Things are returning to ‘normal’ following my two week excursion to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The initial reason for my visit was to present “Strategic Leadership Performance” in two sessions to participants from both the private and public sectors at the World Strategy Summit in Abu Dhabi. The basic premise of the presentation was that, to perform effectively, leaders need to first possess specific non-technical personality characteristics and then they need to actually use them in effective leadership behaviours if they are to be successful in converting their future vision into sustainable organizational change.
In addition to speaking at the summit, I took some extra time to meet with potential clients, strategic partners and other associates in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Since my presentation topic focused on performance and leadership, both were definitely on my mind. And I found that, in my conversations with both summit attendees and in my external meetings, leadership and performance are very much on other people’s minds as well. I was pleased that there was general agreement that the further development of current leadership performance capability, at all levels, as well as increasing the numbers of additional leaders, are both seen as being critical to addressing the need for organizational growth, creating more permanent employment opportunities, facilitating innovation, and supporting overall economic diversification – not only in the UAE but globally. It was wonderful to leave behind the ‘LinkedIn one-liners’ describing what “Leadership is …” and what it is not, and to actually engage people who truly cared to explore the concept in detail.
With specific reference to the UAE, much of the conversation was focused on; increasing Emiratization (employment for Emirati nationals), helping them to further develop their performance capabilities, identifying high potential performers, developing leaders, increasing Emirati retention within their respective organizations, and as well retaining skilled ex-pats to facilitate ongoing knowledge transfer. As a result, there may be some interest in CAES helping with; internal performance enhancement and coaching programs, leadership development, training HR teams in effective recruitment and hiring processes, providing performance assessment and evaluation services, and conducting specialized leadership search and recruitment services.
I don’t need to tell you that the current economic and employment challenges are not limited to the UAE alone (or the Gulf as a whole), as obviously they are global challenges. But it was refreshing that, within my interactions, there was a genuine interest in exploring potential alternatives to the issues that many organizations are grappling with. Rather than hearing the familiar denials such as; “we are already doing that” (not), “we don’t have that problem” (not), “it must be the OTHER guy’s issue” (not), the discussions were quite open and productive.
One could argue that this openness may in fact be evidence of the presence of a certain level of leadership capability, since effective leadership is all about creating a future vision, evaluating current performance in relation to that vision, identifying the need for change, and exploring new ways to bring it about. Conversely, a too often seen change-resistant attitude could be viewed as an example of a lack of leadership, since effective leadership is not about ‘status quo’ protection and limited-vision organizational ‘survival’ in difficult times. Rather than ‘retreat’, one positive result of effective leadership is the creation of agile and adaptable organizational cultures that can, as a result, minimize the impact of economic challenges while taking advantage of any new opportunities that may emerge.
Innovation is change
Some recent articles have suggested that Canada, and many other countries, are ‘falling behind on innovation’, with the content often focusing on a lack of governmental support and financing, subsequent declining R & D investment and fewer R & D initiatives. Perhaps if we go a little deeper in this evaluation of innovation decline we can identify a possible root cause. We need to go beyond simply seeing innovation as being dependent on the acquisition of sufficient funding to develop a new or better machine or process, and to understand that, by its nature, innovation requires us to be open to thinking differently and seeing everything in new ways. One could argue that it is in fact ineffective leadership that allows organizational ‘fixed mindset’ thinking to take hold (ie: ‘We are already doing that’), which subsequently stagnates change (and innovation) and much needed positive progress.
The most effective leaders facilitate innovative cultures that are dominated by growth-oriented thinking.
In doing so, these leaders are better able to avoid the manifestation of ‘status quo’ maintenance, the subsequent justification of poor performance, and declining innovation. Rather than allow their ‘gatekeepers’ to keep change and opportunity outside their organizational ‘gates’, they will encourage organizational members, at all levels, to investigate new ways to move forward (whether funded or not).
Can we say that organizational leaders in the UAE have a growth mindset?
While no country is perfect, the UAE has undergone impressive and substantial change (architectural, technological, societal etc.) and physical growth in recent years while at the same time attempting to retain their cultural roots. Not an easy task. What strikes me, whether they take action on these various initiatives or not, is that many of their organizational decision-makers are at least open to identifying their current and future challenges and to investigating different potential solutions to resolve them. So based on all of this, yes, I think that they do generally have a growth mindset.
We are all operating within a world economy, with differing political structures, cultural characteristics, economic systems, financial capabilities and access to lucrative natural resources. The common element is that we all have to compete based on what we have, regardless of the different advantages or disadvantages that we may possess. Accepting this, a good place to start is by focusing on leadership and performance. Those who do will have a competitive advantage over those who don’t.
PS: If you know where all the ‘other guys’ reside please let me know. I would like to talk with them!