Leadership in a Fast-Paced Emerging Economy: It’s About People and Passion

As the newly appointed managing director for APCO Worldwide’s Dubai office, there is no denying that this leadership role comes with significant responsibilities. Add to that the challenges of navigating an emerging market with multiple demographics and an environment experiencing a paradigm shift in digital transformation and social advancement, there is certainly a high degree of complexity to consider.

So, what is my leadership philosophy to achieve success in this fast-paced business environment? I believe in nurturing talent and inspiring others through their journey. I am passionate about people and the power that strong leadership can achieve. To illustrate my philosophy, the following is a list of my top five considerations that management is facing today:

1. Youth

Emerging markets globally share one thing in common: an expanding young population. According to EuroMonitor, emerging markets account for 90 percent of the global population aged under 30. As we move into the next decade, the Middle East and Africa region has the largest share of under-30s in its population globally and will experience the largest growth of all regions in the world in its working-age population (aged 15-64).

Consequently, it is critical that leaders must connect with and inspire the next generation. I believe that the next decade will be defined by youth and purpose. Youth leadership is a powerful force of change capable of building a prosperous and stable future for themselves, their communities and their countries.

Millennials and Gen Z account for approximately 38 percent of the workforce, and that figure is poised to rise to 58 percent in the next decade. As millennials—currently between the age of 24 and 39—approach their peak earning and spending years, leaders must earn their license to operate by acting with purpose, backed by authenticity.

2. Diversity

At the foundation of any business, it is critical to understand the roots and diversity of the environment you are working in. I am proud to call Dubai my home and to have lived in the UAE since 1982. I am even more proud to be part of a new generation of young, dynamic leaders and entrepreneurs that represent the modern UAE and the ongoing evolution of the MENA region.

One of the most dynamic evolutions currently being witnessed in the region is that of female empowerment. Advancing women’s equality in work and society represents a major economic opportunity for the MENA region. The region has the lowest female labor force participation rate (LFPR) in the world at 24.6 percent—as opposed to a world average of 47.8 percent.

However, things are improving. Forbes unveiled its annual ranking of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list 2019, with the Middle East represented by three female leaders from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The UAE has made further strides to improve gender equality with 50 percent of the federal cabinet having female representation.

Working with women-led businesses such as APCO, which is the largest majority women-owned communications firm in the world, is a genuine opportunity to drive change. APCO’s senior management is composed equally of women and men, and its Global Leadership Team has a majority of female members. I am passionate about the value that women can bring to the workforce and all businesses should embrace the benefits of incorporating diverse perspectives.

3. Purpose

Technology has shattered barriers and reduced distances between industries, societies and locations. The world is more interconnected than ever. Leaders who understand the value of purpose, inclusion and open-mindedness can navigate the challenges of these technological disruptions.

Greta Thunberg has demonstrated the power of purpose. Leaders need to energize their constituents and inspire them with an inclusive vision. People achieve great things and find work meaningful when they are driven by purpose. When people know the why, they figure out the how.

Businesses can be a catalyst for change and development in emerging markets if purpose is considered at the core management team. By combining international best practices with local cultures, one can nurture future leaders and achieve a legacy.

4. Communication Skills

Being in the comms industry, it is important to remember that we must practice what we preach. Nowadays leadership styles must be collaborative and connected.

According to management guru Tom Peters, management and leadership are two differing and complementary disciplines—the former is more about systems, and the latter is about people. “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing,” according to Peters.

Learn to motivate others and lead by example. Command by inspiring and sharing rather than through fear and isolation. Simply put, I believe in leading by example and working tirelessly to inspire staff through daily initiatives, new ideas and rewards.

5. Celebration

“Never underestimate the importance of celebrating”, said entrepreneurial legend, Richard Branson. Nelson Mandela also famously declared, “Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” These are mantras that I advocate wholeheartedly.

Even through challenging economic times, it pays to put aside budget for team building. I believe that it is possible to achieve outstanding performance through a fun and engaging company culture. I am a huge supporter of celebrating success and recognising great teamwork.

APCO’s MENA offices are supporters of the group “Companies for Good” which organizes “fun, engaging team activities” that help companies do good for the planet, communities and business.

So, as we step into the next decade, the road ahead may be full of challenges for leaders to adapt to the world order. But with compassion, consideration and courage, there are many reasons to feel excited to embrace future leadership with daring ambition.