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Leaders and Their Organisations in the UAE Essay (Critical Writing)


Identification of the Problem

Nowadays, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a rapidly developing country, which offers countless career opportunities for the nationals to assist them in competing on both the global and national markets. Even though the country endeavours to prepare qualified specialists able to meet the stated goals and objectives, there is still a lack of leadership competencies and programmes among the nationals. In particular, the policy of Emiratisation implemented a decade ago focuses on giving the preference to the local professionals in some career sectors (Prabhakar & Yaseen 2016). The paramount problem is associated with the failure of many UAE universities to provide adequate leadership education and development options. It goes without saying that leadership strategies of the West present properly developed and actually working approaches (Prabhakar & Yaseen 2016). However, they cannot be copied and merely introduced in the UAE settings as there is a need to consider the local culture, values, and any other specifics. It is impossible to simply combine Western leadership programmes and the national ones.

Along with the fact that currently no appropriate leadership education programme can be offered to the students, there is a lack of leadership awareness. The students have no clear vision of excellent leadership and its advantages. In this regard, the problem also refers to promoting understanding of the mentioned issue among both the students and the educators. The very concept, components, and structure of leadership are unclear to them. More to the point, plenty of lectures are convenient and boring for the students, thus distracting them from education.

Zayed University, established by Sheikh Zayed bin Sulṭan Al Nahyan in 1998, places emphasis on education as an “agent for fostering a nation’s global competitiveness” in order to improve leadership capacity (Zahran et al. 2016, p. 2). The major concern encountered by this University is the preparation of the future student leaders able to successfully compete with ex-pats on a global scale. At this point, both micro- and macro-economic influences are not considered while providing educational leadership for the students.

The current situation at Zayed University is also characterised by the low attendance of workshops, which may be caused by such reasons as the lack of clear vision and a traditional approach to education (Kamali, Jayashree & Lindsay 2015). In the view of the fact that leadership educational programmes are not valued by the students, their competence is insufficient to meet the global standards. Among other reasons, it is possible to assume an uninteresting nature of education. While students expect engaging modern approaches, they still have to receive merely traditional education. Therefore, there is a critical need to reveal the reasons impeding student attendance of the workshops, which, in turn, would contribute to the problem resolution.

In other words, there is a bias between the intended results and the existing educational methods. Further consideration of the problem on a wider scale is presented in the research background subsection.

Research Objectives

The given dissertation has several objectives, each of which is rather essential in terms of the research. First of all, this paper aims at identifying the factors that positively affect leaders and their organisations in the UAE, as perceived by the study respondents. The above is a pivotal objective that serves as the foundation for this scholarly work. Second, determining leadership skills is another objective that would also be outlined by the participants. In particular, it is crucial to comprehend which of the skills compose a successful leader and define his or her effective leadership. The third objective refers to the leadership skills that are necessary to be developed through the workshops. Taking into account that the latter plays an important role in the students’ education and professional preparation, their consideration is likely to benefit the study and further industry success. Last but not least, the objective of assessing the current UAE workshops and the subsequent recommendations are to be provided in the framework of this dissertation.

Speaking more precisely of recommendations, it should be emphasised that the researcher would strive to reveal the factors explaining the students’ low desire to participate in the workshops. The understanding of the above factors, as well as their elimination, would improve the attendance of the leadership workshops. It is also expected to reveal any gaps between the current educational programmes and business needs, thus benefiting the industry and preparing the best specialists. Both business leaders’ and students’ perspectives are to be analysed and properly interpreted to come up with relevant recommendations on how they should be developed. Thus, the general aim of the given research is to determine what changes are to be made and how to implement them. The following research questions were formulated for this study:

  1. Which leadership theories and skills taught at educational institutions influence leadership competencies in business organisations in the UAE according to both students and business leaders?
  2. How do these leadership theories taught at educational institutions influence leadership competencies in business organisations in the UAE according to both students and business leaders?
  3. How can the University develop the workshops further to improve leadership competencies for business organisations in the UAE from both students’ and business leaders’ perspectives?

Research Focus

This dissertation focuses on analysing the UAE students’ and business leaders’ perceptions regarding the leadership skills of the future UAE leaders. Beginning with a thorough literature review to create an apparent vision of the current situation, the researcher would examine Zayed University students’ attitudes. Since the researcher has been working for this University for 14 years, the consent was received to conduct a study, running a survey and having access to the required data. Working as senior career development and counsellor, the researcher developed a significant network and utilised it to receive the initial contact and approval.

After the literature review section, a qualitative design study would be initiated. Based on the epistemology of constructivism, personal attitudes would be collected from the students via an online survey tool and focus groups. At the same time, semi-structured interviews would be conducted with Zayed University managers and business leaders. The collected descriptive information on qualitative data along with the literature review findings would be interpreted in order to answer the posed research questions and provide valuable recommendations.

The central focus is to be paid to students’ perception and their views regarding the leadership skills of the future UAE leaders. Considering that many students are unaware of the leadership opportunities they have and the industries’ required competencies, the situation needs to be significantly enhanced. Subsequently, the research is anticipated to assist the students in comprehending the role of leadership and attending the workshops. In general, the research seems to improve the local work branding by eliminating the current gap between the students’ awareness along with leadership programmes and their attitudes regarding the vision of the UAE prospect leadership.

Research Background

Socio-economic, political, and cultural transformations in modern UAE society have shifted the emphasis from the public to the individual initiative, self-organisation, and self-regulation of all subjects of social life (Qubaisi et al. 2015). In addition, the contradictoriness, non-linearity of social development, the unpredictability of several social phenomena, and the accumulation of unsolved vital problems such as the need to compete on a global scale and prepare qualified experts to cause an ever-growing need for energetic leaders capable of acting independently and creatively in a changing environment (Bealer & Bhanugopan 2014). In a society developing on democratic principles, leadership along with market relations and competition acts as an effective tool for social progress. The need for leaders and leadership as mechanisms of enhancement exists in virtually all spheres of UAE’s society, such as economic, political, cultural, educational, and so on. The process of transformation of the system of higher education significantly increased interest in theoretical and practical problems of educational leadership.

In modern conditions, a new context of expectations concerning the activities of educational leaders has formed (Bealer & Bhanugopan 2014).

Leaders need not only a high level of individual development and organisational qualities but also the ability to generate new ideas and approaches and to create new technologies, the ability to actualise the internal potential of employees, and much more.

Addressing the members of the Federal Cabinet of Ministers, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, declared that Emiratisation and education are the key priorities of the UAE government in integrating all national initiatives in the interests of achieving the aspirations of people and securing their well-being and a decent standard of living (UAE government leaders programme 2015). The Cabinet approved a plan for improving education in the UAE until 2020 and a three-year strategy for the National Development of Human Resources and Employment for 2011-2013 (UAE government leaders programme 2015). The agenda for enriching education is based on four focal themes, which include improving student achievement, developing the school environment, providing equal educational opportunities for all students, and enhancing administrative efficiency and effectiveness in the Ministry of Education. In accordance with the strategy of the National Development of Human Resources and Employment, specific targets are set for reducing unemployment, and plans are being prepared for training local personnel, as well as expanding their rights, opportunities, and actual participation in the labour market in the public and private sectors.

More widely, the issue of Emiratisation is the central factor promoting the development of leadership in the UAE among the nationals. Targeting sustainable employment prospects, it seeks to offer equal job opportunities for the nationals to increase their involvement in the local labour market. The government plans to create more than 600,000 new jobs within the following two years (Hanna & Latchem 2013). In this regard, it should also focus on the candidates’ competency and leadership skills to ensure a perfect fit and excellent development opportunities. In order to strengthen the organisational leadership, the government declares a shift from personal leadership to “leadership development as a corporate culture that enhances integration and harmony” (UAE leadership school 2014, p. 5).In other words, the key reason for Emiratisation involves the required movement towards preparing qualified leaders capable of effective decision-making and leading people. At the same time, the mentioned policy aims at promoting the competitiveness of the nationals compared to ex-pats who are currently more successful in leading positions (Hanna & Latchem 2013).

The problem is that the development of the above initiative is still focused on a limited number of employees, which reduces the overall effectiveness. At the same time, the majority of knowledge and theories come from the outside the country and it is utilised in the local settings. Instead of reconsidering and adjusting them according to the national requirements, one observes the duplication as well as absorption. As for the limitations of Emiratisation, it is beneficial to mention the recent study by Al‐Ali (2008) who explores the above motion along with its antecedents in terms of jobs and working conditions in the private sector. The study reveals that barriers to Emiratisation include low educational standards as well as insufficient skills of applicants.

The most important findings refer to the fact that plenty of employers do not believe in the trustworthiness of the UAE nationals as potential employees (Al‐Ali 2008). In their turn, the nationals reckon that the private sector offers low remuneration and career development opportunities; consequently, these factors repel them from applying.

More positive attitudes are associated with the public sector. Compared to the private sector, it is presented by the greater amount of the residents making it more feasible to improve the current situation.

In spite of the identified limitations and reasons for Emiratisation, all experts agree in terms of the potential benefits it may bring to the nationals and the industry as a whole. Leadership is the key element that may cease stagnation and amplify social and economic development. As mentioned by Prabhakar and Yaseen (2016), the local leaders need to be provided with innovative leadership frameworks to do their work on the highest level possible. Therefore, it is critical to consider Emiratisation and leadership in connection with the students’ attitudes concerning future leaders. Based on the findings of this study, it would be possible to understand the present biases and gaps and elaborate on them to provide a critical evaluation as well as recommendations to the given issue.

Literature Review


Several theories, strategies, and approaches have evolved in the field of leadership in recent years worldwide as a result of rapidly developing technology and business. Furthermore, their dramatic growth may be traced on a global scale. As for the UAE, the local leaders are known for the adoption of foreign strategies and the limited attention to the local culture and values. Thus, it seems rather significant to focus on the existing scholarly literature to analyse the current situation on leadership, including educational programmes of the government and Zayed University as well as perceptions of the students and business leaders. The below literature review considers scholarly articles and official websites to collect and interpret the relevant data. In particular, this section begins with the introduction of the key concepts, including Emiratisation, leadership, and Zayed University. After that, it provides an overview of the current situation in the UAE’s labour market and moves to leadership methods accepted in the given context and University. Ultimately, the presentation of perceptions concerning business leaders and the students follow.


Today, a fundamental division exists in the society of the UAE between citizens and ex-pats, whose numbers exceed that of the nationals by approximately more than four to one (Bealer & Bhanugopan 2014). One consequence of this is significant cultural influences,

For example, sub-continental influence produced by Bollywood films, Indian cafes, vegetarian restaurants, and even the emerging national cricket team. Therefore, the policy of Emiratisation gives preferences to the UAE citizens at certain public sector jobs (Al‐Ali 2008). The most important long-term problem of the UAE economy is the acute dependence on foreign labour and the oil industry. In recent years, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy has been pushing the emirate process with great pressure and has achieved certain successes in the areas of telecommunications and banking services. There is also an issue of oil deterioration and heavy demand for tourism in the country as reasons contributing to citizen’s talent development and investing in the nationals.

In the modern world of growing opportunities and in the era that requires an increasing personal initiative, leadership is a vital skill that needs to be developed if a person wishes to fully realise his or her potential. In the past, leadership was seen as a set of innate traits, as features of a style of behaviour, or as a consequence mainly of the situation in which a leader turned out to perform. Most definitions of leadership include three components such as influence, group, and purpose. First, leaders are people who influence the behaviours of others. Secondly, leadership is usually explored in the context of groups, especially working for teams. Third, leadership focuses on the group goal, which should be achieved in either long- or short-term perspectives. Thus, the following definition of leadership can be given: it is a process in which a person influences other members of a group or an organisation to achieve established goals (Al‐Ali 2008).

Accordingly, leadership is the managerial relationships between a leader and the employees based on the combination of various sources of power effective for a certain situation and aimed at encouraging people to achieve common goals. At the heart of leadership, there lies the expression of inspiration, empowerment, and influence in the system of interpersonal relationships in a team. The main influences of leadership refer to its utilisation of the important mechanisms for realising authority in a group in the most effective fashion. Leaders use influences as a means to accelerate this achievement. The influence itself can be built on personal qualities, on the position in an organisation, or on the combination of both. In this connection, the impact is a bilateral concept existing between a leader and the employees and between a leader and an organisation. Thus, the power of a leader is based on the good knowledge of subordinates, the ability to put oneself in their place, to analyse the situation, and to determine the immediate and remote consequences of their actions, the pursuit of self-improvement, and awareness of the need to perform certain actions (Hanna & Latchem 2013).

Zayed University was founded in 1998 as a female university, but later it began to accept students of both sexes (Zayed University 2017). It is named after Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the country and the first president. The University has five faculties: Arts and Sciences, Business Studies, Communication and Mass Communications, Education, and Information Systems. This higher education institution is currently considered one of the best in Dubai and the UAE in general. The innovative programmes of training, as well as the newest forms of education, are introduced here. The university employs only the best teachers, professors, and scientists who are able to give students high-quality knowledge.

The University produces future diplomats, business persons, as well as lawyers whose knowledge is concentrated on civil and family law. Zayed University offers several leadership programmes, each of which available to the students at various levels. They share similar objectives, such as offering organisational leadership capacity in order to enhance the country’s overall effectiveness in the labour market.

Labour Market of the UAE

The largest part of the evidence still comes from the outside, which is one of the most critical challenges encountered by the researchers. As stated in the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government report, this is caused primarily by poor documentation of the literature, cases, and methodologies of leadership (UAE leadership school 2014). In other words, it is possible to suggest that adequate documentation would allow enriching the existing evidence, thus contributing to the theory of leadership in the UAE. The mentioned report also provides a scheme of successful leadership development that consists of strengthening the corporate culture, developing programme courses, and implementing regulations and policies. Such a comprehensive approach is likely to create a balance in education as well as fit the labour market requirements.

Even though there is a limited amount of literature regarding the specified theme, it is still possible to conduct a comprehensive analysis. The UAE developed significantly in different directions such as real estate, tourism, business, banking, etc., which means that the number of vacancies has multiplied. The local residents were not eager to work hard because they received good help from the government and dividends from the sale of oil (De Bel-Air 2015). Labour migrants from different countries came to the aid. De Bel-Air (2015, p. 2) reckons that “non-Emiratis comprised 40 per cent of the UAE’s public sector’s workforce in 2013, but as much as 99.5 per cent of those employed in the private sector”. Such a great prevalence of ex-pats, primarily from Asia, creates a competitive force to the national workers. The author cites the official sources and concludes that the employers consider the preparation of the local students insufficient to compete with ex-pats. This problem makes it evident that there is a need to reconsider education approaches and methods in order to produce highly competent professionals. With this in mind, the government launched Dubai’s Expo 2020 programme to set a broad call for professional preparation via various workshops. More to the point, the Vision 2020 Plan outlines the focal objectives to be accomplished by the mentioned year.

The policy of Emiratisation is also launched to train the most competent leaders able to take proper solutions. In terms of the new policy, the Khalifa Fund for Emiratisation Empowerment supports the social and economic development of the country (De Bel-Air 2015). This fund strives to offer financial aid to UAE citizens to involve them in the local job market and ensure decent living conditions. Currently, the national labour market in the UAE is approximately 330,000 people, and by 2020, this figure is expected to amplify to 450,000 people. It is anticipated that by 2050, the market volume will increase to 600 000 people, according to Towers Watson, a consulting company in the field of personnel management (De Bel-Air 2015). Various approaches to leadership are used in the UAE.

As a part of this research, it is essential to review the current leadership approaches that are widely used in the country. The study conducted by Martin, Liao, and Campbell (2013) who compared directive versus empowering leadership in the UAE context revealed that the latter has more capacity to cause proactive behaviours of the customers. Particularly, conducting a field experiment, the authors discovered that the directive approach to leadership works solely in the environment where the employees are highly satisfied with their leaders. On the contrary, empowering leadership affected positively both proactive action and task proficiency. An important contribution of the aforementioned approach to leadership theory and practice is that it helped to analyse and classify leadership styles (Martin, Liao & Campbell2013). In the context of management and education, empowerment is the usual behaviour of a leader towards subordinates in order to influence and encourage them in achieving an organisation’s goals.

Proactivity acts as one of the key dimensions of leadership in the UAE. As stated by Martin, Liao, and Campbell (2013, p. 1386), “leaders cannot simply dictate the need for proactive performance, but rather need to inspire and intrinsically motivate it.”Nowadays, the world is developing so quickly that a leader needs to constantly keep his or her hand on the pulse of change. Previously, as soon as the target appeared on the horizon, the standard strategy was, first, to aim (collect information), prepare (thoroughly think through the strategy of achieving the goal), and make the final decision. Since all this takes time and any delay can be critical, leaders are expected to seize the initiative and develop faster than competitors. This is the essence of proactivity that is valued in the UAE’s perception of leadership.

Elaborating on the presentation of the UAE’s labour market, it is also appropriate to point out the impact of Western education on the leadership practices applied by the nationals and used in the educational field. In particular, Kamali, Jayashree, and Lindsay (2015) claimed that Western leadership development programmes had significantly impacted the Emirati leadership in organizational and developmental aspects. The authors investigated leadership conceptualisations in the UAE based on the perceptions of the national leaders and concluded that they were not applicable to the local context as they were.

Due to the fact that the UAE has cross-cultural issues that are to be taken into account while elaborating and implementing special programmes, the Western approaches cannot meet these requirements. The study also stated that the evidence showed the growing awareness of the need to consider the Arab context (Kamali, Jayashree & Lindsay 2015). One may assume that the Western theories pushed the local leadership making it more active and innovative. The role of the mentioned theories can be seen both as beneficial and unconstructive. On the one hand, the introduction and maintenance of the approaches of the West allowed the Emirati leaders to comprehend the very essence of leadership by highlighting the key theories, models, and strategies. On the other hand, they acted as a dilatory mechanism with regard to progress. Therefore, it is of great importance to pay attention to the Western theories, yet to avoid their replication.

For example, dyadic theories that imply a more complex consideration of leadership strategies can be noted. Precisely speaking, they target the establishment of proper relationships between a leader and the followers. One of the forms of the above theories is leader-member exchange theory (LMX), according to which leaders may create two groups such as favoured in-group and non-favoured one (Elanain 2013). The attitude to the members of the first group is to be more emotional and trusted compared to those of the second one. The latter is viewed by a leader as to followers with less potential yet also important. Empowerment and equity are two paramount components of LMX. As stated by Elanain (2013), the study exploring work outcomes in terms of LMX revealed its positive impacts on role clarity promotion and job satisfaction.

Methods of Leadership Programme

In the UAE

Leadership in the UAE is understood as a powerful tool to achieve great results in competing with ex-pats on the labour market. The government perceives leadership as an instrument that allows reflecting on promising, though unfulfilled desires, abilities, and aspirations that can change the situation, enrich and renew the educational reform processes, and also make a breakthrough in the leading positions in the whole education system. At this point, such scales as of the country, the region, specific educational institutions, individual groups, and individuals are to be considered. Therefore, the study of leadership in education is of undoubted interest from a practical point of view in the Emirati context.

In 2015, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai launched a Strategic Leaders Programme devoted to CEOs setting strategic goals (UAE government leaders programme 2015). This programme enables the leaders to come up with innovative ideas by focusing on constructivism as well as inspiration. The above programme implies such formats as specialist meetings and seminars that are to be organised in order to present and discuss global trends and approaches with regards to leadership. Most importantly, this programme aims at designing future leaders’ skills and strategies so that their expertise would be as effective as possible. In this connection, the programme also involves international experts and hosts to exchange experience. This leadership programme launched at the governmental level shows that the UAE is aware of the need to update leadership approaches, thus boosting the national leaders’ experience and the future. The fact that the country seeks to obtain international assumptions allows suggesting that the government has a clear vision of the global trends and the necessity to integrate them into the local context.

The Executive Leadership programme is another initiative organised by the UAE for the executive directors and those who are responsible for decision-making in different labour market sectors, both public and private (UAE government leaders programme 2015). Among the pivotal objectives of the mentioned programme, one may distinguish assessing the global directions and reconsidering them, foreseeing the future, building foundation culture, and developing a global network of leaders. In other words, the brief review of the Executive Leadership programme indicates the government’s intention to refocus on leadership based on the global experience and the national peculiarities.

In its turn, the future leader’s programme targets “deputy directors of departments, department heads and managers of projects” (UAE government leaders programme 2015, par. 6). The goals set by the above programme coincide with those of the previous programme and present a series of workshops, including training and coaching. UAE Youth Programme refers specifically to young people aged between 21 and 30 who have aspiration, ambition, and vision to qualify the UAE youth leadership. Social skills, happiness, positivity, future thought, global challenges, etc. are among the fields to be studied in the course of this programme. It should be stressed that all of the identified programmes focus solely on the nationals with good reputation and competencies. At the same time, rich culture and a clear vision are also listed among the components required for programmes’ eligibility.

Transformational leadership is one of those leadership styles that can inspire those who follow a leader to make positive changes. Litz and Scott (2017) explored the mentioned style of leadership in the field of education by conducting an analysis of perceptions in the managers who participated in the study. The respondents reported that transformation leaders, as a rule, are energetic and full of enthusiasm and passion. These leaders are not only interested in their own work and deeply immersed in the working process but also help any member of the team in achieving success. Specifically, in the UAE, they apply the intellectual stimulation by challenging the current state of affairs as well as by stimulating and encouraging creativity in the work of those they lead. Leaders encourage followers to discover new ways of doing their work and to use all the opportunities to learn something previously unknown (Litz & Scott 2017). These leaders also inspire motivation, having a clear understanding of how to formulate and present plans and tasks to employees. Such leaders can also help team members to generate enough motivation to perform these tasks.

Assessing the existing leadership education programmes in the UAE, one may state that their effectiveness and sustainability are frequently limited by participating individuals and organisations along with government system integration. In particular, the first dimension of individuals’ participation refers to their low level of commitment, leadership capacity, and time spent on workshops. For the participation of organisations, there is a high cost, a lack of joint action, and the impact of programmes. As a result, the government receives a limited number of candidates as future leaders. The scope of leadership education is limited to some employees, while others are not engaged in special programmes. Such a distinction creates leadership unawareness and insufficiency.

Much of this discussion takes place under the umbrella of leadership studies while among the leadership competencies required by the UAE market, one may enumerate the honest interest in work and maintenance of ethics. This echoes with the fact that the struggle for the development of the potential is also given as the most important development trend of the labour market. Tahir and Naeem (2017) stress the need for the education of leaders with different skills, types of personality, experience, and abilities. They also emphasise how important it is to be flexible and adapt to situations since the companies need leaders who can work in different situations, adjust to unexpected turns, and take their team towards the required direction.

The major responsibilities may be classified in the following way: organisational (mission, values, and corporate culture), behavioural, functional (anticipation of the high quality of performing a unique task), and administrative (attributes and skills, reflecting the leadership potential of an individual). Abstracting from the classification, it is beneficial to list some specific types of skills and personal attributes of a suitable leader. Initativeness and creative approach – mastering the skills of formulating a plan and carrying out activities in the absence of detailed instructions – are two of the key elements required by the labour market (Tahir & Naeem 2017). Dyadic theories, especially LMX style, may also be noted among good leader traits and behaviours. In particular, in terms of the above theory, it is critical to pay attention to leader-employee relationships and collaboration.

Willing to respond to challenges in the future, preparing for them in advance, taking on additional responsibilities, developing new solutions for old problems, and assessing the benefits of modern technology can also be noted. In addition, sound judgement, regarded as the generation of sound decisions based on intelligence more than on emotions, along with a professional analysis of problems supplement the list of a leader’s skills.

The aforementioned competencies, skills, roles, and responsibilities are clearly observed and properly integrated into teamwork leading. Teamwork maximises the potential of an organisation’s human resources, improves its performance, and ensures the continuous development of personnel, including personal and professional growth (Hassan et al. 2013). Harnessing a researcher’s enthusiasm, many educational institutions choose teamwork leadership as their main strategy aimed at creating a team for solving specific and key problems and implementing the necessary reforms. Co-operation with colleagues, which is understood as the attribution of an individual to harmonise the collective relationships for a guaranteed high result, is likely to help a leader to apply his or her potential. The orientation to quality refers to performing one’s duties carefully, scrupulously, and accurately. Leaders, according to Hassan et al. (2013), should think of themselves as leading teams of followers. Therefore, an important role in the preparation of leaders should be assigned to the development of qualities that ensure successful group activity: the ability to work in a team and form a team in addition to formulating a problem and the purpose of group activities.

In Zayed University

Modern UAE organisations are increasingly lacking talented and well-educated leaders at all levels of government. However, leadership can be learned (Tahir & Naeem 2017). The courses offered by the UAE Universities target methods for identifying leadership potential and developing leadership skills that are to help the students to learn how to lead a group, a team, or an organisation. Along with the systematic theoretical material at the beginning, it describes the basic qualities of a leader, determining the productivity of his or her work (Alhebsi, Pettaway & Waller 2015). Then the priorities of the development of an individual are determined, and, first of all, the development of the basic skills and behaviours necessary for exercising power in various situations. The courses also provide the study of the most effective methods and approaches, according to which a person who wants to inspire other people, influence their workplace behaviours, and lead to real actions should act. Possession of these skills gives one immeasurably greater freedom of action and opens the way to a new level of achievement and self-realisation (Alhebsi, Pettaway & Waller 2015). The latter always ensures success in one’s career and contributes to the improvement of the national labour market.

The theory of relationship reflects the modern understanding of leadership suggested by Tahir and Naeem (2017). The nature of leadership here is caused by the special relationships that exist between a leader and the followers. Such a leader is able to inspire people and motivate them to work towards achieving their goals based on earned trust, mutual respect, and shared common values. People follow this leader not out of the fear of punishment or desire to receive a reward, but because he or she expresses creative and feasible ideas, the pursuit of which promotes their self-development and nourishes their self-respect.

According to the report prepared by Zayed University, it strives to ensure leadership and governance; it is stated in the Federal Decree No. 11 of 1999 that “establishes a shared leadership system in which a President (who is also a UAE cabinet minister), a Vice President (acting as the University’s chief executive officer), and the University Council have key roles to play” (Zayed University self-study report 2013, p. 28). This report provides no statistics regarding leadership courses and programs at Zayed University, yet it specifies the University’s leadership objectives and strategies. Particularly, leadership here is comprehended as the process of organising the interaction between a leader and a group aimed at achieving common goals. As a member of a group, a leader is expected to promote the emergence of leadership, which determines the vision of future work (Zayed University self-study report 2013).

In the system of higher education, the results of training are expressed in terms of competence, thereby showing that in terms of development, instead of the leadership qualities, it is legitimate to talk about leadership competence. The latter is defined as an ability and readiness to solve leadership tasks: a vision of the goal, the motivation of others, and the organisation of activities to achieve it. The figures 1, 2, and 3 in Appendix A present the intuitive grasp of the mentioned University to support its students’ start-ups, thus promoting leadership among them.

Zayed University offers several leadership programmes and courses, among which there are graduate, baccalaureate, and others. The overall objectives of these programmes are formulated as follows:

The development of leadership skills of students is emphasised through the provision of youth leadership programme and training as well as through encouraging students to participate in leadership roles in the university (membership in Student Council, chairing a club, joining the committee, coorganising major events) and outside the university. (Zayed University 2017)

For example, the College of Education offers Master of Education (M.Ed.) Educational Leadership and Administration programme, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences provides Master of Arts (M.A.) in Diplomacy and International Affairs programme, and the College of Business Executive presents Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) programme. The detailed list of available programmes can be accessed via the University’s official website.

The identified programmes target the development of various tools and such competencies as critical thinking, effective communication and teamwork, and the generation of innovative ideas. In an attempt to assist the students in entering a globally competitive business environment, the above options incorporate the basic knowledge and leadership perspectives.

There are several benefits of courses and programmes offered by Zayed University. The fact that they pose new tasks of leadership including development of vision, guessing of internal relationships, etc. that allow structuring events through understanding the internal relationships makes sense (Gaad, Arif & Fentey 2006). In the training of the students, the emphasis is placed not only on skills improvement but also on the development of attributes and competencies, which guarantee a stable result in practice in the form of the application of the obtained knowledge and abilities. Zayed University also develops leadership positions at tactical and strategic levels, thus providing specific tools for solving current problems and development prospects. Based on workshops, the given University provides the opportunity to work out all skills on the real cases, which gives a solution to current work issues already in the process of training, leading to practical results.

Even though Zayed University may be characterised as quite successful in training the students, it lacks some critical points. Similar to the general situation in the UAE, it fails to align business requirements and the corresponding student preparation (Gaad, Arif & Fentey 2006). The above pitfall is complicated by the fact that the students’ attendance of workshops is rather low, which reflects their reluctance to visit them. It seems that further research would help to overcome this challenge (Zahran et al. 2016). Another difficulty is associated with the programmes’ insufficient clarity of vision and understanding of the required leader competencies.

There are several leadership models taught at Zayed University. According to the trait model of leadership, the best of leaders have a certain set of common for all personal qualities. Elaborating on the above assumption, it can be argued that if these traits may be determined, the students may learn to train them in themselves, thus becoming successful leaders. Some of these learned traits are the level of intelligence and knowledge, openness, social and economic education, a convincing style, common sense, imitativeness, and a high level of confidence. However, the study of traits model continues to give ambiguous results. Leaders, as a rule, differ by the aspiration to gain knowledge, intelligence, activity, consistency, accountability, social contribution, and a socio-economic status. Nevertheless, in different situations, effective leaders apply diverse personal qualities. Therefore, it is possible to assume that an individual cannot become a leader merely since he or she possesses a certain set of personal traits.

However, it is known that the best leaders have some common skills, which include high intellect, curiosity, responsibility, activity, sociability, and a strong will to develop.

However, a person who does not possess these skills also may become a leader, and, on the contrary, a person who has these skills does not necessarily become a leader (Moorosi 2014). Thus, in the theory of skills, two approaches emerged based on the personal qualities of a leader: situational and behavioural. According to the situational model of leadership, a leader becomes a person who has the qualities, skills, abilities, and experience necessary to optimally resolve an issue in the emergence of a situation in an organisation. In this case, in different circumstances, an organisation may nominate different people as leaders.

It should be emphasised that the contingency theory considers leadership as behaviour, which argues that there is no best way to organise a company and guide the decision-making process. The style of leadership effective in some situations may not be so successful in others. Speaking more precisely, several internal and external constraints determine an optimal model of leadership. In the contingency theory of leadership, a leader’s effectiveness is affected by a number of factors such as subordinates, tasks, and / or groups. The success of a certain pattern of a leader’s actions largely depends on a situation requirement.

This theory pinpoints the use of different styles of leadership corresponding to the needs created by different organisational situations (Hassan et al. 2013). Contingency theory is the earliest and most widely researched one. This approach is based on traits model as well as the behavioural theory, arguing that the effectiveness of a group depends on a leader’s emotional position and some contextual variables: a group atmosphere, a structure of tasks, and a scope of a leader’s powers. This theory asserts that a group’s effectiveness is the result of the contact of two factors. The above factors refer to the approach to leadership and favourableness of a situation. In the described model, the effectiveness of leadership is the result of the robust interaction between a leader’s style and the parameters of the environment in which he or she works.

The traditional approach that focuses on personal traits of a leader prevails in the Emirati context and at Zayed University. In this regard, a leader is seen as the bearer of certain qualities and abilities that contribute to the influence on others, while regardless of the situation, personal traits have a natural basis. There is a list of characteristics (traits, abilities, and skills) that are of paramount importance for leadership influence and leader effectiveness. According to this theory, innate leaders have the most effective models of behaviour and leadership. The main trait of such a leader is being charismatic, which helps gain people’s trust and exert a strong and extraordinary influence on them due to his or her vivid personality and personal contact. At the heart of such influence, there lies charisma, which is difficult to be measured and described objectively. As a rule, charismatic influence is associated with a set of extraordinary characteristics or patterns of behaviour of a leader (Hassan et al. 2013).

It is also possible to outline some additional leadership initiatives. For instance, Zayed University educators are convinced that the Peer Assistance Leader (PAL) system can significantly improve the educational levels of students (Zayed University 2017).

The very idea of PAL focuses on highly academic students whose role is to help their peers by encouraging, sharing experience, and giving guidance. The students are eligible to work in terms of PAL if they successfully completed two semesters and present responsibility, confidence, and a collaborative leadership style. As stated by Hassan et al. (2013), the students at Zayed University may learn leadership skills with the help of Lego. Building their personalities and expected career goals while sitting around the Lego-converted tables, students participated in the Lego Serious Play workshop. They constructed windows and towers with green flags as symbols of their intentions to look outward and keep growing both personally and professionally.

As noted by one of the participants of the mentioned workshop, the majority of lectures are boring and traditional and creates some restraint in students (Zayed University 2017). On the contrary, this workshop was a refreshing change, useful and interesting for them.

Perceptions of the Business Leaders

Speaking of the perception of business leaders in the UAE, it is of great importance to pinpoint their attitudes towards the future leadership strategies and skills. The need for leaders formed in the society poses the question of their purposeful training or, more precisely, the formation of leadership qualities and skills, not only for almost all leaders in education but also for educators and students (Al Sahi Al Zaabi, Ahmad & Hossan 2016). The society’s need for a new generation of leaders, especially leaders in education, can be met through the development and implementation of a special programme for training of leaders with a special emphasis on stimulating those technologies and teaching methods in which more general principles for the development and upbringing of an active personality are involved. It is possible to make changes in the regional higher education components by having developed an integrative general scientific course that enhances fundamental preparation for any type of the activity within this framework. Knowledge, creative thinking, and leadership multiplied by ethics compose the formula for success in leadership education (Al Sahi Al Zaabi, Ahmad & Hossan 2016). A leader needs critical thinking, deduction, the ability to think within a group, and the ability to make decisions under the pressure of circumstances in the shortest possible time.

The paramount importance is assigned to endowing oneself with the local culture and a global initiative based on enhancing the individual awareness and introducing continuous leadership review across the government (Prabhakar & Yaseen 2016). The business leaders perceive each other and the very scope of leadership as a source of knowledge and cultural reference. The Emirati context, in this regard, is recognised as the core element in the entire leadership system. It is proposed that the local scientific knowledge should be applied while designing workshops for the future leaders and providing the corresponding training. It is essential to utilise both the local and global theories to gain advantage in accomplishing the stated objectives.

With this in mind, the unique local experience that played an integral role in the government’s development needs to be assigned a top priority.

Taken together, the global standards and the national knowledge are expected to serve as a guide on the way to a unified goal related to leadership. The business leaders believe that the national culture has a significant impact on the interaction of the management system of the business entity with the external environment as well as the activity of managers and personnel in the internal environment with regards to the problems of modern management. In other words, cultural features are the main factor in the formation of communicative relations not only in the external but also in the internal environment. The need to study and adapt to cultural differences especially increases with the amplification of internationalisation and the intensification of the processes of globalisation.

In addition to non-cognitive competencies, business leaders indicate the need for the following competences of candidates regardless of whether they have work experience or are recent graduates: the ability to solve problems arising in the workplace; the ability to consider several alternatives while making decisions; the ability to determine current and future needs in the work process; the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of the result of the work process; the ability to organise work, etc. (Qubaisi et al. 2015). At the same time, it is stressed that the given abilities are to be shown in resolving problems and making decisions under conditions of risk and change while performing a complex and situational analysis of work processes.

Some business leaders also note that in the absence of a potential employee experience and some specific skills, they would prefer to see a conscientious and decent person in their team rather than an employee with a large professional potential, yet with dubious morals and values. Nevertheless, leadership, as respondents note, is also extremely necessary for employees to lead their teams ahead. According to Qubaisi et al. (2015), current leaders are unanimous in the fact that the necessary non-cognitive competences are critical for the recent graduates who do not have work experience, but vary depending on the supposed place of work since every company assumes the existence of its own corporate culture.

Of the most popular non-cognitive competencies, the first place among respondents is taken by the ability to work in a team and cooperate. At present, the corporate culture of many organisations places emphasis on the commanding factor, using tools to increase the effectiveness of their employees in the team, such as team building stimulation to enhance cooperation between colleagues (Qubaisi et al. 2015). The subsequent most popular among employers are such competencies as morality an d social responsibility, and the third place is taken by leadership skills. Thus, the leaders indicate the need for symbiosis in a candidate of at least three of the following competences: effective cooperation and teamwork, social responsibility and morality, and leadership skills, so that they could pay little attention to the lack of experience or professional competence.

Perceptions of the Students

The study on the students’ perception illustrates that there is a correlation between the effectiveness of leadership and the individual qualities of a person exercising leadership functions. Obviously, these traits have different significance for the effectiveness of leadership, depending on temporal, cultural, macro- and micro-social conditions as well as specific circumstances. The influence of this or that quality on the effectiveness of leadership is conditioned by the situational factor, which has a probabilistic character (Hassan et al. 2013). At the same time, since leadership corresponds to the most attractive values, certain qualities can be attributed to a leader by the followers on the basis of his or her actions.

The resultant generalised image of a leader is consolidated in the system of social representations, providing members of the society with consistency in the assimilation of certain group norms and values as well as in the development of various social roles, thereby enabling effective implementation of leadership functions.

It is shown that the students consider responsibility, ability to predict, perseverance, insight, self-control, the ability to accurately position themselves, and developed general and special abilities as the most important for leadership behaviours. At the same time, according to respondents, a leader is contraindicated with uncertainty, slowness, excessive dependence on others, extreme caution, evasiveness, dishonesty, and laziness (Kamali, Jayashree & Lindsay 2015). With the help of a factor analysis, a latent structure of behaviour characteristic and uncharacteristic (unacceptable) for a leader was revealed. As the factors influencing the perception of one or another member of a group, the respondents note the following aspects: the behaviour of the perceived person in the form of relationships with a team; personal characteristics of a perceived leader as the degree of openness to a group, originality, and intellectual abilities; external characteristics such as attractiveness, style, etc.; the perception of a person by another individual, which is conditioned by the leadership attitude and established relationships.

In general, it can be concluded that the students’ views of a leader reflect the cultural-invariant characteristics of his or her social role. To the most typical and basic to any leader characteristics of behaviour and personal qualities behind them, the study participants attributed the aspiration for excellence, insight and the ability to maintain their reputation to achieve mutual understanding, comprehensiveness, and justice. At the same time, for a leader, in the opinion of the respondents, it is uncharacteristically to be conceited and it is useless to waste time or keep silence about the essence of the matter (Gaad, Arif & Fentey 2006).

Thus, the students’ views largely coincide with the results of scientific research on the qualities and behaviour of a leader and show that members of the social group view a leader as the main vehicle of accomplishing goals, programmes, and methods of action (Kamali, Jayashree & Lindsay 2015).

In addition, such person promotes values and norms of the group, integrates group processes and relations being capable of organising people for effective cooperation, and is able to settle conflicts and seek the consent of the followers. At the same time, the effectiveness of leadership is determined by the presence of a set of qualities that give him or her opportunity to encourage followers to perform the assigned tasks and follow the behavioural features that allow a leader to empower people through inspiration, persuasion, and encouragement.

The period of studying at a university is a sensitive phase in the formation of the students’ leadership aspirations due to a number of objective and subjective circumstances. Objective circumstances that favour the formation of leadership aspirations include the special responsibility imposed by society on a student as a future leader and a socially active citizen along with a significant proportion of the autonomy delegated to him or her by the subjects of guardianship. Subjective circumstances involve the maturity of all the students’ mental functions, in-depth knowledge, and the experience of building social interaction.

However, in practice, the percentage of the students who are inert and amorphous to some extent, do not have any expressed abilities, and seek to express themselves and achieve their prestigious social status through their own efforts is still quite significant at the given University. Such apathetic manifestations hamper the processes of their social adaptation and professional development in terms of leadership (Kamali, Jayashree & Lindsay 2015). Therefore, in the course of the identified period of life, a certain organisational and psychological activity is required in order to help young people develop their leadership aspirations, and, consequently, competitiveness and success in the corresponding professional spheres. It also seems appropriate to pinpoint the fact that the results of the reviews allow drawing a conclusion about the predominance of passivity of the students in relation to leadership education, which is inconsistent with the existing and constantly changing conditions of public life and personal circumstances. Only a small proportion of the students are actually interested in their education, considering it important and appropriate and, accordingly, using both educational and cognitive activities as a sphere of leadership self-realisation.

There is no clear vision and, what is more important, insufficient planning for the upcoming life. The future activity in the representations of the students is inadequate, and there is no single idea that forces them to move forward (Kamali, Jayashree & Lindsay 2015). The authoritative status of a leader is valued by the students as a means of achieving success, creating the possibility of leadership while it is necessary to satisfy their claims. Despite the pronounced request for practice, little attention has been paid to the formation of leadership qualities among young people in the given higher educational institution. The inadmissibility of this gap is particularly evident in the practice of preparing specialists who, with their contribution, are called upon to play a decisive role in solving innovative problems facing the contemporary leadership education.

Conclusions from Literature

With this aforementioned information in mind, it becomes evident that the economic philosophy of the country is based on the principle of freedom of economic activity as well as provision of equal opportunities for all organisations to participate in the development process in addition to offering a legal and regulatory framework to strengthen the spirit of competition and leadership along with initiative and innovation in the business environment. The United Arab Emirates is conducting a successful experiment combining rapid economic modernisation, on the one hand, and preserving traditional ways of life and culture, on the other hand. The literature review revealed that business leaders’ perceptions regarding leadership roles and responsibilities are wider than those of students. While the former are more aware of the potential benefits Emiratisation and leadership may bring, the latter seems to be lacking the very essence of a successful leader. It was also discovered that the government attempts to enhance the government’s leadership practices by implementing various programmes for leaders at all levels.

Similar to the above practice, Zayed University strives to promote leadership among the students by integrating leadership initiatives in many courses and programmes. Drawing from the evidence presented in this section, one may conclude that there is a need to focus on leadership education at Zayed University to eliminate the current challenges such as the low attendance of workshops by the students and the blurred perception of a future leader and leadership competencies.


Appendix A

Start-up grants for new faculty
Figure 1. Start-up grants for new faculty (Zayed University 2017).
Research incentive fund (RIF) grants
Figure 2. Research incentive fund (RIF) grants (Zayed University 2017).
Students: graduate program enrolment
Figure 3. Students: graduate program enrolment(Zayed University 2017).


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