Towards the Future of Leadership in UAE Organizations: Leveraging Diversity

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
The evolution of leadership in the UAE organization has been defined by the delicate interplay of increasing diversity, and the accompanying socio-demographic changes, with the complicating effect of the Emiratisation policy, which together has created a unique dynamic between Emirati and expatriate leaders both within their teams and among themselves. The present dissertation thus set out to investigate leadership in the UAE organization with the purpose of understanding the unique elements that constitute the “Emirati model of leadership” and the fundamental role of diversity by examining the experience of Emirati and expatriate leaders, their followers, and the defining characteristics of their dynamic. Focusing on the public sector and departing from traditional approaches to leadership whereby one or more elements of the dynamic are investigated in isolation this dissertation aimed to gain a holistic view guided by the loci-mechanisms approach proposed by Hernandez et al. (2011) and Chen and Velsor’s (1996) model of diversity competency and leadership effectiveness. Employing the Critical Incident Technique a total of 51 responses were collected divided between 8 Emirati leaders, 9 expatriate leaders, and two followers for each, where the focus on network pairs was hoped to provide a more accurate view of the leader-follower relationship. Respondents were asked to focus on their relationships with their leaders, relate incidents they believed to be related to diversity, and describe their “ideal” leader. Results indicated that no single trait, behaviour, or diversity element proved to be significant on its own. Rather the leadership dynamic was defined by the ability of leaders to engage in what the author termed the “diversity leveraging process” that involves identifying the combination of various cognitive, motivational, and emotional needs within the team based on the unique diversity mix of each team member, evaluating which of these are most influential for the group dynamic and the fulfilment of the team’s vision, and then tailoring the leadership approach by altering behaviour, expressing or suppressing particular traits, impressing one motivational factor or affect over the other in a way that enables the leader to mitigate the impact of the challenging elements of diversity and leverage the strengths of other elements as expressed in strong relationships at the dyad and group levels. This in turn translates into positive organizational outcomes particularly in terms of performance, commitment, inter-team dynamics, and leadership perceptions. Leaders capable of actively engaging in this process are called “diversity leaders” who are in effect creating context-specific knowledge that is facilitated by various mechanisms some of which are traditionally associated with transformational leadership, and by the “traditional” elements of motivational, cognitive, and behavioural competencies in addition to what respondents identified as “global experience”. Developing diversity leaders can only be achieved through creating a conducive environment in which leaders can engage in the diversity leveraging process including providing ample opportunity for the development of real-life diversity experience through mentorship programs for future professionals, developing a diversity-centric learning culture, and substituting hierarchical leadership systems in exchange for “leadership partnerships” among many other practices that were recommended in the present work.
leadership, United Arab Emirates (UAE), culture, diversity competence, critical incident technique, loci-mechanisms framework, diversity leader