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7 Questions on Leadership with Catherine Mwaba Chali

Name: Catherine Mwaba Chali

Title: Chief Operating Officer

Organisation: United Bank for Africa(Zambia)Ltd

Catherine is an experienced professional who began her career in the Telecommunications industry before moving to the Banking sector, where she has excelled for 15 years. With a demonstrated history of leadership across diverse teams, Catherine has been instrumental in optimizing Operations functions within two African banks. She currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer at United Bank of Africa (Zambia)Ltd, renowned as 'Africa's Global Bank.' Catherine is committed to promoting excellence and innovation within the financial industry, consistently delivering value and driving growth."

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Catherine's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a COO in the banking sector, my most significant challenge has been managing the rapid technological advancements in the financial industry while ensuring our bank's competitiveness and compliance with evolving regulations. To overcome this challenge, I have fostered a culture of continuous learning, implemented training programs, and established strategic partnerships with technology vendors and constant engagements with regulatory bodies. These experiences have emphasized the importance of adaptability, collaboration, and staying ahead of the curve. They have also reinforced the significance of risk management and compliance in our operations, contributing to my growth as a more effective and well-rounded leader in my role as a COO.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

When I embarked on my career journey in the banking sector, I was fortunate to be guided by supportive supervisors and mentors who recognized my potential and nurtured my innate abilities. Combined with my innate eagerness to learn and embrace additional responsibilities, I quickly advanced in my career. My first leadership role materialized as I assumed the position of Head of E-Business at Access Bank Zambia. This experience was a pivotal milestone in my leadership journey, and it marked the beginning of my pursuit of excellence in the financial industry. It highlighted the transformative power of effective mentorship and personal drive.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My daily routine commences with a moment of gratitude, where I express thanks for the gift of life ,a new day and immerse myself in reading the Bible. Before leaving my home, I review my notes, which serve as a helpful reminder of the essential tasks awaiting me once I reach the office. Upon arriving at the workplace, I start the day with breakfast and proceed to touch base with various team members and colleagues in different locations.

A typical day in my life is characterized by a sequence of strategic meetings, coupled with the ongoing management of operational issues that warrant my attention. To keep my mind and body fresh, I prioritize taking short, regular breaks. While I generally conclude my workday before 6 pm, there are occasional exceptions, particularly on days when I work until 8 pm. Nevertheless, I consistently make it a priority to allocate quality time for my family. As the workweek draws to a close, I find relaxation by indulging in some movie time on Fridays.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Every day serves as a constant reminder of the significance of practicing transparency, empathy, and open communication, as well as fostering synergy, as essential elements for leadership success. By embracing these principles, you not only lead effectively but also nurture the growth of future leaders within your sphere of influence.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

I first encountered 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' by Stephen Covey during my university graduation. Since then, I've diligently incorporated the valuable lessons from the book into both my personal and professional life.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Cultivate patience, embrace the opportunity to learn from those around you, and be open to receiving and acting on constructive criticism.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One significant experience that stands out is my first presentation to an unfamiliar audience. It was initially quite daunting, but I decided to focus on the topics I was most knowledgeable about. This strategy not only boosted my confidence but also allowed me to deliver a successful presentation. It taught me the importance of self-assurance and expertise in leadership.

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