Nurturing leadership is the best investment - Gulf Business
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Nurturing leadership is the best investment

Nurturing leadership is the best investment

UAE firms should think long-term and grow leaders rather than importing them from other countries, writes the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center.

Since the founding of the UAE in 1971, there has been a focus on building capability. In the midst of the excitement of creating a new nation, while the major families were hosting celebratory lunches and dinners in the background, there was an extraordinary amount of work to be done. The daunting task of building a government sat soundly upon the leaders’ shoulders. The burgeoning nation had no diplomatic service and no diplomats.

Sheikh Zayed, the founding father and first president of the UAE, put out the word – an urgent request for all BA graduates from Dubai and the Northern Emirates to attend a meeting regarding positions in the Diplomatic Service. Mirza Al Sayegh who was on his way to his first day of work at his new job with Dubai Petroleum Company, was detoured to this meeting.

He said, “I did not know what job or what salary we were being offered. It was a risk!”

Twenty-five men showed. Only 25 people had a Bachelors or higher degree (excluding doctors) in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and only another 20 from Abu Dhabi. There was a long way to go.

The UAE had a young population. And with this youthfulness came the predicted inexperience. But this did not deter the choice of patriotism, commitment to the nation and passion for success. It did surface the real need to build future leaders. Not just in the royal family, but all across the country.

People are the base of any civilization and the UAE rightfully chose to use its resources to drive development.

Immediately, the government began sending students around the world to get their university education. Every year more and more students scattered to campuses to learn from the best professors and then come back to help build the country.

By the mid-1980s, they were getting the return on investment in education. Talented and ambitious Emiratis were welcomed back and placed on tracks to grow. They were spotted, groomed and placed in positions of leadership. They were watched to see if they could perform and if they did, they were given greater responsibilities.

“Young people are the future,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “They guarantee that development will continue and sustainability will prevail. We are preparing them for this future by developing them to promote innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.”

This is the thinking that every CEO should have. Your workforce is your future – make them great, every position getting better every year.

What amazes me is the constant emphasis on growing leaders, making them better and better. This is the bedrock, the backbone, for any company.

I dream of what it would be like if every company made the same commitment to growing leaders as the prime minister has. Personally, the emphasis on building capability and the talk of it “around town” is amongst the highest I’ve experienced.

My whole life has been committed to growing leaders and in the past two and a half decades, I’ve never seen this level of conviction. It is an obsession you should have. You should be building the leadership prowess of your company thinking a decade or more into the future.

Who’s coming after you? What can you do today to help them succeed tomorrow? Your investment today will quickly be realised as it was in the UAE.

You may wonder, “Why I am highlighting this?”.

It is risky, even dangerous, not to grow your leaders. We have the privilege of experiencing rates of growth that are unparalleled in other parts of the world. With growth, especially the speed of growth that we have, comes the need for more leaders in the near future. If you don’t grow them, you have to import them.

Our business environment is unusual, positively different than most other parts of the world. Relying on importing leaders is where the risk lies. Instead of putting your company at risk like this, grow your leaders.

I am speaking specifically at the senior management and executive leadership levels. From my experience, companies do a better job of promoting from within at the lower levels, but this is negligent at the top of the organisation, which is where you need it the most.

I have been a student of leadership practically my whole life, you can even call me a leadership junkie – I am obsessed with how people lead.

Rather than brushing this point to the side and coming up with reasons why you cannot do it today, build the strongest leadership cadre.

If you focus on it you will quickly separate yourself from competitors. It took the UAE no time at all to reap the benefit. You can too!

Your future is dependent on what you do today. Everything rises and falls on leadership.

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