The journey from university into work and then onto a leadership role in many long established economies can easily take 3-5 years. But in the Middle East and Asia, due to rapidly expanding economies and organisations, and a shortage of local leaders, for many graduates the transition into leadership is much more rapid. This places significant pressure on both the individuals and the leadership development provided by higher education institutions and their organisations.
After presenting to over 500 alumni at the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in Saudi Arabia on developing leadership to enhance their performance and career, a significant percentage of the alumni I spoke to said that they had been asked to take on leadership roles within just 1 – 2 years of graduation. Some were even asked to become leaders immediately.
Transitioning from learning to leading
Most new graduates find that the transition from university to team working can be a difficult adjustment, so to be plunged into a leadership role of any type so fast, and often without support, is challenging in the extreme. The proponents of the “sink of swim” school of development will say that this is good as it weeds out the weak quickly. In fact, the evidence shows that it also reduces overall talent and the future potential of many, even if a few survive. New graduates in all economies, but in the Middle East in particular, must be helped to develop basic teamworking and leadership skills. My address to the alumni of PMU set out some of the simple steps they could individually take to grow and develop as leaders.
In the Middle East there is a critical demand for young leaders and universities must develop sufficient leaders to meet the needs of economic growth. In fact, universities everywhere must reassess their role in developing the leaders of the future in partnership with government and commercial organisations. Some institutions think that academic excellence is enough, Yes, it helps, but if it can’t be used to support implementation of real world solutions then it’s not enough. Real world skills are required as well as academic analysis.
This critical development of the leaders of the future cannot be left to any one stakeholder, be that government, universities or the commercial world. All must play their part in developing exceptional leaders who can deliver both what business and their countries want. It’s not just about transforming organisations – great leadership should be about transforming lives and nations as well.
How can Middle East graduates become leaders?
- Leadership handbook: Get a good book that covers both key day-to-day operational actions but also the strategic perspective. That’s a rare combination on one book. I would suggest my book “Lead to Succeed”.
- Get experience of team work: If your course includes group working great, if not try to find opportunities to work a part of a team to help you understand team and interpersonal dynamics.
- Get experience of task leadership: Try to find opportunities for you to be in charge of delivering tasks through other people. This could be via a part time job, a student society or a sports team. Use this to practice the core ideas from the leadership book and develop your skills.
- Seek feedback: Ask for feedback from people on how you are doing – they see things you don’t see yourself. Some may be challenging but it will boost your self-awareness which is key for leadership success
- Develop yourself: Constantly try to develop yourself through new opportunities – this enables you to grow and develop.
- Think holistically: Always think about the big picture as well as the task you are doing now. How does the task fit in with and contribute to that big picture? This develops the holistic perspective that is critical for leadership success.
- Remember the 4 E's of successful leaders:
Effective: Make sure you have the skills and knowledge to do the job.
Ethical: Make sure you always act with fairness, integrity and respect for others even if you don’t agree with them.
Engaging: Try to inspire other people to be the best they can be, build trust and a “we not me” attitude. Have a clear completing vision of where you want to go and if leading communicate it clearly.
Entrepreneurial: Think like an entrepreneur – always seek to deliver the best to your “customers”, constantly look for way to be better, innovate and keep it simple and practical.