Essential character traits of an inspirational leader


What makes Gulf Cement so successful? Or Etisalat the leading telecommunications company in the Middle East? Well there are several layers to that question, but the true driving force in every successful company is an inspirational leader. They are the ones who inspire you to give your utmost to the job at hand, to work that little bit harder and feel your efforts are appreciated and contribute to the company as a whole. But what makes a leader truly inspirational? And how can you become one? Here are six common traits to work on.

Patience – every day some new crisis occurs, events that send other people in the business into a tailspin: egos are dented, tempers frayed. But not the leader. The leader of the company has to have the ability to sit back and take a good look at the crisis and make decisions that are measured and able to bring about a good conclusion. This is where the practice of patience is necessary on a daily basis. If the leader becomes unravelled by bad news, the already unstable elements in the firm (and wider if the company is listed on a stock exchange) feed off that to make a bad situation even worse.

Passion – a good leader has a real passion for what they do, without passion they cannot fulfill their role as captain, steering the company towards success month after month, year after year. This passion rubs off on the people around them, inspiring them to aim higher and achieve more in their own roles.

Bravery – turning a company around, making bold decisions, being a risk taker without putting the company in danger – these are the brave actions an inspirational leader must do all the time. It’s not only the board they have to argue with to make lasting changes in a company, it’s also the employees who need to be persuaded that change won’t endanger their jobs, or create a culture they can no longer work under.

Kindness – The most successful leaders in business aren’t those who rely on bullying tactics to drive through their ambitions for the company. They are people who understand how to bring out the best in people to get the job done. However, they are not a soft touch .

Clear-headed – If someone, or something, in the company isn’t working to make the business a success, it has to be dealt with. Different leaders do this in different ways. An employee who isn’t doing well in one position may be more suited to another job in the company. Where a technical aspect, such as software, that isn’t performing as it should, a good leader evaluates the costs involved in changing it with the current supplier, or finding another supplier.

Decisive – Great leaders think carefully about decisions before implementing them. That way, there are no grey areas, no wishy-washy going back on decisions because they haven’t been thought through properly.


Stress can impact your productivity profoundly. Whether you’re building up to an important business event at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Hotel, or struggling with a down-turn in sales, how you manage stress can have a huge impact on both you and your team’s overall performance.

For many high achievers stress is part of life and they have coping strategies to ensure it doesn’t become debilitating.

Take up a hobby

cha cha cha

If cha cha cha doesn't take your mind off work, there's always the rhumba!

Too many managers take their work home with them. Although the crunch time for a big project may warrant longer hours in the office, the culture of constantly working late hours can be counterproductive and increase stress levels enormously.

By taking up a hobby, that has nothing to do with work, your mind is given a break from the day-to-day worries. It also frees your mind up to see the world from a different perspective. A new hobby requires you to think differently and your new view of the world will only benefit other aspects of your life – including work.

Be patient

Many people are impatient, they want everything and they want it now. A successful business is not built in six months, it takes time. A presentation cannot be mastered in a single night. By building patience into your mentality, your stress levels will decrease because you become planning focussed instead of being purely reactive.

Understand failure

Being afraid to fail often stops people from making decisions, and not making a decision can build up the stress levels. With the mindset that failure is possible, and creating a plan around that possibility, you can make scary decisions for yourself, and your team.


It’s the most difficult thing in the world to do for some people, but it can unlock time you really need to spend on a particular project. For example, if you are preparing for the big business conference of the year, make sure everyone is aware there are some tasks they’ll have to take on to assist you in making the event successful. And success for you and your team will lead to success for the whole company.

Share the problem

When you see sales dropping it can be a major stress inducer, especially if you try to solve the problem on your own. If you can bring together your team and analyse the drop together, you are more likely to find a solution. By drawing on their own experiences, each member can bring a new perspective to the situation. It may not be a problem with the sales team failing to sell because they aren’t trying hard enough, it could be a supply or product issue.

Know the signs of bad stress

Not all stress is a bad thing. You need a certain amount to simply turn up to work every day. But when it does get in the way, you have to be aware of the signs. Here’s four signs your stress levels are getting out of control:

  • You have trouble getting to sleep
  • You’re irritable with your work colleagues
  • You put off making even the smallest decisions
  • You have more headaches and begin to feel ill more frequently
cat in tree

All alone at the top?

The adage ‘it’s lonely at the top’ is outmoded in today’s increasingly socially connected environment. To become a more successful leader, it’s now more important to understand the people you work with than to issue orders from the comfort of your spacious office looking out over the bustle of Dubai’s business districts.

Here are five key ways to becoming a better manager of people in your company.

Know what is needed from you

Not everyone has the same hopes and dreams in life. By listening to your team and understanding how they think and feel, a good leader can begin to see how better to motivate individuals to achieve a more high achieving unit.

Act how you want your team to act

For a team to be ethical in their dealings with each other and with customers, leaders have to show the way. If they see you acting against the company code of practice, your team will feel they have the right to do so as well. This creates a situation where, very quickly, the team disintegrates into cells pulling in different directions. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Think creatively

A company stagnates if it ignores new ideas and modes of working. Not only are successful leaders more creative thinkers, they include their team in developing innovate ways of doing business. This type of creativity isn’t the sole preserve of the marketing and R&D and should be encouraged throughout the company, from the accounts department to the operations management team.

Put succession on the agenda

Succession planning is important for two reasons:

  1. At some point a senior figure in your company will retire, suffer ill health, or leave the company to work elsewhere.
  2. Developing talent within the company is more cost effective than head-hunting outside the company.

If you are actively ensuring talented individuals in your company are groomed for succession, you will develop a long-term strategy to encourage employees to be more involved in the company’s success.

Be inclusive and give praise

‘What are your thoughts on this?’ should be a regular phrase in your dealings with your team. Great leaders always know when to throw open their ideas to others for comment. You may have overlooked something important, or someone may come up with an idea from their personal hobby that adds huge value to a new product line.

And always acknowledge the input of others. When your team knows their work or ideas are appreciated, they are more likely to speak up with other ideas. Even if the idea doesn’t go anywhere, thank people for chipping in all the same.

From simply knowing your operations officer eats at Ravi’s to understanding how a family get together at the weekend is going to affect your secretary’s performance the following week, getting a firm grip on the dynamics of your team is key to helping your team achieve the overall goals of the company.

It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day aspects of business and ignore whether people are actually enjoying their work. But when you remember that a happy employee will give their all for your company, it makes sense to take time out to build positive employee morale. Here are ten tried and trusted ways to achieve a happier workplace.

Get a coach in

Career coaching, team coaching, leadership coaching: these are all great ways to boost morale and improve your business at the same time. A business coach is often seen as someone who helps the big boss, but leadership teams can reap huge benefits from coaching as well.

A coach can help you find solutions to long standing problems and give your employees the chance to look at their roles from different angles. It also gives them space to discuss issues they may have felt unable to talk about before. It can be a difficult process, but the results can transform your business as well as individual employees.

Team Building Days

A natural extension of coaching is the team-building day out. This is a staple of building employee morale because it the effects can be long lasting. Taking people out of their normal working routine and putting them in unusual and fun situations can help them bond more closely with their work mates. It also shakes them out of old patterns of thinking.

However, planning is the key. Don’t just arrange a wadi bashing day out without first considering what problems your team is facing in the office. Create a team building day that will reflect the challenges at work. You’ll all reap the benefits of more focused planning at the outset.

Training matters


Think out of the box about what will make your employees happy...or just ask them !

Nobody likes to feel that they’re falling behind in their skills, so make sure you employees have the opportunity to keep their qualifications and soft skills up to date. Some of the bigger international companies take this a step further and encourage their staff to take language courses, and more esoteric courses like quilting and wood carving.

Training helps people grow as individuals and the benefits to your business is a happier person who feels the company is really interested in them as a person, not just a cog in the wheels of business.

Share your business goals

Knowing where the company is going, and what part they play in that helps employees have a greater understanding of their role in the company. It gives them a real sense of ownership that their work matters and contributes to the overall direction the company is heading in.

Identify an individual’s goals

Understanding what is driving your employees can help them be happier and make your business more successful. You may discover that someone wants to advance to a management role, or they are simply using the job to pay for a hobby they’re really passionate about. This knowledge can help you design better training, courses, and motivational targets to retain them as happy employees.

Don’t ignore problems

If you see there is a problem brewing between individuals or departments, don’t let it slide. As soon as you become aware of any discord or issues, get the people involved into a meeting and find a way to resolve it. If a problem isn’t dealt with quickly it will fester, impacting on morale and the overall performance of your business.

Employee benefits

For many the pension, free gym membership and healthcare plan are real motivators for staying with a particular company. It’s worth taking some time out to find out what other benefits your employees would like such as vouchers for local restaurants.

Improving employee morale means creating an Employee Morale code for your business. It will take time, but the rewards will make it worthwhile.

Good employee management is one of the cornerstones of a successful business. Which means, as a manager, you need to know how to bring out the best in the people around you. Here are five ways to get the most from your team.

Equip for success

Even the best employee cannot do their job properly without the right tools. Take a good look at what your team is working with. Does your sales team have the best CRM software your can afford to do their jobs properly? Effective customer management is essential to good performance.

Remember the two to one rule

You have two ears and one mouth, so employ the two to one rule and listen more than you talk to your team. Ask questions and then sit back and listen to the feedback. People feel empowered when they know they are being listened to. You’ll learn a lot about what your people are thinking, and they’ll know they can come to you and talk through issues at any time. Building an open policy for talking through issues means people will bring issues to you when they crop up – allowing everyone to deal with problems more quickly.

King Kong

There are more subtle ways to voice your concerns.....

Quit the blame game

Don’t get involved in the blame culture. Everyone makes mistakes and the smart way to deal with mistakes is to find a way to rectify them quickly, rather than engaging in protracted blame sessions. By ditching the aggressive approach to people management you’ll create a culture in your office where employees will own up to a mistake more quickly. Problems will be solved faster and you can all get on with the business of making your company more successful.

Give responsibility

The flip side of not playing the blame game is to give people responsibility. A person who knows their every move is being monitored cannot grow and accept responsibility for their job. Obviously you need to work closely with trainees, but when you employ someone to do a specific job, have confidence in your hire and give them the space to get on with your job. Weekly meetings should be enough to find out if everything is on track.

Don’t be afraid to fire

Effective people management can mean making hard decisions. As a manager it’s your responsibility to ensure your team works at its optimum levels at all times. One person can ruin the productivity of the whole team. Ideally you’ll have already tried to talk to them, discover why they don’t gel with the rest of the people in your office. But if you continue to have problems you have to consider the bottom line – a bad employee can impact the financial future of your company. In these cases you have little choice but to either find them another position in the company that suits their personality, or to fire them. Be cautious that you do it in the right way so that you don’t leave yourself open to a protracted employment tribunal.

There comes a time when you realise that people assume you might know what you are talking about. Respect? Or merely the fact that you are older so, the logic goes, you must have learnt something. History relates that so called more experienced (older) people can be every bit as stupid as others. They just have less excuse. In fact it became clear to me many years ago that my general ignorance was not, nor should be, a barrier to progressing along life’s random pathways as most other people were similarly uninformed.

However, I have along the way learnt a few “truths” that have helped me meander in a series of crab-like stages through what has worryingly become something resembling a career. I would pass these on to my children but they never listen to a word I say.

Rule 1 – Tour Guides: The Business Gurus.

If you work for a large company you will have to put up with much corporate guff; spurious mantras, tick box initiatives, and heartfelt claims to caring about customers. Of course, the more a corporate vision and such stuff is paraded you can be sure the less is understood about customer’s real feelings.

Tour guides however live the truth. When you stand up in front of a coach at 6.00am with 45 people on board expectantly looking at you to make their day wonderful, there is no escape. You can see it in their eyes, and your every action, smile, word is monitored and scrutinised. The mood is immediate and visceral. If anyone ever claims to you that they are an expert in the “Customer Experience” the likelihood is you should ignore them. Unless that is they have been a tour guide. Better still, be one yourself for a year and really understand the concept.

(Florida 1981, since you ask).

Rule 2 – Choose your boss wisely

You can’t choose your parents but you can choose your boss. Start with some home truths: Most are as ignorant as you. Most know this and are, therefore, even more scared. This leads to odd behaviour ranging widely from superficial over-confidence, alcoholism, to fearful inaction or aggressive control: Sometimes all of the above.

So when accepting a job or a new role, study carefully the person responsible for your career progression. Is there intelligence? Is there common understanding (empathy)? Does the person care (about the job, the customer, you)? Does the person appear to know what he/she is doing? If you get these attributes in a boss, then don’t let go without a fight.

There seems to be a myth that employers/bosses are in control of your life. Wrong, you are. If empathy and trust are missing, then it’s time to move on and attach yourself to a worthier recipient of your loyalty.

Remember, it’s only a job.

Rule 3 – Follow the DOPI Principle

Most strategies are guff. By which I mean worthless. In my experience companies / departments / functions chose a path for themselves built around their own hopes and dreams, and then assume that it will easily come to fruition just because they want it to happen. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The creation of a strategy should be ruthlessly objective based on information and an understanding of the market. If done this way the answers become more obvious and usually simple (even if not always popular). Once decided upon, then most organisations under-assume (if that’s a word) the sheer commitment, time, energy and bloody-mindedness needed to make it happen. So, instead of emotional decision making and laid back implementation, think Decisions Objective Passionate Implementation. Obvious really, but rare in my experience. (This can be applied to your career by the way)

Rule 4 – Experience is not important

When recruiting someone don’t over-rate experience when analysing the potential talent pool. In simple terms all that matters is intelligence and attitude. A bright person with the right approach to life will adapt and pick up what’s needed in short order. An experienced muppet will be an experienced muppet for a very long time.

To make these decisions requires instinct and empathy – not the usual ridiculous questions HR people tell you to ask. Find out about the real person.

(Of course you have to ask the pro forma questions otherwise you will be accused of not taking the process seriously – just as long as you know what really matters). Naturally, all the above requires you to be a good boss not a fatuous one (see Rule 2).

Rule 5 – Be a Confronting Person

To confront an issue in the workplace is almost always a good thing, whereas to be confrontational is almost always bad. (There may be a few occasions where being confrontational is justified, but like many Victorian rules of grammar the general truth holds good).

In too many company situations where decisive thought and deed are needed, there is a tendency to stay quiet, to avoid argument, to skirt around a problem or, even worse, to ignore it. Often, this culture will exist in authoritarian regimes, which are always bad things (whether it be a company, a sports team or a totalitarian state), and where fear is often endemic. This is not to be confused with autocratic behaviour which is of course something entirely different and often a good thing.

Be brave: confront issues, get them into the open, solve them, and make a difference.

Rule 6 – Be Lucky

The Holy Grail. All lives are subsumed, to a certain extent by a measure of luck or indeed bad luck.

A friend of mine used to crash his motorbike on frequent occasions, often returning home from the pub. (This was a long time ago and we were younger). One night, as we sat in the public bar of the Rose & Crown, Gt Horkesley he turned and said in all sincerity “David, I have crashed so often it must be bad luck”. Quite.

One thing is for sure: to be lucky you have to put yourself in situations where luck will strike. It isn’t of course an infallible rule but in my experience it holds a fair degree of truth. Get out there; make things happen, Carpe Diem. Good fortune rarely comes to those who merely sit and wait.

Rule 7 – Choose your Heroes Wisely

Identifying people you admire and analysing why can go a long way to understanding your own motives and aspirations. Because we are all different we will all choose differing and diverging role models. So, choose and analyse your own. By way of interest however here are a few of mine:

Don Quixote; because tilting at windmills is always to be admired and, indeed, emulated.

Admiral ‘Jacky’ Fisher; who challenged sacred cows and entrenched behaviour, and was revered by his men.

General Patten; who is generally attributed the maxim “have a plan, execute it violently, do it now”. Quite so.

In conclusion then, there is of course only one infallible rule to life: namely, “There are no rules to life”. Enjoy it.

David Kneeshaw – Chief Executive, Royal London 360° – 2008 – present. David Kneeshaw has served as the Chief Executive of Royal London’s international business since 2003. He joined the Royal London Group in 2002 as a Group Business Development Director from and then the chief executive of SLI from 2004 to 2008. A law graduate, he began his career in media, working for Times Newspapers and for London-based advertising agencies before joining Swiss Life in 1992 as director of personal finance. Mr. Kneeshaw has served as the chairman of the Isle of Man Insurance Association since 2012.

The success or failure of a department in a company most often lies in the hands of the manager. And wherever in the world you are, the processes to becoming an inspiring manager in Dubai, New York or Delhi don’t vary a great deal.

Pied Piper

Are you the kind of leader that people want to follow?

Some people seem to be innately inspirational; their personality boosts those around them to give that little bit extra on every job. Yet the basics of bringing out the best in those around you can be learned. But they also have to be put into practice.


To build an atmosphere of trust in your team, you need to show your team loyalty. This means not pulling someone up in front of everyone, but taking them to one side and talking to them honestly. And if you receive praise for a project, remember to pass on that praise to the team.

If your team has succeeded in brining in a big order, celebrate. And invite everyone in who helped in the success. By acknowledging individual efforts in a joint success, you’ll inspire everyone to achieve as much on the next task.

Put in the hours

If you turn up for meetings late, don’t get reports in on time and generally show a distinct lack of interest… so will your team. A really great manager leads by example, so if want to inspire your team, put the hours in. Make sure your reports are ready when you say they will be, turn up early for meetings so you can talk to the team before the real meeting begins.

A leader who gets 100% from their team is one who puts in 100% themselves.

Set goals

Don’t be satisfied by mediocrity, aim high and put in the hours yourself to see the project through.

By showing your own commitment to a project, your team will begin to feel (especially if you have built a loyal environment) that they too can put in a little extra to reach the goal.

When you have your goal, work out the steps necessary to reach it and tell everyone what their role is in achieving that goal. Giving people ownership of part of the process will boost their confidence.

Be there for your team

And once you’ve set those goals, given people responsibility over the process, don’t just leave them too it. Be there when they need help, make asking for advice a good thing in your office, not an admission of failure. Putting out a task and keeping your door open, answering emails and arranging regular meetings to see how people are doing not only gets the job done more effectively, it shows your team you are interested, involved and ready to help where needed.

Invest in people

Developing skills in your workforce shows a real commitment to their career. Some companies may feel that it is a waste of money putting staff on courses, especially if they can hire someone with those skills already. But, by using the staff you have and investing in them, you are building trust and loyalty. Sure, it’s possible the new person knows a lot about a certain area, but do they know the customers as well as the guy you fired? Probably not. By putting someone in house on a course, you are building a much stronger team.

Being an inspiring leader takes effort, but when you are running a business, that effort is essential in creating a successful company.

Managers who don’t delegate put their personal success in jeopardy as much as they do their company’s success. Delegation is an essential productivity skill that should be embraced by leaders at every level of your company in Dubai. Delegate outcomes and not just tasks for business growth.

But because not everyone is comfortable with the thought of delegating responsibility out to their team, here are five simple tips on how to take the plunge.

dilbert delegation

Delegation the Dilbert way.

Plan ahead

This is true for those who are experienced at delegating, as well as newbies to the business of getting others to work on a project with you. Before you get everyone around the table, think about what the end goal is, how best to get there, and who best to employ in different aspects of the project.

Pick the team for the project

Avoid the temptation to work only with people you get on well with in the office. Look carefully at everyone’s abilities and see who is best placed to work on each project based on those abilities. You’ll find some people are more adept at planning, others more creative. Discovering people’s core skills will make the team better and, by extension, should improve the quality of the project as a whole.

Have regular meetings

Unless there is an exceptionally tight deadline that demands daily meetings, a weekly catch up will keep you up to date with all aspects of the project. These meetings also provide a space for people to ask you questions, especially during the early stages of a project when your team will be looking to you to outline their roles.

Have a clear goal

From the outset, make sure everyone on the team knows what the goal is of the project. Even on a small one, or with someone who has a quite minor role, if everyone knows how their contribution helps to achieve the goal, they will have a greater sense of involvement in the process.

Reward good progress

As important as regular meetings, is the acknowledgement that someone has done well. Recognising and praising individuals during a project keeps morale up and ensures that people don’t start to feel that their hard work is not being seen. A simple ‘thank you, you’re doing a great job.’ can be a very effective way to motivate your team, especially when they’ve been putting in extra hours to keep the project on course.

When you are used to making all the decisions and auctioning everything, letting go and allowing others to have a hand in your projects isn’t necessarily easily. Yet as projects become larger, it becomes impossible for one person alone to control every aspect of it. And, it won’t help the project progress either.

For those unused to delegating, it is best to start small. Find a short project and apply the five simple steps outlined to begin your journey into delegating.

Once you’ve done it on a small project, you can start applying it to the larger ones. You’ll not only be helping your company grow in Dubai, but you’ll experience how delegating tasks can make you a better leader.

Often we can easily say who the best leader in our organisation is. But it’s harder to figure out what makes, for example, the head of your marketing team in Dubai a great leader. There are some common traits that will help you on your path to becoming a better leader in your company.

Best example

People in your organisation will look up to you simple based on the fact that you are their manager/boss/team leader. They will look to you, emulate you and make decisions based on their perceptions of you. Remember at all times that your behaviours will impact on how your employees behave. If you are regularly late to meetings, people see that as a signal that the meetings you have with them are not important. Consequently, the care and attention they give to a project will diminish.

Have passion

Having a true love of your business is inspiring for your employees. Really great leaders can instil their own passion into a particular project, or for the company as a whole. Passion is contagious; others feel it and will live it through their daily actions at work. It is an emotion that can change the course of a business from being mediocre to being brilliant.

And be compassionate

There is, in some business cultures, a feeling that being harsh, singling out certain people for public criticism will motivate other employees to do better. This is not the case. Everyone makes mistakes, and as a leader it is your job to show how we learn from mistakes. It is also your job to find someone a role they are more suited to, if they make mistakes too often.


If you make a decision, those around you are going to use that as the starting point for their jobs. To change your mind constantly creates the uneasy feeling that you really don’t know what you are doing. Ensure your decision is the right one before giving it to your team. The less often a decision is changed, the more confidence your team will have in you.

360 Reviews

mirror reflection

Can you take a honest look at your leadership ?

Don’t be afraid of giving yourself a 360 review. It’s a really good way of learning how your boss, your peers and those who work under you perceive you. If what you learn doesn’t tally with how you perceive yourself, resist the urge to go on the defensive. Are there qualities you can change to become a better leader?

Build a great team

Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who you know are good at their jobs. A team full of great minds will build great products, services, and campaigns.

Give praise

Create a culture of reward for a job well done. The people who work with you should be proud of being part of your team, and praise and rewards helps people feel that pride in their work.


Many people aspire to becoming a manager, or project leader, and by considering your actions and behaviours, you not only help your marketing team become more effective, but the knock-on effect will be a more successful business in Dubai.





How do you become a great leader? Well, first of all becoming a leader doesn’t suit everyone. Some people are great innovators, brilliant managers or excellent at hiring the right people. But, if you feel that leadership is the role you want, here are five traits to work on. They work for business leaders all over the world, whether they are selling a cup cake franchise in Boston, or rivets in Dubai, leadership characteristics are universal.

yoga in dubai

Yoga might not be your thing but you have to admire their 5.30 am start in Zabeel Park

Have a Clear Focus

Every morning a leader wakes up knowing the prime business focus of the day. Without a clear objective from the top, members of the team would have difficulty keeping on track with a project.

One tried and trusted method for keeping yourself focused is to get up a bit earlier than you normally do and thinking about where you need to be by the end of the day.

Adapt and Change

It sounds counter-intuitive, but without the ability to use the changes in the world around you, a business will have difficulty keeping the momentum going. The world changes rapidly. This is nothing new, but there are game changing moments in every industry. Social media is a prime example of this. Those who thought it was just fad have missed out on the early years learning how it might work for their company.

This doesn’t mean you chop and change your main ideas constantly; nothing would get out into the world if you did, but you have to use the changes around you to your advantage.

Make Difficult Decisions

If there’s one point where leader really shines, it’s making the difficult decisions that nobody else can, or should be making. This can be whether to ditch a project that has been in development for over six months, or understanding whether a particular sales model is working for your company.

A leader also understands that to make their team outstanding, it has to have the right people. Knowing when to let someone go is one thing, putting it into practice is where a true leader stands out. Done in the right way it will make the team stronger, done badly and the whole team might feel insecure and wonder who is next.

Have Courage

There are different types of courage in business life. It’s one thing to show off your driving skills during a wadi bashing team building exercise, but quite another thing to confront difficult issues within your company or team.

If you recognise there is a problem nobody else is facing up to, this is where the real courage comes into play…figuring out how to address the problem to get the outcome you know your company needs.

Keep Learning

An inspiring story will help you understand how other leaders became who they are, and as a consequence, help you become a better leader. Take a good look around the Kindle store, chat to your local bookshop owner, talk to your business colleagues, family and friends. Every one of them will have their own favourite book. And don’t confine yourself to the business shelves, read biographies on your favourite sporting hero or fashion designer, look beyond the business rack and delve into arts, film, even the hobby aisle. Go on courses run by inspirational people who will open your mind to new possibilities.

Without learning from the success and failures of people we know personally, or admire from a distance, we cannot develop the full range of abilities needed to become a really good leader. To develop learning cultures within your own organisation that will sustain business in the future , a leader needs to model and adopt lifelong learning practices themselves.

The leadership courses run by the Institute of Sales and Marketing in Dubai are in high demand because they help companies develop effective leadership principles. Please go to for more details on the next course available.

Companies in the UAE struggle to quickly train new entrants, get them productive and may give up on them before the end of the ubiquitous probationary period. One skill high on the most desirable attribute list both for new and current employees is ‘creativity’. It is especially difficult to source and inspire creativity to fuel innovation- considered fundamental to business success in today’s competitive marketplace. However, what exactly are the leadership of companies doing to create a culture of learning, an essential stimulus for this rare ingredient of business sustainability?

There is a world of difference between critical thinking and creative thinking. Critical thinking is analytical, focused, convergent, reasoning and objective, involving left brain thought .Creative thinking on the other hand is generative, divergent, novel, subjective and decidedly more right brain. Creative people think “yes and….” rather than “yes but”.

There are various ways to encourage evolution, synthesis, revolution, reapplication of ideas and creative insight but first the barriers to creativity blockers need to be removed. Common barriers include:-

  • Problem denial. This wastes an opportunity to aggressively tackle them and rise to the challenge
  • Too difficult. Well the sceptical might have said that about space flight and snow domes in Dubai. Difficult takes longer, that’s all
  • I am not qualified! Neither were half of history’s great inventors, join the club! In sometimes takes someone from the outside looking in to solve a problem.
  • I am not creative! Oh yes you are, think back to all the creative uses you had for Lego!
  • I have to conform and appear rational. It makes me uncomfortable to let go, people will think my ideas ridiculous. You may recall Andrew Goodman laughed off Dragon’s Den for inventing a “StableTable” Device. Making millions now though.
  • Making judgements based on assumptions
  • Overanalysing.. bound to kill the creative juices
Stable Table

"The biggest advice I’d give anyone is to think of it like being at school when you’re given an item and asked to think about how many different ways you can use it. " Andrew Gordon

Leaders are vital to the creation of a corporate culture which values new ideas and should actively encourage sharing and discussion of ideas. It is not just your own work colleagues who can see new approaches to problems or open up new markets, there is a role for customers using your product. In the current social media climate, they are open to commenting and suggest really interesting changes or placements. Creativity can be instantly stifled in bureaucratic workplaces where top down leaders quash ideas too quickly as unworkable. They should, if they expect innovation and market leadership try to find the good in each idea, let them incubate, build on them, work with them and then implement them. Don’t forget though that Vijay Govindarajan said , “innovation is creativity multiplied by execution”, so all these ideas now need to become workable business models.

Leadership? What is it? To help me with this question I am summarising a great report this week…so you don’t have to.

Bill Gates

Transformational leaders can cause change in individuals and social systems

Identifying the qualities that make a “great leader” and using these to appoint or promote is still a widely used approach despite the inconsistency of traits appearing across the board. Some of the traits identified consistently however include charisma, intelligence, emotional control and application to task as well as social skills and group task supportiveness. Traits like honesty and integrity are difficult to measure and later theories centred on behavioural aspects focusing on relationships and performance. McGregor’s Theory Y managers had a participative approach to leadership believing that commitment to objectives would empower a workforce to seek responsibility and be ultimately self-directing whilst the Theory X managers used an autocratic style directing and controlling passive workers who lacked self- control. The contingency model of leadership holds that there is no best way to lead and different situations will call for different styles e.g. in a routine environment the leadership may be much more directive whilst in a dynamic environment a more flexible approach is called for. The leader’s situational control is influenced by leader-member relations, task structure and the perceived amount of power the leader feels they have to direct, reward or punish. It suggests that leadership style should be directed to the area where it is most suited in a company. A relationship orientated leader would fare well for example in customer service and a task orientated leader in sales management.

Blanchard suggested that leadership styles are dependent on the developmental level of the subordinate and can be directive, coaching, supporting or delegating.Tannebaum and Schmidt’s leadership continuum recognises that leadership behaviour can vary from autocratic through persuasive and consultative to democratic. Formal organisations such an education establishments seldom are democratic and subordinates experience low participation in decision making. Again the use of the telling or autocratic style would be contingent on situation…it would be ideal in an emergency. Adair‘s action centred leadership holds that a leader has to manage three aspects: task, individual and teams. Servant leadership (e.g. religious institutions) emphasises the need to serve rather than lead, it encourages trust, collaboration, listening to followers priorities and using power in an ethical way. Leaders also have a role in following others by asking questions instead of giving answers, contributing to the work of others, helping people find collaborators so they are not the central go to person and making sure goals are common. The leaders that can chose the path of following realise that only the individual or team has the capacity to do the task and that they may not hold all the judgement or know how.

A more holistic leadership style is team leadership which builds on diversity, talent and develops colleagues… a more participative and flexible approach that lends itself to innovation and problem solving- key in today’s changing global economy. The solo leader has become an outmoded concept and leaders that interfere, dictate, seeks to mould and need admirers may not survive long or sustain a business model. Transformational leadership has the purpose of inspiring others to strive, builds momentum, seeks perspective from others and considers that all individuals have differing needs. It asks people to put aside their own needs for group/organisational/social benefit and is concerned with individual development and building respect for values.

If you want to read more, the paper I have summarised can be accessed from the reference hyperlink. Leadership is a much studied, hot subject and one that deserves meaningful thought in organisations. What’s your leadership style?


Bolden, R., Gosling, J., Maturano, A., & Dennison. (2003). A review of leadership theory and competency frameworks. Retrieved November 4th, 2011, from

Hannibal's elephants

Elephants on a raft! Hannibal is lauded as one of history's greatest military strategists

History may well show that the dotcom boom at the turn of the millennium marked a sea change in the progress of our global free enterprise economies. In the post industrial 20th century we witnessed a steady albeit linear progression in economic development. This 21st century has already demonstrated that the life cycle of products and services has shortened considerably, that disruptive technologies are displacing well entrenched business models and that the shift in economic power from west to east has moved at a pace that neither hemisphere has yet begun effectively to manage.

In brief, businesses are changing on a logarithmic scale almost beyond the wit of management to control and in these circumstances one may well ask – is there a role for strategic planning or is it now beyond our capabilities to plan for the future in such a fast changing world?

The answer has to be an emphatic one in favour of planning. It is when the future is most uncertain that a strategic plan can become the bedrock of an enterprise. Properly constructed with broad buy in from the organisation the strategic plan will offer a response to rapid changes in products and markets by providing management with a clear path to a set of agreed objectives. So whilst the enterprise may well be knocked off course by unforeseen developments management will have a greater chance of recovering when corporate goals remain clear and alternative strategies, embedded in the plan, are brought into play.

What then is the essence of a good strategic plan? There are three key components. First the organisation must have a Vision or Corporate Goal. This is the much vaunted “flag in the sand” to which all members of the enterprise can aspire. It must be clearly stated, ambitious yet realistic, with a clear timescale and it must be motivational so that all can feel a part of the grand design and pull in the same direction.

Second there must be a series of sub-objectives embracing the entire organisation including sales and marketing, finance, production and human resources. In this way planners can ensure that a balanced view is taken of the enterprise and not all effort placed solely on, for example, sales objectives and strategies at the expense of human resource considerations. Moreover by including all parts of the organisation there will be greater grass roots buy-in.

Third each objective must have a strategy for achievement which must then be translated into a series of tactical steps to be measured, monitored and controlled. It is this last step – all about execution – which is the most important. Planners have been vilified for producing impressive weighty tomes which then sit in desk drawers gathering dust until the next planning cycle. A good plan is alive. Objectives must be kept clear and their means of achievement regularly monitored by an accountable executive responsible for performance.

In summary and stripped to the essentials a good strategic plan answers the 3 most important questions any management team can ask: What – How – When. What do you want to achieve – How will you do it – When (and how) will you execute.

We live in a world where self improvement has become an imperative. The free enterprise capitalist system was declared the winner well before the end of the 20th century. Experiments in dirigiste state planned/communist societies had finally fallen by the wayside and market economies driven by intelligent self interest stride the globe.

Self interest…………self improvement. We are besieged by any number of self help tracts designed to give us an edge as we seek to improve our personal lives or our performance in the workplace. Midst these myriad approaches the one technique which appears to yield real, measurable results is personal coaching.

Personal coaching has become big business occupying two main streams – business coaching and life coaching. Each is intended to achieve different ends and the coaches to each will have come from different backgrounds and disciplines.

Life coaching is a very personal service designed to help an individual identify particular goals and to put in place a process which will ensure their achievement. Those goals will represent a spectrum of interests covering career, finances, personal health and well being, family matters, hobbies and so on which are of concern to us all as we aim to live a purposeful life. The coach will have experience in working to this holistic view of the individual’s needs and will have been trained to discipline a person’s thinking, prioritise goals and, most importantly, identify the steps required to meet them.

Business Coaching

Some Key Business Coaching Objectives

Business coaching is in most respects more robust and focused. The business coach is less concerned with an individual’s holistic needs (though work life balance is important to success in business) and more about the individual’s performance in the job. The coach will work to agree those key objectives which, when met, will ensure superior performance. He/she is likely to have had more extensive training in planning and executing tasks and will be the more effective if he/she has had a successful business career where that experience can be employed to assist in identifying issues, analysing options for action, and executing a plan.

Both forms of coaching have been in use for two decades in the West and only recently has the practice been adopted by individuals and corporates in the UAE and GCC. There is no evidence of any cultural objection to using coaches here. Rather the absence of sufficient qualified coaches to satisfy demand has kept a rein on its more extensive application.

The distinctions between life and business coaching diminish when it is understood that the overriding purpose of any form of coaching is self improvement. Whether we are concerned with creating an holistic approach to leading our lives or determined to be a superior performer in the workplace the evidence is now clear that personal coaching is the best means of getting results.

In the October Issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine Zenger, Folkman and Edinger (2011) describe a path for executives to take to enhance their leadership strengths using a cross-training approach. Leadership key competencies were paired with competency companions and when these companions were addressed the strength became more distinct to the employer pushing executives closer to the tipping point they needed for promotion into a leadership role. They argue that a single extraordinary strength can elevate you from the bottom third of leaders whilst two distinct strengths will put you in the top third of candidates.

In the cross-training approach strengths should be identified and selection of strength to focus on quantitatively made. This is based on your skills, the importance of that strength to the organisation and the passion you feel for it (do you actively and happily seek knowledge in this area outside your defined job role?). A complimentary behaviour to strengthen is then chosen to work on. Their example executive’s selected personal strength was ‘inspires and motivates others’, a recognised leadership quality. From a list of competency companions which included ‘develops others’ and ‘nurtures innovation’, he chooses to work on ‘communicates powerfully and broadly’. This skill was also important to his organisation and if he successfully masters it could emphasise his strength, namely ‘to inspire and motivate others’.

Queen Rania

21st Century leaders must be inspirational

Whilst leaders should leverage their strengths it also behoves them to recognise and eliminate their weaknesses. Leaders that do not recognise their weaknesses are often dictatorial and egotistic, the type of leader that rules by authority and rank instead of knowledge, integrity,influence or charisma. Are you scrutinising your leadership skills and working on them?

“Leadership is not magnetic personality — that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ — that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” –Peter F. Drucker


Zenger, J.H., Folkman, J.R., & Edinger, S.K. (2011, October). Making Yourself Indispensable. Harvard Business Review Magazine. Retrieved 4th October, 2011 from

If team members were asked to confidentially evaluate their managers then rarely would the feedback be all positive but possibly more along the lines of “motivates by threatening punitive action” or “hears what they want to hear but not what I say”. In Dubai, a recognised problem is that many managers tend to do very little ‘managing’ and provide minimal direction or support for staff. They are not able to inspire better performance but do demand it. Managing is not an easy job but giving up and taking the hardened attitude of “my way or the highway” will not ultimately create a sustainable, creative, effective, cohesive and empowered team.EffectiveManagement?

As a manager you cannot rely solely on your technical skills to lead a team you also need to have good management and interpersonal communication skills. It is crucial that your team develop trust and confidence in you and you will need to invest in and update your own skill set/ expertise on a continual basis. It is as much a developmental journey for you as it for each team member you are responsible for. A high performing team will be one in which the members are ultimately self managing, where ideas are freely exchanged, leadership roles shift and peer coaching is present. In order to improve your management style you may need to work on the following areas:-

  • Effective delegation.
  • Communicating the companies’ guidelines and vision. Do staff know what the big picture is?
  • Clear communication of goals and possible strategies to achieve them.
  • Listening to feedback.
  • Analysing facts not opinion, the “what” not the “who”.
  • Managing meetings effectively.
  • Encouraging and coaching team members towards achieving their goals based on what they are doing right not through criticism of what they are doing wrong.
  • Developing the skills set of team members and setting aside enough time to do this.
  • Positively rewarding and modeling best practices.
  • Encouraging others to share their ideas in a non threatening way.
  • Motivating members to excel improve their work quality and accept responsibility.
  • Evaluating the development of yourself and team members in a positive way. Your performance management should not be superficial, restricted to generic performance appraisals .It should ideally arise from a genuine realisation of the achievements, talents, skill gaps and career aspirations of staff which have been gleaned from regular coaching and one on one discussion.
  • Cultural Intelligence.

Of course none of this comes easily; it will take time from your already busy schedule, training, practice and determination to reinforce these management behaviours but when the effective team you are working towards emerges their performance and job satisfaction will validate your management model.