Effective GCC leaders must also be persistent, willing to repeatedly present their case for change to a number of people with varying interests in its outcome. This skill has benefited many individuals in the region recently, preventing them from making rash or unilateral decisions during a time of unprecedented change. It may take months or even years for new initiatives to get under way, but when they do, they are launched with the buy-in of all stakeholders and run more smoothly for it.
Sulaiman Al-Muhaidib, for instance, formed public–private partnerships in the 1990s between his company and the Saudi government to provide utility services. Setting up the deal involved a drawn-out process requiring a series of initial meetings with junior people in government ministries, then repeated presentations at each subsequent level up the hierarchy, and finally a face-to-face meeting with the ministers of water, electricity, planning, and finance. “It may have been the first time that five ministers came to a meeting with a private-sector company,” Al-Muhaidib says. Although it took some time to reach the senior level where decisions could be made, all of the problems had been ironed out of the plan in the previous rounds, and the partnerships were quickly established once Al-Muhaidib was able to come to agreement with the ministers.
Al-Jaber, from ictQatar, demonstrated similar persistence in her career. When she graduated from Kuwait University with a degree in engineering, she returned home hoping to teach at Qatar University’s School of Engineering. The dean informed her that he was unwilling to allow a woman to teach in the all-male school, so Al-Jaber moved to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate in computer science, arming herself with an international perspective and technical skills that were still rare in Qatar. Upon her return, she found that the nation urgently needed people with her skills; she was in great demand in both the public and private sectors. She joined Qatar’s telecommunications operator, quickly rising to a leadership role, then moved to the public sector, helping shape the nation’s telecom law and national ICT (information and communications technology) strategy. She has used her talents to direct policy, open Qatar’s telecom market to competition, and ensure that Qataris fully benefit from the integration of ICT into their lives.
Passing the Mantle
The need to identify and replicate leadership qualities is not limited to the GCC. Developed countries still wrestle with the challenge as well. Indeed, Warren Bennis, in the updated version of his 1989 classic, On Becoming a Leader (4th ed., Basic Books, 2009), notes that U.S. companies have been bemoaning their lack of bench strength for decades.
Today’s leaders in the GCC do not want to be in that position in the coming years. Increasingly, the region’s institutions are putting in place the initiatives that will help the next generation develop the leadership qualities they need to someday take their place at the helm.
“It is very difficult to make a manager, and even more difficult to turn a manager into a leader. I think in every organization, you’ll find hundreds of managers, but just a handful of leaders,” says Saudi Telecom’s Al-Daweesh. “But I think it is the job of the leaders of any corporation to have a system to identify future leaders and invest in them.” At Saudi Telecom, management brings in executives with experience in global markets and places them among young managers with potential, to help the latter understand the challenges that will face them in different markets. Saudi Telecom also offers opportunities for rising leaders to attend training and seminars, particularly programs with the sort of multicultural flavor that underpins the company’s international ambitions.