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Khalaf Al Habtoor’s Leadership Style Case Study


Khalaf Al Habtoor is the founder and chairman of the Al Habtoor Group of Companies, which operates in various countries around the world. Al Habtoor is a self-made billionaire who has demonstrated the characteristics of a true leader in his business dealings. Starting a small construction company in the United Arab Emirates as a young man, he has been able to steer this firm to massive success over the years to become a large conglomerate operating in the entire Middle East and other regions around the world. Al Habtoor has demonstrated various leadership qualities in his management style. He has shown leadership in his management strategies, especially his ability to influence the thinking of his employees. He has been considered a transformational leader because he believes that his employees can achieve more, and he makes them realize this.

Interview Notes

The Interviewer: How do you define leadership?

Al Habtoor: I believe that leadership is the process of identifying the right path that should be taken by an organization, and leading others on this path towards success.

The Interviewer: What is your leadership philosophy?

Al Habtoor: My guiding philosophy is that every human being has its worth, and the most important thing is to identify this unique talent in every member of an organization.

The Interviewer: How did you learn to lead?

Al Habtoor: I learned to lead by accepting to be led and understanding what it takes to be convinced by a leader.

The Interviewer: What is your view about consultative leadership?

Al Habtoor: I always count on open communication with people. I listen to everyone and consider their opinion and knowledge. But at the end of the day, a ship can only have one captain who can sail. Otherwise it will sink. And when I take the final decision, then it becomes my responsibility alone.

The Interviewer: As a young man, what was your main motivation in life?

Al Habtoor: When I was a young boy, all I wanted was to succeed, make something of myself, and have enough money to be able to help my family and travel the world.

The interviewer: Do you believe that education is important?

Al Habtoor: I didn’t believe in the benefits of the education system. I hated school and dropped out early. I thought the best education was received practically, from life.


Khalaf Al Habtoor is the founding chairman of the Al Habtoor Group of Companies, which operates in various industries. The story of Al Habtoor shows a true leader who was able to transform his personal life from poverty to being one of the wealthiest persons in the United Arabs Emirates. Al Habtoor is a self-made billionaire who has been able to create a large business empire out of a small construction company he started as a young man. Analysis of the business life of Al Habtoor, especially his management strategy demonstrates leadership skills that have been able to propel this business into its current success.

According to Pope (1999), the current business environment is very competitive, and for a business unit to prosper, it requires leaders who can inspire employees to deliver the best service. This businessman has demonstrated that he is a good leader. Al Habtoor has always held that every human being has his or her worth. He says that every person has his or her special talent that makes him or her unique over others. This means that at no point would one be regarded as worthless among other people.

Al Habtoor has always made his employees embrace this philosophy, which he uses to challenge each of them quite often. He emphasizes the need for all the employees to rediscover themselves regularly by defining new paths that can help them achieve beyond their current capacity. This is one of the major secrets that has helped Al Habtoor Group of Companies to succeed in the current competitive market. The employees are always trying to go beyond their current capacities to achieve perfection. Al Habtoor argues that perfection is always in mind, and those who believe that it is achievable would achieve it, and those who believe otherwise will always stay miles away from it.

The most important thing, according to him, is to define perfection based on one’s ability and strive to achieve it. This research paper seeks to analyze the leadership style of Khalaf Al Habtoor in light of the current leadership approaches to determine the reason behind his successful business career not only in the United Arab Emirates but also in other countries around the world.

Leadership Characteristics Demonstrated by Khalaf Al Habtoor

According to Northouse (2010), it is important to understand the difference between a leader and a manager. This scholar says that a manager would always point at the path that should be taken to reach the desired destination, while a leader would always take that path and invite others to follow him or her towards the desired destination. People would always want to be led, especially in cases where they feel that the path towards success has many challenges. Al Habtoor has demonstrated leadership in his management approach. He is always at the forefront in dealing with the challenges that may arise in various activities within his business empire. He always takes the first step and then invites others to join him to achieve the desired success in the firm. For example, Alexander (2002) notes that Al Habtoor would easily be seen working alongside his engineers, especially when they are trying to come up with new concepts for the firm. This explains why he has been very successful in his business. It would be important to analyze some of the leadership qualities that Al Habtoor has demonstrated over the years in developing the current business empire.

Khalaf Al Habtoor as a transformational leader

Transformational leadership has generally been considered one of the most desirable leadership qualities in the current society. In defining transformational leadership, DuBrin (2011) says that a transformational leader should be able to influence followers to go beyond their current capacities by constantly challenging their skills and talents. It involves motivating employees by making them rediscover themselves in a creative innovative manner.

Al Habtoor has demonstrated that he is a transformational leader. When he started his small construction company, he had a few employees, most of whom worked as casuals who would report to work only when there was a contract. However, he would make them appreciate the fact that the firm had greater potential than what it was delivering then. Al Habtoor had a clear vision of where the firm was destined to be, and he knew that this could only be achieved if he shared this vision with the employees. By sharing this vision with his employees, he ensured that these employees remained constantly motivated in their assigned duties.

He would go further to explain to them that the hidden potential of the firm was within themselves as employees of this firm. This constant reminder to the employees that they are the steering wheel of this organization made them feel committed to the firm. It made them yearn to achieve more to help this firm grow. This paid off because most of the contracts it was awarded were done perfectly, making it earn trust and loyalty in the market. Al Habtoor would press further even as the number of employees increased with the increasing size of the firm. In his leadership approach, he was creative, innovative, trustworthy, and powerful in delivering messages to his employees. His transformational leadership approach has helped him transform his small construction firm into a large conglomerate operating in various industries across the world.

Khalaf Al Habtoor as a charismatic leader

According to DuBrin (2011), dealing with human beings is very different from when one is dealing with machines or other equipment. This is because a human being has emotions. When dealing with employees, it is very important to appeal to their emotions to keep them motivated. A group of motivated employees would always deliver better results as opposed to a group that lacks this motivation. Charismatic leadership theory holds that a leader should always inspire followers to share his vision, develop trust, and make them act in the most desirable manner. Al Habtoor has proven that he is a charismatic leader. During this interview, and most other interviews he has held in the past, a fact that comes out is that Al Habtoor has a mastery of communication skills. He can articulate his message in a way that is convincing.

Communication skills are one of the most important characteristics of charismatic leaders. To make others trust and share a leader’s vision, it is always important to communicate it in a clear manner that will make others understand the message and appreciate its relevance. Al Habtoor has this ability to convince his employees in every communication he makes to the employees. Alexander (2002) notes that Al Habtoor would always find a way of communicating directly with the junior employees to understand their needs. This has helped in motivating these employees because they feel that they are cared for by the top management.

He can make employees share his thoughts and beliefs whenever he speaks to them. He raises their emotions because he has developed the capacity to understand their thinking. This way, he can pass his communications from the perspective of his employees. This has helped Al Habtoor Group to achieve success in the market because its employees have remained constantly motivated.

Khalaf Al Habtoor and conflict management

According to Pope (1999), one of the most destructive forces within organizations is conflict among employees. This scholar says that conflicts would always arise due to several reasons. A conflict can arise when employees are struggling to get promotions within a firm. This means that they would be seeing other employees with similar potential to get that promotion as a threat, and therefore, anything that could lead to their downfall would always be a blessing to them. Conflict can also arise when assigning tasks. Some employees would feel that they are overworked, while others may try to avoid tasks that are very involving. When such conflicts are not adequately resolved within an organization, it can lead to serious negative effect on the firm as there will be lack of corporations among employees.

They would deviate from focusing on the vision of the firm as they try to achieve personal selfish ambitions. Al Habtor has ensured that such instances do not take place within the firm. He has always insisted that promotion would always follow an individual’s hard work. Although he has been very attentive to information coming from employees, he believes that the final decision must always be based on his rational reasoning. This demonstrates his conviction in making conscious decisions that are not influenced by biased thoughts of some of its employees. One clear example that demonstrates his ability in managing conflict was seen when the United States and allied forces declared war on Iraq on March 20, 2003. According to Field (2009), Al Habtoor was seen as an ambassador of the Arab World to the West, and most of his top managers were against the war. Given his closeness with the Queen of England, and the political class in the United States, some people believed that he could influence to avoid the war.

Field (2009) says that it was hard maintaining the motivation of his employees during the war as some thought that he was a party to it. However, Al Habtoor was able to detach himself from the war and convinced his employees that he was against the war. His conflict management style has always been based on clear communication and sincerity whenever addressing any issue. This has earned him trust among its employees.

Al Habtoor has developed elaborate systems within the firm that are proactive in dealing with various conflicts that may arise amongst its employees. For instance, there is a clear system that determines how individual employees would earn promotions. This way, individual employees would not be involved in any conflict regarding promotions because they know that this would always be determined through this well-set system. He has also developed structures that define activities to be undertaken by different individuals in various departments. Above all, he has inspired employees to always view their workmates as partners who share the same vision and have the same purpose in their life at this firm.

For this reason, they would work as a unit, always trying to help other partners achieve their goals within the firm to achieve overall organizational success. He has made the employees realize that competition should be focused on how they can work best to achieve a common goal other than to achieve personal interests (Al, 2012). This has helped eliminate most of the common conflicts that always inhibit success in firms.

Khalaf Al Habtoor as a visionary leader

Al Habtoor has been exceptional in coming up with new business ideas when other firms are considering quitting the market. He has brought diversification because of his broader vision of this firm as a global conglomerate operating in various industries. His childhood desire to succeed has always been burning in him, making him come up with new approaches of tapping into market opportunities. When he started his construction company, many thought that the firm would just limit its expansion to this line of business. However, the initiatives that he has taken has left most of its employees amazed at his leadership approach.

Al Habtoor has led this firm into industries that many did not think this firm would venture into because of the differences in the products. Some of the sectors that he has ventured into include infrastructure, hospitality, vehicle dealership, vehicle leasing, real estate, education, publishing, and mining. What is even more amazing is the fact that these new business ventures have been very successful. This is a clear demonstration that as a leader, he has been keen to ensure that he understands these new industries before venturing into them. He would then develop a vision that would make his firm find a convenient way towards success. Al Habtoor says that his main reason for getting into these businesses is because of the need to diversify. He says that it is always difficult to predict the future, and the best way of securing his firm from unforeseen forces is to venture into various sectors so that when one sector is affected, other sectors would be able to support the operations of the firm.

Shortcomings of Khalaf Al Habtoor as a leader

The discussion above has demonstrated that Al Habtoor is an effective leader who has been able to drive Al Habtoor Group of Companies into massive success in the market. However, it would be necessary to identify some of his shortcomings as a leader that inhibited his firm from maximizing his potential. One of the main weaknesses of Al Habtoor is that he does not believe in the relevance of education. In the current competitive world, education plays a pivotal role in determining the success of a firm. A firm needs technocrats in various fields to operate efficiently and effectively.

Although he claims that he currently believes in the importance of education, the truth is that he still has a low opinion on the relevance of formal education. Some employees have also accused him of high handedness, meaning that he would force his opinions to prevail, especially when dealing with dissident views within his firm. For example, Field (2009) notes that some of the top managers in his company have left the firm in the past, citing limited freedom in making decisions about the firm. They claim that at times Al Habtoor would force his opinions even in cases when he is not sure of what the approach would bring.


Khalaf Al Habtoor is one of the accomplished business leaders in the United Arab Emirates. His business empire has grown over the years to become a major conglomerate that operates not only in the Middle East but also in other countries around the world. This success has been attributed to the leadership approach that he has been employing in managing his businesses. He has demonstrated that he is a transformational leader who is capable of challenging his employees to go beyond their current capacities to achieve more success in their assignments. His leadership style has also been characterized by charisma, especially in influencing employees, to take a given course of action that would propel the firm to greater success. This explains the accomplishment that he has been able to realize as the head of this firm.

His ability to communicate openly with his employees has also earned him trust with the employees, making it easy for them to follow the path to which he guides them. Although some have accused him of high handedness, he has been able to convince his employees to take given approaches to achieve the desired success within the firm.


Al, H. K. A. (2012). Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor: The autobiography. Dubai, U.A.E: Motivate Publishing. Web.

Alexander, N. (2002). Dubai: Business law handbook. Washington, DC: International Business Publications. Web.

DuBrin, A. J. (2011). Leadership: Research findings, practice, and skills. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning. Web.

Field, M. (2009). Inside the Arab world. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Web.

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Web.

Pope, L. (1999). The Al Habtoor Group: Growing with the nation. Dubai, UAE: Al Habtoor Group Pub. Web.

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