By Mohammad El Yassir
From building consensus to striving for the impossible, Sheikh Zayed's life has many lessons for today's corporate leaders
A person who saw some- thing where there was nothing. A man who turned the desert green. A visionary who saw equality in an age when it was still not recognised. All these ideas embody the great leader and founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
My earliest memories of the great Sheikh Zayed predate my time in the UAE. He has been a source of inspiration not just to those in the UAE but to Arabs across the region and beyond.
Over the years, I have read and heard many stories about Sheikh Zayed, but there is one that has stayed with me for decades. The story goes that he once invited the world’s leading horticulturalists and landscaping experts to plant in the desert land.
After surveying the land and assessing the weather, they told Sheikh Zayed that the land was not arable and unsuitable for agriculture. His answer was: “Let us count on Allah and plant as per the knowledge Allah bestowed on us.”
Inspired by his belief and forthrightness, they went back and began assembling the best seeds and instruments to plant in the dry sand. The result was lush greenery in the land and the start of a green movement that continues to this day in the UAE. This is just one instance that captures the extraordinary foresight and determination of the man. He was a leader who never let prior knowledge limit him. Instead, he used it to plan for a new future that would inform the needs of generations to come.
It’s a lesson that has personally inspired me in my career as a management professional. Where most businesses choose to be conservative and take the tried and tested path, Sheikh Zayed’s thinking teaches us to reimagine the present and plan for a future where opportunities outstrip threats.
Another defining quality of Sheikh Zayed was his firm and unyielding belief in the values of consultation and consensus. He valued his compatriots and was always eager to learn about new developments, receive guidance and instill a sense of teamwork in those around him.
Eventually, all who saw him recognised his judgments as being distinguished by acute insights, wisdom and fairness. His life and rule is a case study in people management and harnessing human skills to achieve prosperity and progress for all.
Likening this approach to the corporate environment, I firmly believe that when companies empower people and invest in the enrichment of their skills, you create an organisation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – an organisation that will be transformative for society. This is a philosophy that we try to apply to our teams across the region in the Middle East and Africa.
As we celebrate the Year of Zayed, we see many achievers coming forward to share their stories of this legendary leader. There is a wealth of knowledge in these memories; knowledge that can be beneficial for us as individuals and also as organisations striving to do our best.
He was a true humanitarian who profoundly impacted the lives of millions of people though his contributions to education and healthcare, the emancipation of women, fostering of trade, environmental conservation and the unification of the emirates. He was a man whose efforts yield positive transformation many years after his departure.
Sheikh Zayed’s vision is testament to the fact that it’s never too early to plan for the future. It’s a vision that will inspire us forever in the region.