A senior executive recently asked me, "Don't you think leading here is different than in the West?"
The executive, a Lebanese Canadian, had worked eight years in Canada before coming to Dubai, and he implied a familiarity with the leadership style back there.
My hunch is that he thought I would disagree with his hypothesis, but I said, "Absolutely"
This month, the London Business School (LBS) echoed what I have been arguing for the past decade. On the front page of its Management 2.0 Labnotes publication is an article, The last bastion of American hegemony, in which the LBS points out the dominance of North American management gurus.
For the past half century, almost everything we know and practise about leadership has come from North America. While some good insights do exist, I challenge their global portability.
LBS goes on to point out that in the 2009 Thinkers50 ranking of management thinkers, all but seven learned their trade in North America. But there is a deeper problem, as the majority of the seven leaders have ties to the UK. So, the "management thinkers" are almost purely western-oriented - while 80 per cent of the world lives outside the West, and 90 per cent of the new jobs in the coming five years are expected to be created in the emerging markets.
It is time to make a U-turn, because the basic assumptions about leadership are different today.
The senior executive who asked the original question went on to discuss the difference between cultures that are rationally biased versus those that are emotionally biased. In this observation, he only scratched the surface.
Other primary considerations depicting the difference in leadership include the educational style, availability and involvement of extra-curricular activities for children and teens, as well as the corporate life cycle in a market creating "new" first-generation corporate citizens.
Since many are leading truly multinational workforces in the Middle East, what they need to do is recognise the prevalence of the western leadership system - and its limitations - when applying it outside its intended geography. Then individuals will be in a position to lead effectively.
Tips on making the leadership U-turn include having workplace intelligence and building confidence. Workplace intelligence requires listening to, and being aware of, others' insights, backgrounds, values and social dynamics.
Some individuals refer to this as emotional or cultural intelligence, but workplace intelligence is at the heart of being able to inspire a multicultural workforce to move beyond merely doing what is required, instead putting their hearts into their work.
Are you ready for a better approach to leading in the frontier and emerging markets?
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, the author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Market Leadership Center.