UAE's challenge to turn youths into leaders

If all of the business and strategic leadership positions in the UAE are to be filled by Emiratis, then 64 per cent of Emiratis need to be leaders, according to research by Oxford Strategic Consulting. In order to achieve this national goal, the majority of UAE citizens need to be leaders – an intriguing talent development opportunity given that the global average of citizens needed for leadership roles is just 8 per cent.

The UAE therefore needs to make great strides in clearing the way for leadership development. This can be achieved only by a national focus on developing leadership as a key capability and by strengthening essential training skills by young Emiratis.

The most-effective ways to develop leaders are to provide internationally accredited experiences, to use technology to help leaders “do, not just learn” leadership and to provide Emiratis with carefully designed leadership experiences from a young age.


Early Leadership

Promoting tomorrow’s leaders is a vision as set out by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in the Mohammed Bin Rashid Programme for Leadership Development. This innovative leadership programme has been launched to develop future national leaders capable of promoting the sustainable development of the UAE. Consequently, there is a clear link between leadership development and national goals as defined by top government leaders.

Beyond government support, investing in youth leadership in the UAE has huge potential in terms of benefiting the exceptional young Emiratis who will go on to become the political, business and civil society leaders of the future. While expats have a key role to play in the continued economic development and growth of the country, the majority of leadership roles should be reserved for the country’s local population.

Moreover, Emiratis deserve engaging and challenging roles that provide clear pathways for career development. Leadership positions involve a greater degree of responsibility, and it appears Emiratis are eager to assume more responsibility in their professional lives.

Youth leadership not only benefits young people themselves, but it also has a positive impact on their communities and wider society. Here too, Oxford surveys of young Emiratis found that Emiratis are significantly motivated by contributing to society and helping the country.

Maximising Young Talent

There is a clear case for more research to explore how best to build this leadership talent among young Emiratis, especially as mapping youth leadership provides an analysis of the contribution that youth leadership can and is making to youth development across the Global South.

On that note, Oxford is exploring the creation of a leadership programme for Emirati teenagers, validated under the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). The key idea behind this leadership programme is that Emiratis should be taught leadership from a young age. Many young citizens are already driven by motivators that are closely aligned with leadership, such as development, challenge, contributing to the nation and helping society.

Future research initiatives must further identify the key motivations, capabilities and aspirations of young Emiratis in order to recommend the best approaches to development. While a minority within their society, all Emiratis will not approach leadership development from a similar angle. Rather, a tailored-approach must be taken to start growing young leaders. Young Emiratis, especially students, are hungry for leadership opportunities, but it is upon educators and government to ensure that these students have access to effective, world-class programmes.

By Najat Benchiba-Savenius, Head of Social and Economic Research at Oxford Strategic Consulting, and William Scott-Jackson, the company’s chairman.

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