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Future Emirati leaders must be nurtured now

Building up Emirati leadership demands careful development of key skills, especially in young people.

To an outsider, the concept might seem paradoxical: how can a whole generation be raised to be leaders in society and the economy? But the UAE’s distinctive demography makes the idea perfectly sensible, and indeed even necessary.

Emiratis make up about one-eighth of the UAE’s population. The strategy of bringing in expatriate labour, at all skill levels, has succeeded in building the country’s infrastructure, institutions and economy, with the satisfying results we see around us.

But as the country enters a new and more mature phase, it is natural that citizens will increasingly supplant expatriates in leadership positions, in industry, education, communications, services – in every sector of the economy and society. The programmes and initiatives known as Emiratisation are moving the country in that direction.

But will there be enough Emirati leaders to go around? A way to assure the right answer to that came this week from William Scott-Jackson, chairman of the human-resources firm Oxford Strategic Consultancy.

Normally, Prof Scott-Jackson told The National, executives and strategic leaders across all sectors make up about 8 per cent of a country’s workforce. So the maths are clear: if all of the UAE’s leaders, by that definition, were Emirati, about 64 per cent of all Emiratis in the workforce would be in those top posts.

That’s a tall order for any society. To move towards it, the UAE will need to identify, nurture and develop the leadership potential to be found in Emiratis of all ages, and both genders, but especially in young people. Prof Scott-Jackson says that leaders are made, not born: most of the attributes of sound leadership can be developed. And a survey done by his firm found that young Emiratis plainly have the motivation to be leaders.

But there is work to be done. Prof Scott-Jackson’s firm is developing a plan to shape young Emiratis into leaders, but private enterprise, too, has a big role to play – and not only through energetic corporate management-training programmes. Businesses must also hire Emiratis at other levels.

Stepping straight from school into the executive suite is not always the best way to become a good leader. As Jamal Khater of the Emirates Foundation observed last month, the “natural scenario” should be for Emiratis to work their way up the corporate ladder, so that those most capable of leading can rise the fastest.

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