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Leaders’ vision for companies must be realistic, even when they are aiming for the stars


You do not need to spend much time talking with human resources professionals in the UAE before the conversation inevitably turns to the topic of Emiratisation. Depending on who you are talking to, the kind of organisation they are part of, and whether they work in the public or private sector, the tone can be very different.


At one end of the spectrum are those who will say with total confidence that targets are being met and things are on course. Others will explain their in-depth plans and medium-term goals, stated with a firm belief that a course has now been set. For some, however, there can still be a fair degree of nervousness and trepidation about how to achieve what is expected of them.


If you consider the concept from their perspective, you can see why this might be so. An HR department has to fulfil the skill requirements of its organisation – whether through recruitment of new staff or the development of current employees. When you throw the targets of Emiratisation into the mix – and you definitely should – this process can look a good deal more complex. They might need to take account of different capabilities and future development needs. They may need to reconsider the way their organisation approaches staff retention and reward. They could need to think about how a different cultural mix can be utilised to have most impact on performance.


Emiratisation, after all, should not be about getting a quota through the door or making physical space in an office for specially created positions. It should be about tailoring an organisation’s human resources processes to more equitably represent, and better provide for, the UAE market. This is the case whether you are a multinational with global training and recruitment procedures or a government agency targeting international benchmarks.


An often overlooked, although certainly important part of this effort, is the need to focus on leadership positions – both in terms of the opportunities available, and the skills and experience candidates need to operate at their most effective. It is clearly only one part of the process to make sure nationals are gaining access to entry level and graduate positions. It is just as essential to ensure they can move onwards and upwards into positions with greater responsibility, bolstered by the right support and development opportunities to successfully take up leadership roles with real confidence.


This involves making sure career tracks are more thoughtfully designed and planned – from selecting training approaches best suited to cultural preferences, to building in a better appreciation of what great leadership looks like in the UAE’s particular cultural and national understanding.


Leadership styles are always investigated in leadership development programmes, and it makes sense to do this by thinking about the leadership approaches and role models that most apply and appeal to Emirati professionals. Naturally, you should also draw in the best practices and successful models from other countries and regions, but this should first be grounded in a UAE-centric perspective.


This also means, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, preparing leaders to be capable of leadership in organisations right around the world. Good leadership development should be aware of particular sensibilities, but it should also enable a leader to effectively and sensitively operate in different cultural settings. The benefit is that a leader is then better equipped to return with greater skills and experience to benefit the diverse domestic market.


It also involves building a better understanding of your organisation’s marketability to potential employees, and trying to match this with the long-term career advancement and development opportunities that will attract the very best national leadership talent in the first place.


Approaching Emirati leadership development in this way has clear business advantages. Leaders drive an organisation’s success, and great leaders will do so by carrying a company towards its vision through employees’ willing belief in their leadership. A leader who can combine a deep and innate understanding of local culture with an effective understanding of global leadership is best placed to do this, and will consequently be an incredibly powerful component of UAE business success.


Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.


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