Leadership development is rapidly becoming a key objective across the GCC, as countries work out how to mould the next generation. Robert Mogielnicki and Rida Kariem, of Oxford Strategic Consulting (OSC), talk with UAE leaders about the Emirati leadership style.
Ahmed Mohamed Salem Al Dhaheri, Vice-chairman, Bin Salem Holding
Ahmed Mohamed Salem Al Dhaheri has seen many styles of leadership, first in the public and then the private sector, where he started the family business. He says the rapid progress and development across the UAE is down to sound Emirati leadership. “The great formation and transformation of the UAE in a very short period of time shows the effectiveness of Emirati leadership – and the great degree to which it is appreciated by Emiratis,” he says. Al Dhaheri says the welcoming spirit of Emiratis is a trait that has helped shape many of today’s Emirati leaders. “The Emirati leadership style is about dedication and accepting those who are willing to contribute to the development of this country.”
Keep role models in mind
“Role models can teach leadership to people around them,” he explains. Al Dhaheri believes one of his role models, the late Sheikh Zayed, taught excellent leadership qualities to all Emiratis. His leadership style was not only passed down to his successor, Sheikh Khalifa, but also to other UAE leaders and Emiratis.
“Sheikh Zayed was a tireless worker, loved his people and was willing to sacrifice to build a nation,” says Al Dhaheri, whose late father worked in the private department of Sheikh Zayed. He believes this exemplary leadership style was reflected in his father, and he intends to instil these sound leadership capabilities in his children.
As for Al Dhaheri’s leadership style, he says: “The best way to lead is by encouraging cooperation and trusting your team.” To lead in this way, a leader must understand the strengths and weaknesses of his or her employees so he or she can be confident of their capabilities, and trust that they can get the job done.
Al Dhaheri fosters this level of trust through constant communication with his employees. “You see, I never close my door, and anyone can access my office. At the same time I respect and encourage the chain of command within my senior managers and their staff.”
He notes the great contributions of expats in the impressive development of the UAE, but believes Emirati talent is key to the future. “With the greatest respect to my expat friends and colleagues, my business and my country will ultimately survive on Emiratis and Emirati leadership.”
Mohammad Zamani, Assistant manager, financial services audit and banking, KPMG
The first Emirati student to graduate from the ICAEW Emiratisation Scholarship Scheme (IESS), and now in a management role at KPMG in London, Mohammad Zamani sees himself primarily as a risk taker. The young leader left the UAE for London, but sees the relocation as an opportunity.
Turning challenges into opportunities
“Leadership is about stepping out of your comfort zone and setting an example – turning challenge into opportunity,” he adds.
Speaking about the advantages of the Emirati leadership style, Zamani says of Emirati leaders’ passion: “We Emiratis feel like one big family – and you do anything for your family.” He adds: “Many expats come to the UAE on temporary assignments, but Emiratis are permanent fixtures in the country. This allows Emirati leaders to act like heads of family by helping their followers, community and country.”
He says a disadvantage of some Emirati leaders is a lack of technical skills. However, Zamani adds: “I have witnessed a major change in this as currently there are more Emiratis interested in pursuing postgraduate degrees and a competitive career in the private sector to further develop their technical skills.”
Therefore, he believes that, although most Emiratis have the foundation of leadership, their technical skills could be further polished to be able to take on senior roles in key organisations and become all-rounder leaders.
“Despite having many great Western leaders, especially in the private sector, who have been in the UAE for years, a lot of them still haven’t acquired the cultural, social and linguistic know-how particular to the UAE or the wider GCC environment.”
Share success with your people
Speaking of his role model, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Zamani says: “I admire him because he is a risk taker with a long-term vision. Great leaders won’t last unless they share their success with their people. Dubai has witnessed massive developments under his leadership.”
A key theme that emerged while speaking with Zamani was the importance of motivation in the development of Emirati leaders. “Future leaders must be constantly motivated and encouraged to take risks so they can continue to develop,” he explains.
A young leader not afraid to take risks, Zamani also has a long-term vision. “The private sector promises more learning opportunities than the public sector. You may have to go the extra mile and do extraordinary things, but that is what it takes to succeed as a leader.”
Part I of this article included the views of Sultan Al-Hajji, Vice-president & chief strategy officer, Total E&P United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi branch) and Nabil Ali Alyousuf, Chairman, Nabil Alyousuf & Associates, former director-general of The Executive Office of Dubai
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