The nature of leadership in the GCC is undergoing a profound shift. As the Gulf states have invested more heavily in businesses unrelated to oil, they have become more open to the world. They are moving capital into the global economy as well as privatising many industries that were previously controlled by national governments.
These changes have given the region new types of influence and opportunity and have also brought new risks. Most of all, they have demonstrated that there is a need to continue cultivating leaders who can hold their own on the international stage and keep extending the area's global influence. At the same time, leaders will have their own issues to address at home. These include chronic labour shortages among nationals as businesses flock to the Gulf, creating more opportunities than the existing labour force can support.
To develop a new generation of leaders who can address these challenges, people at the top levels of the GCC's major institutions are examining what it means to be successful in the region. This year, we interviewed decision makers from several countries in the region about their views on leadership. These individuals ranged in age from early 30s to mid-60s. They had led public-sector and private-sector organisations in transport, telecommunications, energy and financial services. They all have one thing in common with hundreds of other leaders in the Gulf states: a deep concern with the future of their countries and the region as well as their own organisations. These interviews generated a picture of the qualities leaders of the next generation will need to develop. Three in particular stand out:
There is a prevalent sense that the GCC's current economic growth is merely the beginning of a long period of prosperity and innovation. Leaders here are thus deliberately creating institutions, including regulatory structures, corporate entities and education systems, that are intended for long-term success, extending through future generations. These leaders have generally started with a blank slate and are therefore unconstrained by particular experiences; they are often more willing than their compatriots in other countries to experiment and take calculated risks.
The GCC's current leaders scour the globe for business and management ideas and apply many of them at home. This broad-minded approach stems in part from the fact that most of these individuals have spent time abroad working, studying, or both.
Beginning in the 1980s, GCC governments began funding international education for selected citizens, with the intent that students would repay this investment by lending their skills to the development of industries in their home countries. The return of these sons and daughters introduced creative tension as they seeded new practices throughout nascent industries, setting off healthy debates about what international business models would mean for the GCC and how they could best be adapted.
Today's leaders are aware that their individual decisions will, even when the immediate impact is confined to one organisation, gradually come together to determine the path of development for the GCC. They are conscious of the need to make sweeping changes - to infrastructure, regulations and the traditional divisions between the public and private sectors - without undermining the fundamentals of their culture.
In their organisations as well as in the larger society, leaders in the GCC must be able to make a case for their strategic imperatives in a way that resonates with stakeholders. 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.
The need to identify and replicate leadership qualities is not limited to the GCC. C'ountries in Europe and North America still wrestle with the challenge as well. Warren Bennis, in the updated version of his 1989 classic bookOn Becoming a Leader, notes that US companies have been bemoaning their shortage of high-calibre individuals 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 eventually to take their place at the helm. In many respects, however, the most compelling way to develop new leaders is by example.
Public and private-sector leaders have close and communicative relationships with their constituents, modelling the values that have led to their success and helping others instil them in their own approaches to leadership. By acting as role models for the next generation, today's leaders can help their organisations - and the GCC - stay on the fast track they have enjoyed in recent years. Joe Saddi is chairman of Booz & Company. Karim Sabbagh and Richard Shediac are partners at Booz & Company