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The 5 Most Common Leadership Styles in the Middle East

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Leaders play a crucial role in inspiring employees by utilizing their existing knowledge and skills effectively, providing guidance, and fostering a motivating and collaborative work environment. Alternatively, if leaders lack the ability to inspire efficiency and confidence in their teams, it can make it challenging for employees to stay motivated.

Around 30 million expatriates, which represent 50% of the total population in the Middle East, work in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. In a melting pot such as this, it is no surprise that leadership styles may differ depending on the vision and mission of an organization, the level of cultural diversity, and whether a typical workday is remote, hybrid or in-office, among other factors.

To give you more insight, in this blog, we will review the five most common leadership styles in the Middle East.


1. Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leadership style is often present in traditional companies that promote a top-down communication and decision-making. These leaders, or rather managers, often implement their will and orders without consulting their employees. With a strict hierarchy where the leader has full control over the organisation’s operations, team members are expected to abide and follow the lead without questioning or challenging the authority. This often leads employees to decrease their autonomy in problem-solving as they are expected to execute tasks rather than collaborate or lead. Moreover, this leadership style often implicated limited feedback, therefore, it is difficult for employees to grow or focus on their efficiency. Despite the structured leadership, rapid decision making and an overall more productive workforce, this type of leadership tends to create:

  • A lack of creativity amongst employees
  • Low morale and feeling that their voices aren’t heard
  • Constant micromanaging and lack of autonomy
  • High turnover as employees feel unappreciated
  • Limited perspective in decision-making as it’s typically the same people making decisions

2. Paternalistic Leadership

Most common in small or family businesses, the paternalistic leadership is a style where the leader acts as the patriarch or matriarch of the company, providing support, guidance, and protection. This leader cares for their employees’ well-being by listening to their needs and concerns and addressing them effectively.

Like the authoritative style, these leaders make their expectations clear but also guide their team members to achieve their goals. In majority, they do involve their employees in decision-making, depending on the importance of the decisions, however, the final word is the leader’s. This style promotes a certain hierarchy through respect where the leader is perceived as the mentor of the organisation.

Moreover, paternalistic leaders tend to invest in their employees and their development as they seek long-term retention and trust building within their business. However, their support and nurture to their workplace could potentially limit innovation and creativity as they tend to teach their employees utilizing their own (and often limited) knowledge.


3. Laissez-faire Leadership

The laissez-faire leadership style, which in French translates to ‘‘hands-off’’ leadership, is a style where the leader gives free reign to their subordinates once they’ve provided the initial training and support. This type of leader trusts that their team members know what they are doing and will provide minimal guidance or supervision of projects and tasks.

On the contrary to the authoritative or paternalistic approaches, this leader allows employees to make decisions according to their best judgement and take accountability for them. This often creates an environment that is:

  • High in autonomy: as team members have the freedom to approach their work with confidence and flexibility
  • Supportive: because employees feel empowered to take ownership of their work, making room for personal growth and innovation
  • Strong in communication: since individuals are not afraid to share their ideas and involvement in day-to-day operations, often making for faster decision-making in the process

It should be noted that the laissez-faire approach, is mainly effective in a highly skilled work environment where employees are self-motivated and capable of working independently. In a different environment, where employees need more guidance and direction, for instance, this style of leadership could lead to a lack of clarity in goals and expectations, low support for team players in need of resources and recognition, or procrastination.


4. Transactional Leadership

The transactional leadership style, most common in real estate businesses, is a style where leaders focus on the transaction between them and their employees through recognition, promotions, rewards, bonuses, commissions, and various performance incentives. This style can also utilize ‘‘punishment’’ in the form of corrective salary (bonus) cuts or personal development plans (PDPs) if an employee fails to meet expectations or objectives. This leader provides their team members with:

  • Clear goals and expectations
  • An incentives-based framework
  • A strong focus on results

This approach emphasizes task completion and accountability as everyone is responsible for their time, revenue, and performance. Furthermore, monitoring performance is done effectively using specific metrics, evaluations, feedback, data, and key performance indicators (KPIs). Depending on how active or passive the leader is, they may choose to intervene and provide guidance regularly or only when it is necessary.

This type of leadership style permits a high level of performance and efficiency from employees allowing leaders to provide real-time feedback and reinforce behaviours to their liking. However, in the long run, this style could limit creativity, collaboration, and morale, as employers (and employees) are often determined to reach their monetary goals rather than risk trying new ideas or approaches. This often comes at the detriment of their work-life balance too, making transactional leadership styles not for the faint hearted.

5. Westernized Leadership

This leadership style, common in Western countries and steadily gaining popularity in the Middle East, promotes a workplace with a two-way communication between leaders and team members. This encourages a collaborative environment, where the leader is viewed more as a friend or as a guide when taking decisions. Both points of view are considered, and team members share responsibility and accountability for results. The westernized leadership style promotes:

  • Diversity of thought
  • Flexibility and work-life balance
  • Transparency, and
  • Autonomy and creativity

Most common in multinational companies, this leadership style empowers employees by involving them in decision-making and organizational processes. This often leads to increased employee engagement, better decision-making, enhanced ingenuity, comprehensive communication and, most importantly, high levels of job satisfaction. However, this leadership style can be time-consuming as there are more people involved in decision making, which may allow for a higher chance of conflicts and lack of accountability in the face of failures.


Creating your own leadership style

Leaders in the Middle East tend to build trust and sincerity amongst team members as well as foster an environment where everyone has a purpose and role.

Although research shows that there is a high ‘‘power distance’’ and inequality between leaders and team members, Middle Eastern leaders also foster a nurturing work environment with an ‘‘open-door culture’’ and contemporary policies.

For leaders and their teams to achieve success in the region, it is important to mix and match these and other leadership styles according to your team members and their capabilities. Depending on how skilled, motivated, and willing employees in your organisations are, you should be able to adapt different approaches to maximize their performance accordingly.

By incorporating different elements from the most common leadership styles, leaders and managers can efficiently encourage organisational success. This promotes creativity, growth and innovation as well as helps to build resilient teams that can adapt to evolving work trends.

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