Five tips for leaders in the UAE to drive market-disrupting organisations

Disruption of markets can only be met with disruption of old-school leadership methods



Today’s disruptive forces in technology, globalisation, demographics and consumer behaviour are exposing the limitations of legacy leadership worldwide.

To ensure organisations succeed in a rapidly changing business world in the years ahead, a new kind of future-ready leader must take priority.

In the new Korn Ferry Self-Disruptive Leader study, we spoke to 795 investors and business analysts from around the globe to try to get a clear picture of what they expect from top corporate leaders to give them confidence companies can navigate the turbulent waters of today’s rapidly changing business environment.

Two messages came across loud and clear.

First, senior leadership matters today more than ever before. Up to 78 per cent of investors pointed to the CEO as critically important when deciding in which companies to invest and 76 per cent said confidence in the senior leadership team is the number one consideration influencing investment decisions.

However, it’s the second message that should raise red flags in boardrooms everywhere. On average, only 15 per cent of executives worldwide have what it takes to be truly great leaders in today’s business world.

That number is consistent across most markets we studied. In fact, in EMEA nearly two thirds of investors, 64 per cent, say that today’s private-sector leadership stock fails to demonstrate the skillsets they believe is required to succeed in the future of work.

For the last 100 years, leaders have been taught that control, consistency and closure are the core principles of business leadership. As we accelerate further into the age of disruptive technology and the competitor landscape evolves more quickly than ever before, that is no longer a reliable blueprint for success.

That need for a new leadership mindset is amplified in a market like the UAE, where CEOs face the conflict of highly ambitious growth plans while facing a serious talent crunch. Our research shows that 92 per cent of UAE business leaders plan to grow their business and increase headcount by at least 40 per cent by 2030. At the same time, more than 40 per cent say that today there is a significant or acute talent deficit in the market that is expected to get worse by 2020.

The investment community is watching UAE CEOs and their leadership teams to see how they are adapting and transforming not only their organisations but also their personal leadership styles to win in the new-age talent war.

So what are investors and analysts looking for from senior corporate leaders today?

● Anticipate: Providing clarity when the business environment is volatile and ambiguous, when you don’t know who your competitors are and what could disrupt your business tomorrow.

● Drive: Energise people by fostering a sense of purpose; manage the mental and physical energy of themselves and others; nurture a positive environment to keep people hopeful, and optimistic, and intrinsically motivated.

● Accelerate: Manage the flow of knowledge to produce constant innovation and the desired business outcomes; use agile processes, quick prototyping and iterative approaches to rapidly implement and commercialise ideas.

● Partner: Connect and form partnerships across increasingly permeable functional and organisational boundaries; enable the exchange of ideas; combine complementary capabilities to enable high performance.

● Trust: Form a new relationship between the organisation and the individual that centres on mutual growth; integrate diverse perspectives and values; help individuals to uncover their sense of purpose and facilitate them in providing their maximum contribution.

While these leadership dimensions are a far cry from traditional “command and control” ideals that dominated C-suites for so many years, they reflect the characteristics of executives who have proven adept at disrupting markets and transforming corporate cultures to best position their organisations for success today.

Investors are willing to admit that they share a certain level of responsibility for the shortcomings of today’s executives. For years, the key measure of success is not what have you done for me lately, rather what will you deliver in the next quarter. In fact, 70 per cent of investors argued that short-term financial pressures stripped leaders of ability to push through innovation, digitisation and real change.

Investors still expect results. That will never change, particularly in historically strong growth markets like the UAE that also serve as business hubs where leaders are expected to deliver results in emerging markets across the region.

What has changed, however, are the measures they are using to predict future success. That’s where confidence in leadership matters. Those leaders who demonstrate a real ability and willingness to disrupt their own personal styles as a core strategy for disrupting markets are the ones most likely to translate that vote of confidence into an actual investment in future growth and expansion.

Mamta Dhawan is head of Leadership Development at Korn Ferry Middle East