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Wed 15 Oct 2008 12:55 PM

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Where have all the leaders gone?

Leadership, and the value it brings, is a undervalued and often misunderstood commodity in the Middle East. Sean Robson wants people to start taking heed

In the midst of a global economic crisis and election fever running high, the issues of leadership have never been more relevant. Whether you are the leader of the world’s formerly most powerful country, CEO of an investment bank or even an IT manager with a staff of three, employees are still looking to you to take them forward and guide them to success.

As GITEX Technology Week looms a number of regional and international leaders will descend on Dubai knowing that the decisions they make during this week and the coming weeks could well determine their long term future. They would be well advised to take a moment longer before making their decisions.

I recently met with two CEOs from large multinational corporations, John W Thompson from Symantec and Francois Barrault at BT Global Services, to discuss their strategies and approach to doing business in the region. What was most interesting was their long term thinking and global perspective.

Barrault has transformed his organisation into a powerhouse with business services making up close to 50% of BT’s total revenue, but instead of trying to accelerate unrealistic growth he remains committed to a sustainable pattern of development and growth which involves improving an already popular product and establishing long term relationships.

Symantec CEO Thompson has been at the helm of the storage and security firm for almost a decade and in that time has proved instrumental in turning Symantec into a market player with massive assets and influence. Thompson discussed his company’s strategy of regular acquisition and the resultant backlash from some employees. While not immune to their fears, he made it clear the type of work ethic and attitude which he expects of his workers.

He believes that if an employee is doing a good job and their team is doing a good job then they have nothing to worry about but conversely if they are not doing a good job and their team is not doing what’s expected then quite frankly they have a problem.

While it may sound callous, it is essentially a very simple equation that almost all of us apply in our daily interactions, be it buying a cup of coffee or making an important business decision.

Both men stated their intention to works towards long term sustainable growth and a consistent revenue stream as opposed to the get rich quick attitude that still seems prevalent throughout the region.

Let’s be clear, being a leader is not an easy thing. Contrary to what Steven Covey and his army of imitators would have you believe, it is not simply a case of reading a book or attending a seminar. I am not saying that these tools are of no importance but taken on their own their value becomes negligible.

You see it’s simply not good enough to put a plan on the table and tell people to get on with it. A true leader sketches the vision allowing his employees to becoming partners in the process. He or she then guides (rather than dominates) the process, all the time keeping a hand on the rudder but allowing the staff to make mistakes, learn from them and keep moving forward.

It is no secret that there is a quantifiable shortage of skilled labour in the Middle East. Nowhere is this more visible than in the IT industry where employees are constantly hopping from one job to the other. A good leader together with the positive and productive working environment they often provide can prove the difference between losing an employee and keeping one.

A good leader provides an air of confidence that is transferred not just to the employees but to partners, customers and the market as a whole. They are able to see the bigger picture and plan accordingly, thereby placing the enterprise in a strong position to prosper in an uncertain future.

NME’s sister magazine ACN will be presenting its Arab Technology Awards in the coming week and its no secret that the CIO of the year is the prize the big boys are all gunning for. I am sure that if one were to look through the nominees for the award this common theme of leadership and guidance will be found.

You can bet your last dirham that whoever takes home the award will have done just this, and while his employees may not always like him they do respect him.

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