Dubai has made a bold pitch for the Expo 2020, competing against cities from Turkey, Thailand, Russia and Brazil.
Every five years only one city gets to host this six-month showcase celebrating cultural diversity and strengthening global connections.
The banner theme for Dubai is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”. In my opinion, the reason Dubai should be selected to host Expo 2020 is because it already is host to the world. The UAE is home to more nationalities in its workforce than the United Nations has member countries. And this made me wonder: “How can Dubai also showcase its leadership to the world?”
Dubai hosts one of the most exciting and potentially complex leadership environments in the modern era due its diverse population. But to discover what the emirate can showcase regarding leadership we first need to understand who the “new” workforce is.
Significant portions of employees are fresh entrants to the private sector thus creating the first generation corporate society. In contrast to Western markets, many of the current workers are the first members of their family to work in the private sector.
The West made the transition from an agrarian society into the private sector through industry, but for much of the new workforce, the route to the corporate society is coming through service and knowledge economies. They are leaping over their counterpart’s journey and creating the appearance of being on the same footing, yet decades of corporate practices have not been built into the workforce habits. For example, in the industrialised nations, business structures stem from a corporate mentality compared to business structures stemming from family orientation.
The key leadership insight that Dubai can showcase for Expo 2020 is the need to adapt leadership style for the new world.
Intuitively, most organisational leaders understand that conducting business in the emerging markets is going to be different. As they assume their leadership post, it is anticipated that the market will have its own rhythms; the consumer may have different buying patterns and preferences; and the leaders may have some struggles interpreting government policies and practices. But, beyond investing in consumer market data and reading the guidebooks on local culture, organisations need to invest in understanding who the “new” workforce is and encourage their leaders adapt leadership style accordingly.
Leadership approaches do not import with the same ease that oil exports. Visionaries need to adapt to fit the needs of the region and the “new” workforce, while focusing on the organisation’s strategic vision and goals.
Leading in emerging markets requires balancing local affinities and global knowledge. To do this, leaders must embrace a skill set that will allow them to develop an objective understanding of the emerging workforce and acquire the skills they need to motivate employees in these markets to perform beyond their initial expectations.
For Expo 2020, Dubai can showcase that organisational leaders need to recognise how unique their work culture and environment is. Then instead of immediately relying on popular Western-based leadership approaches, the focus needs to be on determining what the real leadership challenges are and what type of leader is needed.
Only then will an organisation will be in a position to mitigate the risks and create a leadership approach that is relevant for the “new” workforce.