Mike is an American manager who was recently hired by a major Abu Dhabi financial institution after his great success in his previous global firm in New York. Back home, Mike was a rising star analyst with plenty of technical potential. His claim to fame was his ability to produce incredible results. His Abu Dhabi employers, however, hired him for more than just that. His company is in the midst of executing of an ambitious Emiratization strategy to develop future Emirati finance leaders. The company’s vision is to provide learning moments for their aspiring local staff through their expatriate managers who are global experts in their fields.
The cross pollination of talents seems like a great method for on the job learning. Unfortunately, just like Mike, some of those expatriate managers are not equipped with the required skills to develop and mentor their junior Emirati staff. They have not been introduced to coaching nor are they trained on managing accountability. They detest holding performance reviews and they shy away from crucial conversations. They are not sufficiently prepared for leading others which creates a visibly disengaged team waiting for a chance to jump ships. Their incompetence simply validates the saying “people join companies but leave managers.” However, my experience is that
“developing the essential leadership skills of those managers pays dividends in terms of their ability to groom emerging Emirati talent.”
Transforming foreign experts into catalysts of growth for their local subordinates is not a simple undertaking. Nevertheless, it all starts with empowering those managers with leadership competencies. An inspiring organization in Abu Dhabi has understood this concept and developed a solid program structured innovatively to immerse its managers in a true learning lab to transform them into leaders who serve their teams. A pilot cohort of 18 hand-picked managers underwent a six-month intensive experience teaching specific practices of leadership through experiential workshops, self-directed learning, application of the practices and developmental coaching to support the application. A clear expectation from the inception is that participants are learning skills to leverage as mentors of their Emirati staff. For three consecutive years, the program has demonstrated positive outcomes on the following metrics:
1- The engagement scores of the teams led by the eighteen participants
2- Retention and promotion of the participants and the Emirati talent led by them
3- Annual anecdotal feedback and surveys of the participants and their teams
Without thoughtfully partnering with line managers and developing their essential leadership skills, nationalization strategies will continue to be just a numbers game. Without Mike’s ability to effectively lead his team, he will remain trapped in the doing instead of the mentoring. Meanwhile, his staff will keep on killing time on snapchat.