Leadership and the new normal by John Hill

In the next year, the US will have a new and perhaps radically different president, the UK may have voted to leave the EU, migration will continue to be a massive issue, the ongoing stagnation of the oil price will influence economies and the climate change imperative will drive business strategy for the next 20 years and beyond. Add to that massive leaps forward in technology which will continue to impact on all of us – 3D printing, drone technology, home networking, driverless cars and humanoid robots to name but a few – See here. It’s like the stuff of Minority Report!

The world and, consequently, the world of business is going through change at warp speed, influenced by the rapid change of economic, political, social, technological, environmental and other factors.

Thomas Freidman, in his book, The Earth is Flat, says “…there is something different about the flattening of the world that is going to be qualitatively different from other such profound changes: the speed and breadth with which it is taking hold….This flattening process is happening at warp speed and directly or indirectly touching a lot more people on the planet at once. The faster and broader this transition to a new era, the more likely is the potential of disruption.”

Businesses are having to adapt more quickly than they ever have before and in order to do so they need massive reserves of what we might call psychological capital – innovation, resourcefulness, imagination, resilience, adaptability, self-management and vision.

This calls for a new type of leadership – a leadership that is less about proven methods, implementation and compliance and more about vision, adaptability and courage. The world the we are experiencing, the ‘new normal’ as Friedman calls it, has been described as a VUCA world. Coined in the late 1990’s, the military-derived acronym stands for the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—terms that reflect an increasingly unstable and rapidly changing business world. This new VUCA environment will require HR and talent management professionals to change the focus and methods of leadership development.

A VUCA leader is one who embodies what is called the “VUCA Prime,” which flips the acronym to focus on vision, understanding, clarity, and agility – all key characteristics for navigating teams and organisations through this new landscape. The foundation stone for building these characteristics is the radical and intentional development of self-awareness and a new enthusiasm and passion for learning new skills, new approaches and new mind-sets. For those interested have a look at this article by Erika Andersen on ‘Learning how to learn’ written for Harvard Business Review March 2016 issue http://tinyurl.com/zgcpcxq

The ability to acquire new leadership skills and knowledge quickly and continually is crucial to success in a world of rapid change.

Leadership in Dubai and the UAE has never been in question. How is it that such a small country has leapt onto the world’s centre stage in such a short time? Well, there are lots of great books out there where you can read up on Dubai’s history and the Leadership skills that have catapulted it from a small trading port to a megacity but I will touch on one quality, namely creativity.

In 1999, when addressing a government award ceremony Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum gave a very interesting speech in which he said, “a leader does not necessarily need to be the most intelligent member of his group, although many of us think that this should be the case, rather he is the one with the clearest and most far-reaching vision.”

his excellency sheikh mohammed bin rashid al maktoum

His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum always has his eye on the future,

Leaders like Sheikh Mohammed do not stay still , they do not look at what their competitors are doing and try to mimic them rather they have the ability to create opportunities and go beyond the current mind-set.

Visionaries are willing to try new things and challenge the norm and have conviction and ability to execute their vision. They do things differently. Different is why they exist. The why they do it is important , it drives them to explore ideas and pursue their goals .

Steve Jobs was regarded as a visionary leader and Apple’s success can be attributed to his creativity in imagining new markets for emerging technology (coupled with of course Steve Wozniak’s technical programming skills). So why do they do it?

George Mallory, the great climber in answer to why he attempted to climb Everest, stated, “because it is there.”

Jobs said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai’s leader is quoted as saying, “If we have achieved everything, should we stay hand folded, just to eat and drink?”

They all strive to look beyond the present into what could be, they don’t stand still. Innovation is born from chaos not status quo, so next time you see a leader of industry resting on his laurels that is when the competition will gain advantage. Likewise business will cede competitive advantage when they lack vision and mimic the best practice of successful companies. The businesses that are leading the market are the ones creating not best practice but ‘next’ practice and embrace the philosophy of ‘what if’.

So who do you think is a visionary leader? If political leaders are not meeting the mark who is? Which business leaders epitomise creativity?

For information on ISM’s game changing Leadership course in Dubai please contact [email protected]

January is the time of year for resolutions. But aside from aiming for better health and learning a new language, isn’t it time to take this opportunity to review your leadership style and find out whether you are the leader you want to be?

Each business has it’s own drivers when it comes to leadership. A franchise operation with an outlet in the Dubai Mall requires a different method of leadership to that of a start-up business on Boulevard Plaza.

Here are 5 of the main leadership styles. For some businesses, one leadership style will stand out as being the most effective. However, for many it’s about identifying the right mix of styles to become the leader your business needs you to be.


These types of leaders do not share decision-making. It is their job to give instruction and make decisions for the group without feedback or consultation.

Where needed: Where you are working to tight deadlines, need to make quick decisions, or when you are working with people who lack initiative, or are new to the business.

People Orientated

Understanding individuals is key to the people orientated leader. They need to be able to give support and provide structure within which team members will work collaboratively towards a common goal. Ultimately, decisions are made by the leader, but those decisions may occasionally be informed by team feedback.

Where needed: This is a good style for start-ups, where team members are highly motivated, intelligent people, but require strong direction to work as a cohesive, creative collective.


This leadership style relies on one person having the charisma and enthusiasm to inspire people to be the best they can be. They aren’t always the decision makers, often delegating to departmental heads, but their challenge is to help people make the right decisions and create new ways of thinking for the business.

Where needed: In businesses that require the communication of a shared vision: to help keep everyone sufficiently motivated to pull in the same direction: a direction that is often different from the previous one the company was doing in.


laissez faire

Do you take a back seat when it comes to leadership?

This type of leadership is very much about letting people get on with what they are doing with very little interference. A leader of this type is one who knows their teams will work effectively on their own initiative. Monitoring is kept to a minimum and decisions are taken without a leader’s involvement.

Where needed: When you have highly experienced teams that you can trust implicitly to work in the business’ best interests at all times. Often used in international businesses where satellite offices need their own autonomy.


A democratic leader works with teams who are highly motived, creative thinkers. The leader will often listen to the team and take on board their ideas within the decision-making process.

Where needed: With teams that have a record of making good decisions for the company. However, this only works when the leader is able to make a sound judgement on which are the ideas to go forward with.

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.

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.

Whether you are simply beginning to put together your business plan, or have already started out, building a successful company requires a lot more than a great idea or product.

The world’s most successful businesses are built by design, not from a fluke. There is a strong methodology to building a successful company. By sticking to the method it is possible to create a business that will either last a lifetime for its founders, or become attractive enough to be sold for a good profit.

This week ISM Dubai spoke to Matthew Barnett, co-founder of Vimily and asked him for a success tip. Vimily is a creative video platform to help you capture stories of your family. Here’s what he had to say.

Celebrate your successes

“Growing a start-up business is a roller-coaster ride to say the least, raising funds, missing deadlines, getting your first users…losing your first users…

With this occurring on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget to celebrate your success’s, but this is something you should always do, no matter how small – and always include the team.

By recognising these, and rewarding the team, you will inspire positivity, build a strong culture, and motivate far more than cash incentives ever can. This celebration will lead to greater productivity and energy by all involved, which will ultimately enable you, as a team, to overcome any of the lows the start-up cycle may throw at you.”

Here are a few more tips to help you build a successful business in Dubai or elsewhere.

Strong culture

When building a company the ethos of your business is going to be the driving force behind every decision your employees make. Creating a strong culture is about making sure that every aspect of the business is covered. From customer service, to accountancy practices, you need to convey your over arching principles to everyone in your team.

Have a vision

Inspiring your team is one of the most important jobs of a CEO. If you have a passion for what you are doing, your staff will feel it too. Without passion, employees can feel they are just doing a job everyday, not creating a meaningful product or service. Yet, with a little inspiration from the top they will give their all to get the job done, and get it done well.

Hire with diligence

Surround yourself with the best people you can. Not just the best on the paper though. Create a rigorous hiring system to weed out those who look good on their resume, but lack that internal passion to help your company succeed.

Rectify mistakes quickly

As much as you need to hire carefully, if you do make a mistake hiring someone, fix it straight away. Letting someone work in your business that does not fit into the culture you have created, or doesn’t feel the passion for the product, is detrimental to your business.

Also, if you have feedback that a product isn’t right for the market, don’t be afraid to change it. No everyone has the vision of Steve Jobs who made products that nobody thought the market needed. Often using feedback effectively means changing tack. This is particularly applicable in the tech industry where the industry changes so quickly.

Watch the budget

You may have some nice big start up capital, but that doesn’t mean you can blow it on dining out at the best restaurants or buying designer furniture for your office. Keep a tight reign on the budget to ensure if you need it, the money is still there to help you out of a hole.

Have a great board of advisors

Great advice is important to a building a successful business. Identify who you know, or want to know, with the skills and experience to advise you on how to get from being a small business, to a big, successful one. Advisors are generally specialists who can help you reach new markets or consolidate your presence in your current market.

Listen to your customers

This might seem obvious, but some companies forget whom they are actually working for. Get out and meet with your main customers and listen to what they have to say. It can mean the difference between creating a product your customers will or won’t buy. No matter how hard you and your team have been working on something, if there is no appetite for it, what is the point?

By discussing what is needed in your marketplace you will not only build better products, you’ll be building better relationships with your customers. Those are the relationships that lead to more business for you and for them.

Whether you are a small start-up or a new company with huge investment, the challenges to carving your niche in the marketplace are same. Building a successful company is a hard slog, but laying excellent groundwork at the outset will increase the likelihood of success.

Matthew has also provided a link to Vimily’s free iPhone App for our readers.

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.





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 http://centres.exeter.ac.uk/cls/documents/mgmt_standards.pdf