Lead from the top – and get the entire workforce involved

The development of an organisation’s leaders has been much discussed in recent years. Whether it is properly preparing a regional firm to smoothly pass the reins to the next generation, or fast-tracking company employees through the corporate ranks, quality leadership development (or the lack of it) underpins many stories from the business pages.

As the person in charge, and very often the public face of a company, it is no great surprise that a leader’s skills and style are so much in focus. Their decisions ultimately affect the direction and performance of their whole organisation; consequently everyone has a stake in them possessing the necessary talents to do it right.

However, being a leader is not about your place in the pecking order. Of course, the hierarchical structure of a business and leadership team is valuable, but real success for an organisation will only materialise when every employee makes the commitment to become a leader in their field. Middle-manager handling procurement needs to star in that department. The receptionist greeting visitors must exceed every expectation. The newly-recruited business development specialist should be aiming for searing performance from day one. In short, it is not nearly enough to have an exceptional leader sitting in the boardroom if they are supported by a team who are simply turning up each day. Across the organisation, everyone should be pushing to be the best at what they do, pushing up productivity and profitability through every department and function.

This is hardly a revolutionary statement in itself – after all, only a wilfully reckless organisation would actively demand less than great performance from its staff. What is important is that organisations understand that leadership development, as it is more broadly understood, should also involve the fostering of a leadership mentality and a sense of ownership throughout the whole workforce. Each individual needs to develop a mindset that allows them to perform at their best, to lead in their field.

This is essentially the “Lead Without a Title” philosophy developed by the global leadership guru Robin Sharma. In his books and training programmes, he talks about a “democratisation of leadership”: the idea that every person is a leader when they actively influence those around them and drive forward positive change. This can be as simple as someone taking the time to clearly explain company procedures to a new intern, or through recognising a team’s achievements with a box of doughnuts at the end of the week. Even these relatively modest actions can result in a compounding effect on positive performance, with those employees then raising their own efforts.

For the region, what is perhaps most appealing about this approach is its far-reaching applicability across countries and cultures. Traditional leadership development must be sensitive to local social practices and leadership approaches. Obviously this is an important and necessary consideration, but it also increases the complexity of large-scale training efforts in the UAE’s multicultural workplaces. By contrast, raising organisational performance by inspiring individuals to find their personal motivation to lead their field can be uniformly undertaken across the different nationalities and cultural backgrounds that make up a workforce. The increased performance comes from every individual’s drive to be better, rather than from a one-size-fits-all teaching of the way that an organisation believes it should strive to be at the top.

There is still a need for the leader who is in charge. It is entirely necessary for an organisation to continually assess and develop the capabilities of its senior leadership team. But by taking a more holistic view on the nature of leadership, organisations could dramatically benefit from an entire workforce of engaged and motivated leaders in their fields.

Ahmad Badr is chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group. His organisation recently delivered the UAE’s first Lead Without a Title “Leaders Growing Leaders” programme


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