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How Different Eras Produce Leaders with Different Mindsets

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Written by: John Grisby, Professor of Management Practice & Managing Partner at Grey Matter Global Ltd.

About the Writer: John Grisby is a Professor of Management Practice and teaches Leadership on an Executive MBA programme at Majan College in Muscat, Oman. He is Managing Partner at Grey Matter Global Ltd., a consultancy dedicated to leadership strategy ‘4.0’ (The Fourth Industrial Revolution).

Middle East Leadership for the changing times

I teach the practice of leadership to executives (MBA) at in Muscat (Oman). Participants include government, private sector and tribal leaders. During the first session I ask the group, ‘What is leadership?’. It provokes interesting debate and a range of answers: personality, characteristics, traits, behaviors, culture, etc. Then I ask, ‘Who would like to experience Google’s Leadership programme in the U.S. called SYI-Search Inside Yourself?”. A large number raise their hands thinking they would learn ‘cutting edge’ or ‘state of the art’ leadership from a young, global, fast growing technology company. Think again. The six minuet video overview of the programme shows leaders meditating, doing yoga, asking introspective questions and speaking about the need to find work-life balance.  When I ask the Omani executives to comment there is utter silence and a roomful of very confused looks. Then one executive explains, “I meditate a lot too. Every day I wake up at sunrise and pray, then I pray at mid-day and at sunset.” Excellent. He’s understood the exercise and insight about the true meaning of leadership.

The concept of what leadership is (and is not) has changed since the theory was first formally studied in U.S. circa 1940s. Since 1968 over 1968 77,000 books have been published on the topic. Yet as a practice leadership existed in the Middle East for many thousands of years even before Western Civilization began. So what exactly is it?

Modern-day global leaders are faced with a multiplicity of leadership theories, models and approaches about how to effectively lead. The world, and particularly the Middle East, is experiencing significant changes in the environment, what people think and how oranisations operate. So if you are leader in the Middle East and asked to lead a team or an entire organisation, which one do you use?

Do you lead surround yourself with an inner circle of only people you know, related to or trust as suggested by the ideals of Arab tribal leadership?  Use charisma and absolute power over peers to intimidate demonstrated in a clan/feudal leadership? Expect totally loyalty and adherence to rules of law suggested by formal management or religious leadership? Motivate through success-oriented reward for thinking differently embodied in American entrepreneur leadership? Consider everyone an equal leader and ‘keep the peace’ demonstrated in a United Nations style type leadership?

There is no leadership ‘magic solution’ – but there is a way through the confusion of competing ideas. It is an evidence-based theory named Middle East Leadership Value Systems or MELVS. MELVS draws on the entire developmental history of humans, the region and business to clarify and resolve many of the dilemmas modern Middle Eastern leaders face.

Core Middle East leadership mindsets philosophies

There are various MEVLS at play in Middle Easter business world. There are obvious differences between countries, and less subtle between organisations competing in the same sector.

For example three major Turkish banks Türkiye Is Bankasi, Akbank and Türkiye Garanti Bankasi are all banks form the same country but have differing cultures and leadership philosophies. So too are the Saudi Telecom and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom.

MELVS identifies six core leadership mindsets developed from the history of business, politics, etc., each rooted in different complexity of life conditions:

Life Condition Complexity (LC) Summary of Leadership Adaptations and Skills to Solve Problems 
A: Basic Existence LC N’: Life conditions activate/develop skills to solve individual problems through        Subsistence-Survival
B: Pre-industrial LC O: Life conditions activate/develop skills to solve to solve group problems through
     Security-Cohesion
C: Industrial Revolution LC P: Life conditions activate/develop skills to solve to solve individual problems
     through Power and Dominance
D: Information & Knowledge LC Q: Life conditions activate/develop skills to solve
group problems through
     Master Plan and Management
E: Global Technology-Finance LC R: Life conditions activate/develop skills to solve individual problems through       Achievement and Entrepreneurship
F: Digital/Social Network LC S: Life conditions activate/develop skills to solve group problems through      Community and Digital Networks
A’: Complexity-Problematic LC N’: Life conditions activate/develop skills to individual problems through Problem 
      Solving and Functionality

   Dr. Clare Graves (ECLT) © Adapted by Grey Matter Global Ltd.

Middle East Leadership Mindset 1- Survival/Subsistence

“The only focus I have is on my survival”

MELVS 1: There is no dominant leadership mindset in (A) life condition complexity. In these conditions a leader cannot think in complex ways or make decisions. They are only focused on subsistence and survival. The closest environment we can find is the deteriorating life conditions caused by war, famine, natural disaster, etc.

Middle East Leadership Mindset 2 – Traditional/Tribal

“Our tribal inner circle is a family bond formed by traditions and customs”

MELVS 2: In (B) life condition complexity, the dominant leadership mindset is (O): traditional, tribal and kinship. Leaders are associated with legends and powerful wisdom. They are born into position within a core of semi-elites. They are concerned with maintaining group cohesion, values, customs and traditions. Followers organise in a circle structure around the center ‘chief’ or ‘patriarch’ in a demonstration of unity and for protection. Examples of leadership elements exist in the Bedouin dessert lifestyle and patriarch of family owned Arab merchant businesses passed down through multiple generations.

Middle East Leadership Mindset 3 – Power/Dominate 

“I maintain control through power and domination”

MELVS 3: In (C) life condition complexity, leadership mindset emphasises the idea of power and conquest (P). Leaders climb through the ranks through power and dominance. They can also be courageous and take risks necessary to move forward. Followers organise in a top down Big Boss/Small Boss/worker chain of command. An example of leadership elements exist in the authority and allegiance to Al-Za’eem (feudal lord).

Middle East Leadership Mindset 4 – The ‘Master’ Plan/Purpose  

“We follow rigorous principles and plans to achieve our purpose”

MELVS 4: In (D) life condition complexity, following and living by the ‘master plan’ becomes a central idea (Q). Leaders are chosen by class or status. They display patriotism, demand group discipline and have a sense of purpose. Followers organise in formal management structure where positional authority determines rank (Head Department/Division). Expression of leadership elements exists in the Islamic Sharia religion, Arab prophets and non-religious CEO/Director of a national government institutions or a military General.

Middle East Leadership Mindset 5 – Success/Innovation

“I seek strategic advantages to excel and continually improve”

MELVS 5:   Where (E) life condition complexity predominate, leaders maximize advantages and leverage competitive opportunities. Leaders are the most competent and smarter, who have developed a special competitive advantage over others (R). Key elements of leadership include highly skilled and motivated, financial rewards and being entrepreneurial. Followers organise in formal management structure where positional authority is flexible depending on competency. Expression of leadership elements exists in Dubai’s economic diversity, young Middle Eastern entrepreneurs and Directors of global mulit-nationals.

Middle East Leadership Mindset 6 – Social Network/Community

“We create conditions to empower and enable everyone possible”

MELVS 6: In (F) life condition complexity, leaders act as a facilitator/collaborator with followers (S). Leaders encourage performance through fun, participation and community. Social networking, emotions and intrinsic motivation are key elements. Followers organise in an equal circle structure with no identified leader in the centre. This leadership philosophy is rare in both the modern Middle Eastern and Western European world where global dominance, competition and financial bottom lines rule, but is emerging among the millennial thinking.

Middle East Leadership Mindset 7 – Complexity/Problematic

“I do whatever is necessary to restore order”

MELVS 7:   In (A’) life condition complexity, leaders aim to be functional and flexible (N’). Leadership is practical and leaders integrate the five other Middle Eastern leadership philosophies to find whatever works with followers at the time, place and circumstances. Followers are not really such. Everyone is aligned characterised by high levels of commitment and differences between people are expected and accepted.

Above, each MELVS is described individually and as a stereotype: in the real world they mix and combine in interesting ways to form the bio-psycho-social DNA of Middle Eastern Leadership.

The bio-psycho-neuro-socio ‘DNA’ of Middle Eastern Leadership


Dr. Clare Graves (ECLT)  ©  Dr. Don Beck and Christopher Cowan (SDI) © Adapted by Grey Matter Global Ltd.

As the pace of change increases, and the business environment becomes more complex, there is a need to improve the skill level of all global leaders from ‘good’ to ‘great’. For such a vitally important strategic, economic and political region like the Middle East the rest of the world’s development will depending on it.

References: 

Beck, D., Larsen, T., Solonin, S., Viljoen, R., Johns, T., (2018) Spiral Dynamics in Action: Humanity’s Master Code, Publisher: Wiley.

Graves, C., (2009) Levels of Human Existence, Publisher: ECLET.

Graves, C., (2005) The Never Ending Quest: A treatise on an emergent cyclical conception of

adult behavioral systems and their development, Publisher: ECLET.

Grisby, J. (2016) CMI Insights: The Six Different Mindsets of Leadership http://www.managers.org.uk/insights/news/2016/october/the-6-different-mindsets-of-leadership

Maalouf, Elza S., (2014), Emerge! The Rise of Functional Democracy and the Future of the Middle East, Publisher: Select Books.

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Wellbeing @ Work Summit Middle East 2021 – Diversity, Inclusion and the Holistic Wellbeing approach

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Written by: Cinzia Nitti

A working environment characterized by greater Diversity & Inclusion has more chance of being a place where new ideas and perspectives flourish: inclusive businesses benefit from those who feel very included and motivated in the Organisation. Companies with more culturally and ethically diverse Teams are 33% more likely to see better than average profits (McKinsey, 2017).

The Wellbeing @ Work Summit Middle East 2021 brought to light the need and urgency to put individuals and interactions over profits within the panel session dedicated to Creating a Holistic and Inclusive Wellbeing Strategy. The panel has been moderated by Chris Cummings (CEO Sonas Events) and joined by Irada Aghamaliyeva (MENA Diversity, Inclusiveness & Wellbeing Leader – EY), Funda Kalemci (Global Leader, Diversity & Inclusion – Nielsen), Mimi Nicklin (Author and Empathetic Leader) and Öykü Kayaalp (Diversity & Youth Programs Professional – Vodafone Turkey).

According to the valued speakers, true Diversity and Inclusion have to create a sense of belonging, breaking the Mental Health Stigma and Empathy. So Emotional wellness turned out to be the core of those two elements: in fact, it generates wellbeing and inclusiveness at all levels.  

The covid-19 pandemic showed employees how frustration and emotional fragility affect performance and inclusion, even within the most well-structured and diverse Team. Filling the gap between self-expectations, dealing with such an unexpected “new normal” and an Organisation’s goal, proved to be a complex challenge that both employees and leaders had to face suddenly. Creating a work-life balance has been crucial to supporting the new “Smart Working Model” imposed by the pandemic.

How to maintain and strengthen a sense of belonging through screens and virtual work-spaces?

Irada Aghamaliyeva and Öykü Kayaalp firmly agreed on “connecting and communicate through a deep understanding of various cultures at the Workplace, whether physical or from home”. It is key to set a balanced environment where employees feel totally appreciated and valued – the reduction of work stress highlighted a decrease of stereotyping and a more open-mindedness towards intercultural awareness. It can be faced and strengthened through coaching sessions and encouraging employees to speak out freely and fearlessly about what makes them feel inadequate. Break the workplace Mental Health Stigma thanks to self-acceptance is the first step to creating a more inclusive culture, relation and support between employees and leaders.

What role plays Empathy in this framework and why it so crucial in an inclusive culture?

Empathy is the pixie dust that bridges the Diversity and Inclusion gap. Practicing and nurturing Empathy within the Organisations is the starting point from which Leaders and employees should consider the value of their interactions. Listening – not just hearing – is crucial: so often in HR and Leadership people listen to respond, but they don’t really stop and focus on what’s the inner need on the other side. To empathize is the choice to understand, it is a skill that we all can own through practicing kindness and active listening. “True Diversity and Inclusion has to begin with Empathy because if we don’t understand each other, how are we going to integrate?” Mimi Nicklin

Also, when employees are largely satisfied of their experience within the Company on an empathetic level, they are more likely to report high intent to stay with the Company and be high performers. “At Nielsen IQ we have a Global Wellness Framework lead by global HR Teams that works on four pillars: physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, financial wellbeing and environmental & social wellbeing”, Funda Kalemci affirmed, highlighting the importance of Mental Health within Global companies.

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Wellbeing @ Work Summit Middle East 2021 – where balance, resilience and authenticity break the Mental Health Stigma

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Written by: Cinzia Nitti

Globally, 2020 has been a year like no other. Coronavirus pandemic caused a massive business disruption; transformation has been key in supporting employees and catalyzing workplace changes. There was a rush to adapt and reinvent Business Models. Organizations had to rethink and reconsider how they deliver services and strengthen their Organizations through a forward-thinking Digital strategy. To be more agile and responsive in such uncertain times, we need to respond to challenges and adapt quickly to new scenarios by moving from rigid hierarchies to leaner and more flexible structures.

But what about Mental Health at Work, and why is it essential?

What’s the Office of the Future?

Within the Wellbeing @ Work Summit Middle East 2021, HR Leaders tried to normalize the conversation about Mental Health by putting the topic first, enabling self-care and professional support, raising awareness, and building knowledge around its related issues. Nowadays, personal and work life are more intertwined than ever, so it becomes vital to create balance: the more employees feel free to talk about Mental Health, the more they can prevent struggle and breakout at the Workplace. HR leaders play a crucial role in making an IMPACT by pushing new solutions, promoting work-life balance, redesign workloads, and supporting their Teams.

In this general frame, Irada Aghamaliyeva (MENA Diversity, Inclusiveness & Wellbeing Leader at EY) affirmed: “Workplaces that are inclusive foster enhanced employee wellbeing; employees with high levels of wellbeing are more inclusive”. How can Organizations increase employees’ resilience and embed sustainable Leadership behaviors in the post-covid reality?

Dr. Irada Aghamaliyeva introduced the Mindfulness practice in the Workplace and highlighted its benefits on a large scale: improved wellbeing and resilience on a physical level; positive emotions, self-regulation, empathy and awareness of social dynamics; learning and innovation thanks to the implementation of flexible thinking, intuition and problem-solving processes. So breaking the stigma is possible, starting from personal wellbeing to sustain positive energy and fuel resilience.

About the Power of Empathetic and Authentic Leadership, Dr. Rima Ghose Chowdhury (EVP & Chief Human Resources Officers at Datamatics Global Services) stresses the importance of Leadership roles today. The virtual environment employees are working in, makes them more vulnerable due to a lack of balance between emotional and authenticity traits. Authenticity is the primary factor in effective leadership, regardless of the leadership style. Putting employees first as a strategic priority and hearing their voices to guide strategy; embracing agility to work more effectively in tumultuous time; including a multigenerational work-force: these are the key concepts within Dr. Rima’s motto “Empowering is to enable”. Through motivation and filling emotional support needs, the Empowering Teams Process leads to employees’ safety, esteem, and self-actualization. 

The Wellbeing @ Work Summit delivers strategic direction, advice and inspiration from employers and experts from across the world to help you create a more compassionate corporate culture that delivers results. To know more about the FOW Future of Work Insights platform around the world, click here: https://fowinsights.com/

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The Wellbeing @ Work virtual Summit Middle East returns for its 5th annual event on 22-24 February 2021

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The summit provides an innovative and experiential virtual learning opportunity for our audience of CEOs, benefit and reward business leaders and senior HR professionals. The information and knowledge gained from attending this event allow the opportunity to make strategic wellbeing and mental health decisions within an organization, supporting our mission to create more flourishing and thriving workplaces. Never before has the mental health and wellbeing of your employees been so important. The Wellbeing @ Work Summit includes keynote speeches, panel discussions, workshops, and fireside chats alongside unrivaled networking with leaders across the Middle East using our AI-enabled matchmaking platform. This is far more than a webinar! An engaging 3-day event providing you invaluable insight and tools to create thriving workplaces.

Key Reasons to Attend:

  • An engaging AI-enabled matchmaking platform to make invaluable connections & host virtual meetings up to 2 weeks before the three-day festival
  • Learn how multinational organizations are creating workplaces where employees thrive in the new world
  • Campfire panel discussions informing workplace change & mental health solutions
  • Middle East-based employer case studies providing the secrets to employee wellbeing success
  • International experts bringing best-practice from across the globe
  • Invaluable networking with business leaders from across the Middle East

The Wellbeing @ Work Summit delivers strategic direction, advice and inspiration from employers and experts from across the world to help you create a more compassionate corporate culture that delivers results. The design and implementation of a holistic wellbeing and mental health programme that delivers healthy outcomes and a more productive organization is paramount right now. 

In addition, the results of the extensive Middle East region-wide survey on wellbeing and mental fitness in organizations across the region made in partnership with Cognomie will be presented during the event.

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