While the world is talking about recession, the GCC region is booming in many sectors, and the pace of change is relentless. Digital transformation and leveraging AI are part of every company’s strategic priorities, and leaders and employees must sprint to keep up. The changes are exhausting but also exhilarating as we all figure out the impact on organisations, customers, communities and our team members. Leadership development, as we know it needs to be changed. 

The 2023 Global Human Capital Trends report by Deloitte states 94% of their 10,000 respondents say Leadership capabilities and effectiveness in a disrupted world are important or very important. Still, only 23% of those organisations say their leaders are ready. 

In addition, only 15% believe their organisations have leaders ready to lead an expanding workforce inclusively, and 16% believe they are ready to use technology to improve outcomes and team performance. 

The gap is alarming and overwhelming, especially when the worldwide spend on Executive Leadership Development and Managerial training is over 227 billion dirhams.

It is worth giving some context as to why the role of leaders is changing as fast as technology is disrupting our lives. The pandemic created a world where individuals could work with more flexibility and more autonomy. This led to a desire for more voice and choice in how, when and where they work. Whilst we have experienced that many of our clients in the GCC have returned to working from their offices, there is still an underlying mindset shift in how teams want to be led. Technology like Microsoft Teams has provided collaborative work environments with more transparency and involvement. If used correctly, data from the MS Viva Suite gives companies real-life insights into the Ways of Working and, more importantly, the opportunity to improve outcomes in the flow of work.   

Workplace changes have also created more opportunities for gig workers or contractors, freelance models, micro-entrepreneurship, and those who work from remote locations. Used in tandem with core team members, it gives GCC companies cost-effective and flexible resources to manage the pace and seasonality of the region.

The challenge with diverse working relationships is that leaders need to change their leadership style. They need to mobilise talent to get work done, whether they have formal reporting lines or sit inside or outside the organisation. Hierarchical Leadership is a thing of the past.

The C-suite need to be more symphonic than ever before, with the understanding that no one department will have all the solutions and that collaboration and engagement throughout the organisation is essential. They also need to hold leaders at all levels accountable to deliver a shared vision and create a safe environment where teams can experiment, try, fail and learn.   

Where to Start with Leadership Development

To start with, leaders should frame the challenge like a researcher, chart a new path through co-creation, and prioritise human impact. They can also focus on four practical things:

1. Ask more and better questions

Talent is not going to be engaged and deliver exceptional results by being told what to do. Leaders must shift from telling to asking, from managing jobs and activities to orchestrating outcomes.  

We’ve seen this best enabled by Multipliers Leadership approaches. Leaders learn to ask better questions and frame challenges in a way that stretches thinking and, when relevant, debate questions to help drive more informed decision-making. All three approaches engage and stretch the team’s thinking, shifting the burden from the leader and naturally building ownership and accountability.

2. Have clarity on the outcomes and accountability conversations.

As we make this shift from activity-based performance management to outcomes – we need to get clearer on what we expect from team members. The OKR (Objectives and Key Results), used for years in the fast-growth tech sector, is rapidly gaining traction in other industries. It provides a logical and transparent way of tracking outcomes. MS VIVA Goals is the platform we have embraced to help us drive transparency and ownership. We combine this type of technology platform with Crucial Accountability a highly practical framework that enables managers and leaders to set expectations and clearly discuss when they are and aren’t happening. Tackling both the leader’s behaviour and the technology that helps make it scalable is essential to sustainable change.

3. Create the environment for experimentation

Try, fail, learn is a commonly used term in organisations, but in reality, many employees are afraid of the consequences. Current or even legacy stories are told of people being fired for mistakes, and even if these are exaggerations, they prevent or stall innovation and change adoption. Leaders need to create an environment in which mistakes are not feared. They need to create clarity on where it is safe to experiment and where it is not. Experimentation results (failure and success) need to be openly shared, explored, celebrated and learnt from.

4. Together is Better

Deloitte Insights states, ‘Problem-solving is a team sport – and the best solutions are co-created. Yet 34% of leaders in their survey are not ready to lead in a world where solutions are co-created.”

This is the largest gap in all the other fundamentals. Leaders may view co-creation as a challenge to their hierarchical authority, or perhaps it’s just egos getting in the way. Leaders need to tap into the full capability and intelligence of their teams. They need to build relationships, understand the native genius and recognise they can access ideas and inputs from across the organisation and external network. VIVA Insights Ways of Working report on collaboration can be an exciting starting point to understand the current organisation and departmental patterns. Collaborative team and skills-building solutions, leveraging Virtual Reality and team games, and call help build the capability to work better as teams. 

It can also be as simple as building relationships with a wider network in your team and organisation. We have seen Team Building make a huge comeback post-COVID, with organisations focusing on bringing teams together, and improving collaboration and team cohesion. How well do you know the skills that exist, and are you tapping into them?

Note from the author

Despite being in the industry of Leadership Development in the GCC for 30 years, I feel like we are only scratching the surface. Leaders have succeeded in the past through their authority, which has bred an acceptance that it can be a way of working. The cost of finding, onboarding and retaining talent is accelerating at alarming levels in the region. The scales have tipped, and talent now has a bigger say in the way they want to be managed. Legislation has made that easier as well in the region. National talent has an even greater opportunity to job-hop. Your role as Leaders is to acknowledge that change is now essential, and ours, as Executive Leadership Development experts, is to equip leaders with the right behaviours and tech tools to make effective Leadership sustainable and rid the world of bad bosses. 

Hazel Jackson, CEO of Biz Group