10 Tips For Leading In The Middle East

Leadership expert Tommy Weir discloses insights from his soon to be released book.

1. Avoid business colonialism

When leaders try to import foreign practices into the local environment, it often results in a leadership spill on par with BP’s troubles in the Gulf of Mexico. Leaders must adapt as the context has changed.

2. Discover what it means to lead in a first generation corporate society

Many of the employees in the GCC are the first person, or part of the first generation, in their family to work in the private sector. In the rise of the corporate society, leaders must nurture private sector achievement and build the performance-orientation.

3. Leading the youth bulge requires speed

Not only is the workforce diversified, it is very young. The entire GCC is experiencing a youth bulge, and as youth move at rapid and sometimes out-of-control speeds, leaders need to put on their running shoes and be ready for all of the excitement that a youthful workforce may bring.

4. Father, may I?

The Arab world is a patriarchal society and family-focused. Many employees’ understanding of workplace practices are interpreted through the historical dominance of the family business and centrality of the patriarch. Lead with care and strength.

5. Remember that the future is not measured by the quarter

The visions of the companies extend beyond EBITDA and EPS. In the region the future is measured by the fulfilment of the vision, not by the quarterly report. So focus on growth, true and real growth.

6. Receive the soul, while perceiving the appearance

It is easy to be distracted by the glitz, glamour and seemingly western ways on the surface. Leaders should not waltz in assuming that because the appearance has many similarities to home it is the same.

If they do, they will miss the soul of the society. Don’t make false conclusions, the soul of the society is steeped in Islamic, Pharaonic, Bedouin, and Phoenician roots.

7. Thank God it is Friday

Friday is more than a substitution for the western idea of Saturday. Friday is “family day”, which is like Christmas-on-steroids weekly with the whole family (brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins) gathering at the patriarch’s house. The meaning of Friday portrays the importance of the group dynamic.

8. Realise that diversity is multi- dimensional

Diversity in the GCC is much more than the traditional two-dimensional concerns. We enjoy one of the most diverse workforces in the world having more nationalities than the United Nations does member countries.

Leaders need to be able to communicate with understanding across languages, backgrounds, and experiences.

9. Be careful — there is no get-out-of-jail-free card

Throughout history fast-growth environments have been bastions for corporate corruption. While temptations may present themselves, the jails are full of corporate leaders that tried to take advantage of the opportunities and failed. Successful leadership requires spotless integrity.

10. Have a cup of coffee

Leaders would be wise to remove their watch for a moment and adopt the practice of having a regular cup of coffee with their employees, customers and shareholders. The dividends will far outweigh the assumed loss of time as relationships make the region work.