Your Leadership Mosaic: How to Achieve Greater Business Success in the Arab World


Reading Time: 
5 min
Brief: 
  • Managing businesses in the GCC region is quite different than elsewhere due to heterogeneity.
  • Acquiring leadership skills in the GCC is necessary for successful business management.
  • Adopting the 7-step approach proposed by Mr. Tillisch is pivotal to mastering one’s leadership skills is the GCC dynamic business environment.

How should you run a business and lead its people in the Arab world? I doubt that many readers of Arab Business Review have to be convinced that the answer to this question is different from elsewhere. I had been working in the region for almost a decade when I decided to find my own answer to this question and write my book, Effective Business in the Gulf: Mastering Leadership Skills for Greater Success, which was publishedlast December.

I focused my research on the GCC countries and I concluded that there is also a great deal of diversity in successful businesses and their leaders, even here. The metaphor of a mosaic became quite helpful. The Arab world is extraordinarily heterogeneous; it contains some of the world’s richest countries as well as some that are much less prosperous. Some of its citizens are highly extroverted and are accustomed to interacting on the international scene, while others live a more secluded life. The Arab Spring has affected a few quite profoundly, while others continue almost as if it had not happened.

Every business leader in the Gulf is confronted with a variety of opportunities and challenges, of which many are unique to him or her, much like the colored pieces in a mosaic. Each must therefore gather and assemble the most important pieces into their own unique pattern, thereby defining the best personal approach.

Gather Your Pieces

There are seven important steps to creating your own leadership mosaic. These first three concern specific opportunities and challenges.

Step 1: Understand the region’s near future and how it will differ from the recent past. The business environment in the Gulf is reaching a point of maturity. Future prospects are bright but will never match the socioeconomic development of the last four decades, when the region accomplished as much as what took the Western world at least two centuries to achieve. Almost all businesses have benefited from the steadily growing pies of the past few decades, whereas today most companies must now start focusing much more on competing for their own share of the pie. What does the near future look like for your business?

Step 2: Adapt to this unique cultural setting for working and doing business. The Gulf’s metropolises are achieving what was not possible in the legend about the Tower of Babel—when workers spoke so many languages that they were unable to complete their task of building the tower into the sky. The Gulf Arabian culture is distinctively different from the mainstream in international business, which is heavily inspired by the United States, making it unclear for many what foot to stand on. At the same time, the region hosts an expatriate population with a relative size and cultural diversity that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. Who are you leading and what is the prevailing corporate culture?

Step 3: Assess your business’s need to adjust direction or gain traction. Management literature has been almost completely biased toward the question of “what” to do rather than “how” to do it. The development of the business environment in the Gulf and its diverse cultural nature make it vital for many companies in the region to start paying significantly more attention to “how” to compete—whether it be through innovation, customer experience, cost efficiency, or a combination thereof. Does the biggest issue for your business concern what is right to do or how to do it correctly?

Assemble Your Mosaic

Achieving great results in the Arab world over time requires that you and your colleagues are business smart. This quality will come in handy for performing these last four steps.

Step 4: Formulate your personal viewpoints as a leader. You must first be explicit about your personal viewpoints, which determine your starting point for leading others. You have principles that you will never deviate from and unwavering expectations from your team, but these can be less obvious to others; you are not necessarily conscious about all aspects of them yourself. What practices are you willing to commit yourself to, and what do you consider mandatory, for your direct reports?

Step 5: Define business goals that will motivate people pursue them. Setting a goal is one of the most basic things in business. Many business leaders are, however, far from effective at establishing goals. Financial goals do not make your employees jump out of bed every morning, irrespective of whether they are attached to personal bonuses. A greater purpose can. Furthermore, you can make people’s work more interesting and challenging by introducing measures to reflect the daily fulfillment of mission-critical activities. What are your essential goals, and how do you make them work?

Step 6: Follow up so that your goals will be achieved. The efforts you put into setting goals and following up on them are inseparable. However, the tasks of monitoring and constant assessment are the two most important activities for an effective business leader. Not only will you ensure that you are moving in the right direction, but this is when you can truly motivate and help push things along. You must be very conscious about how you follow up in a multicultural environment, allowing a bit of time to become effective in doing so. What simple routines and good habits can help you follow up effectively?

Step 7: Develop your people and get them to perform at their best. The single most critical factor in any business is people. Your viewpoints, goal setting, and follow-up skills will be key in leading your organization to perform better and—in turn—grow. In order to truly develop an individual, however, you must dedicate full attention to this person and to their personal situation and aspirations. Meanwhile, you can lift an entire organization by introducing a carefully selected set of methods for line managers, thereby instituting one common language. What will you do to make your people outperform on a daily basis and develop beyond others’ expectations over time?

The Arab world is dynamic and diverse. There are no universal answers as to how you should run a business and lead the people within it, but using the aforementioned seven steps as a guideline will help get you started in the right direction.

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