640,000 Emirati leaders needed to make UAE a model of global leadership, finds Dubai summit

11 May 2015, Dubai. HR leaders and senior managers came together with representatives of Henley Business School and Oxford Strategic Consulting at a summit conference to discuss how Gulf countries like the UAE can develop national leaders.

Action is urgently needed because the UAE is one of only two countries in the world (the other being Qatar), where over 60% of employed nationals need to be leaders if Emiratis are to run the country. Executives and strategic leaders across all sectors make up about 8% of any country’s workforce. Since the UAE has a workforce of approximately eight million workers, this means that about 640,000 Emiratis (about 64% of UAE nationals) will be needed to fill executive and strategic leadership posts.

Paul Green, Director of Oxford Strategic Consulting, opened the event by revealing the latest research on Gulf leadership and the region’s nationalisation challenge, and Professor Nick Holley, Director of the Henley Centre for HR Excellence, continued by exploring the four principles of effective leadership development. Attendees from Government, Banking and Finance, Telecoms, Energy, Shipping, Logistics, Food, Automotive, Consultancy and Family Businesses then broke into problem-solving group sessions, described by one delegate as “insightful, with immediate practical application”, and another as “real evidence for how Emirati executives need to change and implement new thinking.”

View Nick Holley presentation

View 'The leadership development' research paper

View ‘Facing the leadership challenge’ summary

The result of the sessions was the production of the following key recommendations for leadership development in the region:

  1. Build leadership early. Organisations should better connect with schools and universities to build a pipeline of young potential leaders. Effective induction, shadowing and mentoring will create more opportunities for young nationals leaving school to begin their careers. The best way to become a leader is to be a leader.
  2. Offer simple, practical help to first line leaders. Oxford research indicates that first line leaders only spend 20% of their time leading, and these leaders tend to carry out fairly simple leadership activities, such as ‘organise a team meeting’. Here, practical technology-based help can really make a difference by providing specific ‘point of need’ tools, guidance and team member feedback.
  3. Capitalise on pre-existing strengths. Speaking about leadership development in general, Nick Holley commented: ‘we need to move beyond narcissistic self-development to help people find a purpose beyond themselves’. According to Oxford research, young Emiratis are already very open to this approach with most saying that they are motivated by ‘helping the country’. Development initiatives within organizations should tap into this motivation as well as capitalizing on the opportunities for increasing engagement offered by the natural loyalty and family-based relationships that exist in the Gulf.
  4. Offer world-class leadership development not ‘training’. Leadership is a mind-set and not a course. Henley’s research and experience of delivering leadership development across the GCC shows that traditional event-based ‘training’ needs to be replaced by learning journeys that enhance the learning through reflection and application, supported by coaching and mentoring, not just teaching.


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