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Leaders Identification in the UAE Environment Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 27th, 2020


Leadership is a critical aspect that has a direct influence on the performance of any organisation. Often, the identification of a leader considers how the understanding, as well as the practice of accountability in leadership, can be improved by determining the underlying competencies. In return, these aspects help in integrating both the social and environmental considerations to form a comprehensive decision-making process. Numerous scholarly works of the literature suggest about the concept of ethical leadership, which points at the things that leaders need to do from a philosophical point of view. On the other hand, leadership is also defined in terms of personality traits that are considered as important in sustaining effective, ethical leadership. Other scholars rely on the social learning theory to identify leadership in terms of individual characteristics, as well as situational influences for the followers. This paper seeks to discuss the issue of “how leaders can be identified”. The paper reflects on several literature materials written by scholars to present my formal position regarding the subject matter, specifically in the context of the UAE commercial environment.

Literature Review

The perspectives of management mainly adopted within the western world realms require to be adjusted conceptually and operationally to the local socio-cultural setups of other countries, such as the UAE, whose cultures are directly different from the western cultures (Stephenson, Russell, & Edgar, 2010). The contemporary Arab styles of leadership differ with what the western world has adopted as its core management styles. The Arab managers, like Stephenson, Russell and Edgar (2010) emphasise, require a systematic understanding of appropriate leadership skills and traits that fit perfectly within the Arab managing environment, like in the UAE.

Learning agility

Swisher (2013) asserts that an individual’s past performance and accomplishments do not indicate their effectiveness in tackling unforeseen crises, challenges, or dilemmas as leaders. Instead, leaders and leadership are comprised of ideas of learning agility, which is capable of making a tangible difference. The learning agility has been continuously in use in most companies as a practical method of identifying potential leaders for about 20 years (Swisher, 2013). The practicality of the learning agility regarding the ways of identifying leadership is based on the fact that it enables people to learn not only new skills but also new behaviours, where they implement the learning to perform in different situations.

Roughly, only 15 per cent of the entire global workforce constitutes highly agile learners, with a larger percentage of 85 not meeting these qualities. As such, Swisher (2013) underscores the fact that companies are coming up with specific strategies aimed at securing this type of talent to identify able leaders within their firms. About 25 per cent and 50 per cent of the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 respectively rely on the learning agility as a perfect corporate means of identifying individuals with great leadership potential from within their workforces. The importance of the learning agility in identifying people with great leadership skills has grown in significance in the recent times, such that leading US universities and other parts of the world are integrating the concept in their curricula (Swisher, 2013). Most importantly, individuals who possess high learning agility have a greater potential for advancement. Also, they are often promoted faster in their professional ranks to the top of the company’s management. As opposed to other abstract concepts on leadership identification, the learning agility entails learning a set of competencies and behaviours in an individual. These behaviours are observable and easily assessed. The fact that the learning agility encompasses behaviours implies that any individual can develop it and polish their leadership skills and capabilities (Swisher, 2013).

Leadership through experience

Terrell and Rosenbusch (2013) introduce a different discussion on the ways through which leaders in organisations can be identified. In their article, the authors mention that organisations and leaders are continuously confronted with new and dynamic environments that are not only ambiguous in their states but also characterised by uncertainty and a greater extent of equivocality. Given such challenging circumstances, leaders engage in sense-making as a way of discovering certainty in their performance. Terrell and Rosenbusch (2013) point out that managerial learning is improved through such opportunities only, where learners obtain the chance to tackle issues and problems that they have already encountered during their working. Additionally, competency in tackling such challenging leadership scenarios is built when prospective leaders interact with other individuals, colleagues, or subordinates in reflective dialogue. Thus, leaders and leadership are identified through processed experiences and adapted behaviour that helps to facilitate the fulfilment of goals.

Leaders are best identified from the jobs they hold because it is the job experience that later presents learning opportunities. Learning forms a critical skill for leadership development, as it enables an individual to experience phenomena and reflect on the experience gained. It eventually creates meaning that enables the leader to make decisions about what requires to be done differently. Most people acquire skills in leadership easily when working in environments that they are used to, as opposed to when they are placed under new challenges. However, identifying leaders through experience does not necessarily imply that an individual will acquire skills from experience. Instead, a leader must, first of all, be someone able and ready to learn. It implies that potential leaders should be capable of analysing their cognitive processes introspectively, as well as determining ways to improve the cognitive processes. Moreover, Terrell and Rosenbusch (2013) suggest that potential leaders must have self-awareness instincts to determine their strengths and limitations. The learning ability provides leaders with great power to operate in environments that are considered as turbulent.

Building on the notion about leaders being identified through learning and experience, Kempster (2006) infers that the daily engagement of a practising worker or a manager enables them to develop leadership meanings, including practices and identities. Experience in leadership roles enables situated learning, where an individual appreciates the balance existing between social and cultural worlds. The organisations, including people and groups involved, enable one to understand actions and situations and develop shared identities that are critical for managers. Situated learning promotes apprenticeship, where a potential leader involves themselves in becoming a part of the collective society, rather than simply knowing it. Identifying leaders is an easier exercise if it is done with a focus on individuals who are operating in the system, such as the employees because they boast of good relations with the rest of the organisation. They equally enjoy knowledge-in-action by their legitimate participation in the system (Kempster, 2006).

Leadership and culture

Several research studies, including the GLOBE research, have been conducted to ascertain the linkage between leadership and culture. Accordingly, culture has been defined as shared motives, beliefs, and values, including the interpretations of significant events that result from familiar experiences. Culture is important to consider when it comes to identifying leaders, because often where people spend when growing eventually ends up, shaping their thought processes and actions. Many cross-cultural studies, as Posner (2013) highlights, conclude that culture influences leadership concepts, choice of style, and practices that are adopted by individuals. The expectation of leadership qualities or outcomes often varies a lot, owing to the cultural forces that are common in the country where a leader functions.

Considering this explanation, it can be assumed that transformational leadership materialises easily in collectivistic societies and cultures where it is considered highly effective. Several studies have equally suggested that high power distance cultures and societies will tend to tolerate an authoritarian leadership style than lower power distance societies. In other comparisons, societies that are regarded as highly feminine have with more compassionate leaders, because people endeavour to cooperate and maintain relationships. These cultural characteristics portray the close link that leadership and culture have. Leaders in a highly masculine society, for instance, will develop traits that will best sustain their operations within their culture of origin (Posner, 2013).

Despite studies indicating the existence of varying managerial values in different cultures, these differences do not apply when it comes to leadership behaviours. It implies that it is possible to identify leaders based on certain universal behaviours that cut across all cultures. Nonetheless, cultures’ influence in shaping up leadership skills remains a critical concept for organisations to rely on when identifying leaders (Posner, 2013). In countries like the UAE, where the individualism aspect of culture is low, individuals with transformational headship qualities easily pass as leaders. This tendency is linked to the kind of interaction that is expected between the society and the leadership, making it important for the transformational trait to influence decisions (Posner, 2013).

Global leaders have to possess unique global leadership competencies, which an organisation can consider when identifying leaders. The potential leadership competencies that a firm can look up to in identifying capable leadership qualities include cultural awareness, along with sensitivity, the ability to learn from experience, a global perspective, as well as the ability to develop and maintain relationships (Terrell & Rosenbusch, 2013). Additionally, competent leaders must possess good communication skills and be knowledgeable in management skills. In terms of cultural consciousness and sensitivity, an individual must be capable of understanding, remaining sensitive, and adapting to the numerous cultural differences experienced. The potential leader must be open-minded and understand the existing differences in other cultures. The understanding of other cultures presents the leader with a much better understanding of how to handle people. A global perspective, on the other hand, gives one with the ability to handle different perspectives, including being able to deal with ambiguity effectively (Terrell & Rosenbusch, 2013).


The process of identifying leaders needs to consider a wider prospect of skills and capabilities observable in an individual. The culture of society offers good guidance in helping to determine leaders who have full potential. In the UAE, good leaders must possess the ability of transformational headship, owing to the collective culture of the country. The working environment in the UAE can be described as being hierarchical, where status differences are well pronounced in the sense that it is expected to influence certain roles regarding one’s position within the hierarchy. Employees in the UAE often harbour different expectations of their workers as leaders, as opposed to the practice in the western world. Mostly, the expectation is that leaders have high expertise, and they know everything about the performance of the organisation.

Therefore, organisations need to consider their employees who have worked for them for longer periods when identifying leaders. The experience in working within the same company for a substantial period offers the individual a good understanding of how to deal with the leadership role and expectations (Neufeld, Wan, & Fang, 2010). Leadership is about learning; therefore, good leaders can be identified properly only after having encountered the experience of leadership. Apart from experience, employees in the UAE can identify leaders based on their behaviour and traits. Agility in learning among individuals is a good indicator of leadership potential. Equally, good communication skills and interaction with others reflect the appropriate potential, for one to serve as a leader. Leaders issue instructions and interpret feedback from their subordinates; therefore, strong communication skills will help in determining a leader who has full potential.

Better communication capabilities enhance clarity in the way a leader is understood by others, which is crucial in steering the organisation towards the realisation of its objectives. Employees can observe these qualities physically in the numerous interactions that they have with the prospective leader (Neufeld, Wan, & Fang, 2010). Most importantly, good leaders can be identified by how they adjust their communication depending on their audience. In some instances, the leader requires to apply a direct approach when communicating with others. In other instances, it requires an indirect form of communication to relay the message. The aspects of culture, experience, and personal traits combine to form good leadership qualities in an individual. These qualities can be evaluated and identified easily.


Leadership qualities in individuals, especially workers, can be identified through observing their behaviour. Individuals who show greater agility to learn are potentially good leaders because leadership entails a highly dynamic environment that requires a proper understanding for one to deliver effectively. Culture shapes the leadership behaviours of individuals, as it takes into consideration the context of the society and its common practices. However, global leaders need to understand other cultural practices as well, to be able to handle changes in their work requirements, including the people they work with. In the UAE, which has a low individualistic culture, it is required that a good leader who can serve in society must have important transformational qualities. Experience in a job helps in identifying leaders easily amongst the job holders because job experience later presents learning opportunities. Learning forms a critical skill for leadership development, as it enables an individual to experience phenomena and reflect on the experience gained. It eventually creates meaning that enables the leader to make decisions about what requires to be done differently. While the UAE has its unique characteristics when it comes to organisational environment and management, most of the universal aspects involved in determining leadership qualities are relevant in this case.


Kempster, S. (2006). Leadership learning through lived experience: A process of apprenticeship? Journal of Management and Organization, 12(1), 4-22.

Neufeld, D. J., Wan, Z., & Fang, Y. (2010). Remote leadership, communication effectiveness and leader performance. Group Decision and Negotiation, 19(3), 227-246.

Posner, B. Z. (2013). It’s how leaders behave that matters, not where they are from. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 34(6), 573-587.

Stephenson, M. L., Russell, K. A., & Edgar, D. (2010). Islamic hospitality in the UAE: Indigenization of products and human capital. Journal of Islamic Marketing, 1(1), 9-24.

Swisher, V. (2013). Learning agility: The “X” factor in identifying and developing future leaders. Industrial and Commercial Training, 45(3), 139-142.

Terrell, R. S., & Rosenbusch, K. (2013). How global leaders develop. The Journal of Management Development, 32(10), 1056-1079.

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