Here are 5 things keeping Middle East CEOs awake at night
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In the dark hours: 5 challenges haunting Middle East CEOs

In the dark hours: 5 challenges haunting Middle East CEOs

A recent survey of over a hundred CEOs and board members in the Middle East highlights concerns about leadership attraction, development, and planning

Marisha Singh
CEO and board of directors

CEOs and board of directors in the Middle East are concerned about five strategic imperatives that impact leadership positions and consequently company performance, as compared to those in other parts of the world, says a recent survey by Heidrick & Struggles.

The global leadership advisory and talent solutions provider highlighted that:

  • leadership attraction
  • development
  • retention
  • leadership succession
  • turnover

are making MENA leaders much more worried as compared to their global peers.

CEO and Board survey findings

The 2024 Heidrick & Struggles Middle East CEO and Board Survey gathered insights from 112 chief executive officers (CEOs) and board members in the Middle East on their most pertinent concerns and challenges.

The report showed a significant difference of perception on key issues related to leadership. The most significant being 29 per cent of Middle East CEOs and board members surveyed, report being concerned about attracting the right leadership candidates, followed by developing and retaining these candidates as their biggest challenge, when compared to the global average of 24 per cent.

Similarly, 22 per cent of these candidates see leadership succession and turnover as their chief concern compared to 17 per cent globally.

Yet on these key issues, only around a third of those who expressed concern are confident in their organisation’s ability to manage them, less so compared to leaders surveyed around the world.

Image credit: Sourced from Heidrick & Struggles

Richard Guest, partner in charge of Heidrick & Struggles Middle East and North Africa said, “In 2024, Middle East organisations face an increasingly complex external business environment, and regional intricacies that demand a localised approach. To survive and thrive this year – and beyond – companies must prioritise not only attracting the right leaders but also retaining and grooming talent from within to take on the leadership mantle.”

“With growing pressure on leaders to be more forward-looking yet aligned with current needs, the onus is on boards to help organizations stay focused on building internal capabilities and addressing competency gaps of current and emerging leaders,” he added.

Future outlook

The survey also found that although the region’s leaders have about the same level of confidence in how their leadership development strategy is positioning the organisation for the future, 12 per cent report having no confidence at all – double that of the global figure.

Markus Wiesner, regional managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles for Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Emerging Markets, adds, “Any effective leadership development strategy starts by having the right culture – a culture of excellence not only ensures good leaders stay, but helps organisations attract the best-fit talent from around the world. Putting in place a strategic road map is also essential, where boards and leaders must agree on the key skill sets needed for the future and view talent acquisition as a long-term, always-on imperative.”

Image credit: Sourced from Heidrick & Struggles

“If organisations see succession planning as reactive – such as in the case of a retirement or an underperforming C-suite – or lack a rigorous assessment process for their leaders, it is natural that organisations would find themselves struggling to navigate the dynamic, fast-moving Middle East landscape,” added Wiesner.

Additional findings

According to the World Bank, the Middle East and North African economies are expected to grow by 2.7 per cent in 2024 – up from 1.9 per cent in 2023.

However, factors such as ongoing tensions in the region, trade disruptions, among others continue to cast a shadow on future outlook of these economies with a consequent impact on local businesses.

Middle East CEOs and boards cited economic uncertainty at 56 per cent, as well as geopolitical volatility at 56 per cent, as the most significant issues facing their organisations in 2024. Their global peers shared the same sentiments, with the global average sitting at 63 per cent and 39 per cent respectively.

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