Since setting up a permanent team in Qatar, we have delivered numerous leadership training courses, programmes and coaching initiatives for Qatari nationals. This blog details some of the learning we have gained and our top tips for developing leadership programmes that are effective.
Context: Qatar’s thriving economy & rapid growth
There are a number of factors that make leadership development in Qatar unusual. Qatar’s fast economic growth and industrialisation has been relatively recent. Oil has been produced in Qatar since the 40s, but it was the export of LNG in the 90s that started a much faster pace of change and development. Consequently, industrialisation is relatively new and still in the process of becoming institutionalised. In addition, Qatar’s fast-growing economy has resulted in a significant increase in the number of foreign workers coming into the country, nearly 90% of the population is foreign.
The government’s strategy is to develop nationals rapidly to enable them to take senior roles in the country. A consequence of this strategy is that time to learn by progressing through the different layers of an organisation is limited. Also, a national leader will be leading a team with a far greater cultural diversity, and far less team members of their own culture than most leaders in global corporate settings. These two factors coupled with the previously mentioned “newness” of Qatar’s industrialisation provide a unique setting for leadership development programmes.
3 helpful ideas to bear in mind when designing leadership programmes for Qatari leaders...
1. Develop relationship
Our experience is that successful development of nationals takes place through the development of relationship. It is tempting to design and deliver fast and short interventions, but we have rarely seen these types of interventions have significant impact. Where time is given to develop relationship there is opportunity to build trust and then more impactful conversations can take place. We have just completed a leadership programme for a group of nationals that has taken two years to deliver. The slow and gentle development of relationship over the different modules and coaching sessions has resulted in significant trust. This trust has provided the foundation for individuals to talk about real leadership challenges and identify ways forward.
2. Facilitate leadership contextualisation
Significant chunks of leadership theory are rooted in Western thinking which has a Greek, individualistic origin. Qatari culture does not have the same roots and values some things differently. A helpful approach is to facilitate nationals contextualising leadership concepts and ideas. Central to this approach is the choice and willingness of the training provider to listen, discover and respect. If this happens successfully, a powerful two-way conversation can take place to allow nationals to shape how leadership concepts can be applied to their context. This requires a degree of humility from the training provider and an expectation that the development of ideas on how to apply leadership models will come from those being trained.
3. Provide opportunity for practice
Knowledge of leadership principles and methods is important and helpful. But this knowledge on its own does not have a direct correlation with leadership competence. As with most skills, we need opportunity to practice using the knowledge we have so that we can become skilled. When we practice, we learn by getting it wrong, by failing. In fact, it is difficult to learn something well without first failing several times.
For nationals, getting a chance to practice leadership skills is unlikely as fast development tracks leave little opportunity for learning on route. And because nationals occupy positions of considerable responsibility, learning through getting things wrong in the workplace is highly undesirable.
Delivering training opportunities where there is a chance to practice leadership skills in a safe environment is very valuable. We have found business simulations and exercises designed to replicate leadership situations highly effective. Participants can practise, make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment.
Our experience has shown us that building leadership development programmes for nationals in Qatar is successful when they are delivered over a long enough time frame to allow relationships to develop. This, coupled with training staff who have a degree of humility and programmes that provide opportunity for practice leads to nationals developing genuine leadership competences.