Tips to become a more visionary and democratic leader: Motivating young professionals in the Middle East


One of the biggest issues facing senior executives today is the need to build a global leadership pipeline and there are critical differences in leadership characteristics around the world that can impact on this ambition. Cross cultural understanding is important for any international business person or organisation when doing business abroad, and cultural differences in business practice mean that managers can face challenges when doing business in the Middle East.

Added on 06 March 2015 by Carina Paine Schofield

Gen Y in the Middle East

With a young demographic, there is a high number of ambitious young professionals working in the Middle East, and new Ashridge research suggests that leaders need to be better prepared to create a work environment that enables young Gulf nationals to thrive. More young employees are taking on senior roles and, with the right development and support, they are a significant asset and a major source of competitive advantage to the region.

At the same time, Middle Eastern workplaces are often multi-cultural, multi-generational environments where there are still many older, experienced managers. Organisations are challenged both to develop their Generation Y employees (those aged 30 years and under) and simultaneously address issues around an ageing workforce, such as advancing the technological skills of more experienced employees and avoiding a potential knowledge gap when current managers move on.

New research survey

Our research report A New Generation: The Success of Generation Y in GCC Countries, based on a survey of 300 local Gen Y employees across the six GCC countries, shows that the Gen Y workforce is exceptionally motivated, keen to hone their knowledge and enhance their qualifications to achieve success.  It also stresses the need to increase Gen Y’s levels of experience and develop their soft skills to effectively work with and lead others.

The study reveals a notable mismatch between how Gen Y is currently managed and the way that they want to be managed. Gen Y prefers managers who are ‘visionary’ and ‘democratic’, rather than ‘commanding’. The traditional command and control approach to management where people are told what to do and how to do it, is rapidly becoming less effective and outdated.

Gen Y shows a strong preference for visionary leaders who move their people towards a shared dream, and democratic leaders who value people’s input and achieve commitment through participation.  They value managers who look to the future, embrace new ideas, seek new ways of working and set strategic objectives, whilst delegating the achievement of those objectives to their Gen Y employees. Young Gulf nationals also look to their managers to develop their motivational, leadership and team/management skills.

Advice on motivating young professionals

According to Ashridge management experts Fiona Dent and Mike Brent in their latest book The Leader's Guide to Managing People: How to Use Soft Skills to Get Hard Results, leading people is essentially a social skill. The key to effective people leadership is to move the focus away from the traditional logical, impersonal and unemotional approaches and embrace the basic human dimensions of relationships and co-operation.

Tips for developing a more democratic leadership style:

  • Don’t always be the first to speak or take the lead. Let others take the lead and use your confidence to support them
  • Agree ways of working together. Involve the team in setting up a clear list of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour
  • Focus on establishing good working relationships built on effective communication and the ability to listen
  • Get to know your team, not just their job, but also who they are and what motivates them
  • Emphasise team work, seek advice from your reports and make decisions collectively.

Tips to develop a more visionary style:

  • First, ensure that you have a vision of the future for your team or organisation that you can share with them and articulate it clearly
  • Understand your team and what really motivates them. Central to this style is creating purpose and making work meaningful
  • It’s not enough just to develop a clear vision, there is a need to develop a strategic plan to realise the end goals
  • Be clear about your own personal ambitions, principles, values and goals in life
  • Encourage creativity in the team to drive innovation and change by eliciting views and acting on them
  • Offer training opportunities to ensure employees have the resources, skills and knowledge to help them achieve the future vision.
  • Rather than using a domineering style, create empathy and rapport with team members to persuade them to realise the objectives and gain loyalty.

Organisations can benefit from the demographic diversity in the Middle East by better understanding different perspectives, developing the ability of generations to share talents and facilitating collaboration. By capitalising on the unique contributions and strengths of each generation, a better overall workforce can be created. All generations need to review their differences and find new ways of working for the future – both Gen Y and their managers need to adapt to the changing world of work.

You may be interested in:

Ashridge Open programme Leadership and Management Programme: Middle East