Pilgrim spirit is alive and well

The Life: The UAE of today is reminiscent of the New York City of a century ago.

As in the rapid expansion of New York City, above, an element of leadership success in the Emirates is collaboration. Lewis W Hine / Getty Images
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The UAE of today is reminiscent of the New York City of a century ago.

Both welcomed the world and allowed success for all. Starting in the late 1800s, people from around the world boarded ships and sailed to the shores of America in pursuit of a new and better opportunity.

After clearing Ellis Island, people were encouraged to put their skills to work building a new future and success for the both the individual and the state.

As in New York City, an element of leadership success in the Emirates is collaboration. The beauty of this collaborative nature is that the leaders are helping everyone to succeed. Rather than obsessing only with their (the country or leaders) success and using others to achieve it, the UAE is one of the few places where it is understood that if all succeed the vision will be realised. This is true for all nationalities, economic levels and walks of life.

Leadership insights from the history of the Emirates, however, are not limited to the importance of mutual success.

Over the past 41 years, the nation's leaders have succeeded in creating a compelling and challenging vision. Since the early days and through the various updates, the vision has been clear as to what is to be accomplished. The current vision for the UAE is to be among the world's best countries by 2021.

As important as a clear vision is, it is the execution that counts. I give high marks to the leaders across the Emirates for delivering on their vision. In many, and it seems like most, instances the delivery has been ahead of schedule.

The above points are textbook examples of what is known and expected by all leaders.

However, the real insights come from what I will refer to as the "bonus" category. These are the differentiating elements that create great leadership and need to be copied by every leader in the UAE to keep pace in this rapidly growing country.

There is a relentless pursuit of improvement, making things better. This holds true for ideas birthed domestically and for the imported ones. Stories are told of leaders here pushing global firms to do what has never been before.

A few years back, I heard Microsoft confess that the Government of Dubai and Emirates Airline were pushing them to create solutions that were significant improvements on what others were doing.

This focus on continuous improvement is vastly different from what most leaders do. The leadership learning is not to be satisfied with what is, but rather to pursue continual improvement.

From the origin of the Emirates there has been a focus on building capability. Sheikh Zayed taught that the human is the base of any civilisation and that we should use resources to spur development. Personally, the emphasis on building capability and the talk of it "around town" is among the highest I've experienced.

The final insight separating great from expected leadership is visible across the Emirates as you see people from around the world working together.

It is normal for leaders to build collaboration among the people. This is one issue in a homogenous team, but here it is happening with more nationalities in the workforce than the United Nations has member countries.

As leaders, our focus needs to be on others. When they grow (building capability) and succeed (building collaboration), business can continue to improve and reach their vision.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center