• News & Knowledge
  • 31 August 2021

Leadership: A Middle East Perspective

By Moutaz M Mashhour, Executive Vice President- Shared Services

With the current global challenge of the pandemic and its implications on many Middle Eastern corporations today, the search for leadership talent is ever growing and represent a key component in these organizations’ strategic plans.

Companies in the Middle East have recognized effective leadership as a key success factor because it is leadership that plays a pivotal role in overcoming challenging situations while achieving their short-and long-term business goals. Accordingly, one ends an increasing number of publications and formal initiatives that attempt to explain the complexities (cultural and behavioral) of leadership in Middle East companies based on a variety of approaches. Examples include the Aspen Institute’s Middle East Leadership Institute; INSEAD’s research into Women-Focused Leadership Development in the Middle East; and the publication of Leadership Development in the Middle East (Beverly Metcalfe and Found Immune, editors), one of the first publications to draw upon both Arabic and English scholarship on the subject.

Complexities of Leadership in Middle East Companies

While leadership is a complex process with multiple dimensions that can be looked upon from different perspectives, it becomes even more complex in multinational and global companies in the Middle East, depending on the resize and cultural diversity, as well as the trait characteristics of their employees and leaders.

Similarities throughout the World

In the Middle East, those who can competently coach, influence others, inspire trust, and model open communication are more likely to be considered successful in their leadership positions by those they lead as well as those to whom they report in their organizations. These key characteristics, competencies, and principles are as valued in the Middle East as they are throughout the world.

Accordingly, from the perspective of many major Middle Eastern organizations, the five top challenges to leadership success include:

  • In ability to create and communicate a vision for the future
  • Reluctance to challenge existing circumstances that could lead to improvements and innovation
  • Inability to empower others
  • Failing to be a role model
  • Inability to motivate and inspire others

Infect, recent corporate-sponsored research into leadership derailment factors link closely to not meeting or addressing one or more of these challenges head-on.
In many companies in the Middle East, leadership development programs and processes for women and men are, for the most part, the same. However, there are situations where some leadership programs are tailored to a specific role depending on the role itself and the gender composition of the team being led.

To meet the regions’ leadership challenges, many medium to large organizations in the Middle East are investing heavily in leadership development and capacity building. It is now and more than ever, that leadership development is considered a major initiative in the strategic plans of successful organizations. And more targeted leadership development is being provided to those in need of a variety of skills such as communication, decision making, inter personal relationship building, and problem solving, and planning skills. As a result, it has become increasingly common to see both in-house and external leadership development programs in medium to large organizations. Such programs and processes are being managed to be culturally relevant, timely, and take into account adverse audience in order to ensure the growth and sustainability of large populations of participants.


Historically, several key process components have been identified to ensure regional leadership development programs remain relevant and sustainable in the Middle East.

They include:

  • Having guiding principles for the program based on the program’s goals and expected outcomes
  • Building the program’s foundation incorporating aiding (learning) philosophy with a conceptual frame work and strategy
  • Determining the competencies that need to be developed
  • Incorporating diagnostic tools for program participants to identify which competencies need to be developed
  • Ensuring all participants has an individual plan for learning and development.

“Leadership–A Middle East Perspective.” The HR Magazine, 3, August 2021, www.managehrmagazine.com/magazines/August2021/Leadership_Development_Middle_East/#page=34

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