.

Since I did not have substantial influence other than being a group leader, my power came from building trust and nurturing relationships. I always worked to give my team members my best effort, which included supporting them in realizing their potential and bringing it out. My compassion and caring had the biggest impact, and I was always attending to their needs.

My perspective on my role as a team leader for this task was clearly to integrate sustainability practices into design and establish a specialized unit to support this endeavor. Toward this end, I worked hard on several fronts spreading awareness within the company by giving presentations, coordinating with other design teams to adopt new ways of thinking, and establishing software tools to handle complex calculations efficiently. Thus, my ultimate role was that of a change agent and transformative leader empowered by a long-term vision to integrate sustainability with current design practice and to empower others to be leaders in this field.

Although this task was a major undertaking, my confidence, character, and excellent repertoire of skills guided me through. In addition, being a certified life coach and a lifelong learner with previous exposure to self-development tools were a great source of support. More important still, my ability to form relationships with followers, connect from the heart, build trust, and stimulate growth were fundamental in overcoming challenges, which led to success in this process.

Leadership skills

The primary values that were a cornerstone of this leadership experience and that I integrated in my behavior and actions included openness, critical thinking skills, endurance, confidence, vision, and mindfulness, as well as authenticity, integrity, passion, leading by example, and effective listening. Below is a brief discussion on my leadership skills that were fundamental to the team’s success.

  • Openness and awareness of a changing environment: This was the stimulus to accept the challenge of working to bring sustainable design to the company and the congruent benefits for the society and the environment.
  • Critical thinking skills and perseverance: Bringing change always creates resistance as was the case of embracing sustainable design initiatives. This was made easier through understanding the concerns of the various teams, overcoming difficulties, respecting contrasting approaches, and working for a solution that meets the essential needs of the project stakeholders.
  • Endurance: Although things did not work out the way I wanted them to unfold, I persevered so as not to compromise any issue that was fundamental to the project’s success. In fact, I recall having several meetings with my managers to convince them that they apply some energy conservation technologies that were essential for the stipulated project energy savings.
  • Confidence, patience and courage: These were the qualities I showed up with every day to fuel commitment, keep my team’s morale high, and affirm our success.
  • Mindfulness and self-awareness: It was important for me to reflect on what was going on with objectivity and critical thinking. This helped in seeing a clear picture of reality.
  • Strong people skills such as listening: Being a life coach, it was easy for me to connect with others, nurture relationships, and use the art of effective listening to grow and build others.
  • Ability to keep going despite conflict: Many times I had to deal with conflict due to the resistance of engineers to accept the necessary changes to the classical design approach. I embraced this challenge, and persisted in focusing on the purpose and value of what we were doing.
  • Vision: I made it clear to the team that our task was not just to contribute to the success of the project, but more important still, to plant the seed of sustainable spirit within the company. Our triad of cost, quality, and time changed and quadrupled to include sustainability.
  • Equity: It was important for me to act as equal to my other team members. In fact, in one of our training sessions, the instructor could not identify me because I was always acting as if I was another member of the team. In addition, it was important for me to distribute rewards fairly, based on achievement and value rather than on seniority.

Reflecting on this experience, I can see that my style was quite similar to servant and transformative leadership. In fact, I exhibited strong emotional concern for my team members as well as initiated a transformative perspective for my followers and the manner in which work was being done. For that, I relied on participation, collaboration, and synergy. More important still, by focusing and communicating meaningful purpose and values while embracing uncertainty, and building on a spirit of unity and trust, I succeeded in my role as a change agent and in bringing new organizational capabilities.


I am proud of having succeeded in leading sustainability at my company by using simple humanistic principles combined with common sense. Furthermore, it was quite rewarding to witness my potential of acting as a change agent and integrating sustainability in the design process.

I realize that sustainability should not be seen from the design viewpoint only, but also, it should be viewed from a holistic perspective, including organizational systems. This is one of the reasons that I chose to study organizational systems in a humanistic institution such as Saybrook University.