Paul Almeida is the Dean and William R. Berkley Chair at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business
The business culture of the Middle East is at an inflection point. Driven by rapid economic expansion and innovation, the region does not simply need more executive talent, it needs a new brand of entrepreneurial leadership that can approach dynamic change in a way that fosters collaboration, inspires others to follow, and serves the greater mission of the organisation and country.
Any type of organisation, from a small startup to an established Fortune 500 company, can benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset that both inspires the creation of groundbreaking products, services, and processes and embodies the disruptive spirit that challenges the status quo. Understanding this evolving leadership role is essential in fostering an innovative culture.
Evolution of dynamic business leadership
The Middle East, strategically located between Europe, Asia, and Africa, positions itself as a crucial crossroads for trade and commerce, facilitating connections between different continents and cultures. Driven by ambition, it embodies the required dynamism for innovation.
During the first half of 2023 alone, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Dubai Chamber of Commerce registered more than 30,000 new businesses, marking a remarkable 43 per cent surge from the previous year. Moreover, the country’s capital, Abu Dhabi, has been recognised as the leading ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 2023 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER).
As for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the country has been fostering a supportive startup ecosystem to increase small businesses’ contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) from 20 per cent to 35 per cent as part of its Vision 2030 plans. The kingdom’s SME ecosystem experienced significant post-pandemic growth due to a combination of pro-business policies, favourable macroeconomic conditions, promising investments, and an intrinsic entrepreneurial culture.
The region’s continuous support for entrepreneurship and dedication to empowering businesses, providing a safety net, reduces inherent risks linked with exploring uncharted territories. These position the region as a hub for entrepreneurial ventures and ambitious visionaries.
This has sparked a change in the demand for executive talent. When faced with a dynamic and uncertain environment, organisations find success when their leaders are innovative, willing to explore new opportunities and embrace the future. Entrepreneurs and business leaders are recognising this shift and seeking executives with leadership styles that thrive in this changing landscape.
New metrics of success for business leaders mirror those of entrepreneurs – enthusiasm, passion, and an unyielding "I can" belief. Also, key to success will be one’s openness to work in concert with other organisations in the region, including across different industry sectors and with a range of governmental and non-governmental agencies. Business alone cannot solve the world’s most pressing issues, but it is a powerful force for change when collaborating with others.
Nurturing dynamic leadership in the Middle East's startup scene through education and mentorship
Technology, entrepreneurship, and traditional business practices converge uniquely in the Middle East's startup scene. Leaders must navigate this intersection with finesse, recognising the importance of embracing technological advancements while respecting the rich traditions that shape the region's identity. The delicate balance between innovation and cultural heritage is a challenge that requires leaders to be not only dynamic but also culturally astute.
At the same time, governments across the Middle East recognise the significance of continuous education. Various initiatives and policies incentivise individuals to pursue lifelong learning. For instance, the UAE has implemented Lifelong Learning Programmes, aiming to foster career advancement within the country.
Education remains a driving force for progress, molding a fresh wave of leaders equipped with the requisite skills to not only thrive in the region’s dynamic business landscape but also excel within the broader entrepreneurial arena.
Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE and KSA exemplify what is possible when an entrepreneurial spirit and government support converge to create a thriving ecosystem. The journey ahead is challenging, but through dynamic leadership, continuous education, and an unwavering commitment to innovation, a new generation of business leaders can chart a course toward a future limited only by their imagination.