Sheikh Mohammed's speech on leadership at the Dubai Government Excellence Programme Awards
Wednesday, April 21, 1999
The following is a translation of Sheikh Mohammed's speech on leadership at the Dubai Government Excellence Programme awards ceremony.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to see you here today and to have the opportunity to meet with you.
Of course, this is not how we had intended this symposium to be, I expected only to be addressing your direct managers.
Two days ago, I met with several officials to whom I had assigned certain tasks to be carried out in the near future, and I asked them to ensure that their respective departments, departments whose members have worked hard and introduced new things, follow the same methods that we in the government use, as we are still at the beginning of the road. I also asked each of them to come here and speak about a certain area of expertise, such as social services, human resources, or creative initiatives.
I was asked to speak about leadership, and I agreed to do so, however, when I thought about it, I realised that this is not an easy task. Leadership is hard to explain. It may be easy to lecture on customer service, or project management, but leadership is harder to define. Anyway, I am just glad that you are here. Even if there were no lecture organised for today, I believe this gathering is a positive step for us. We, in the UAE, always like to feel part of one team, and just by sitting here, debating and listening to lectures, and sharing drinks together during the breaks we are achieving something very useful. Being together, we all benefit from others' fields of expertise and I am happy to be with you.
However, I see that I cannot begin my lecture yet, as many of you still appear to be nervous, even though I should be the nervous one. You must try to relax and feel comfortable, so that you can listen properly to one another, and discuss it later. There are no strict instructions to follow, nothing to be afraid of. We are here simply to present and discuss our negative and positive qualities, which exist in all societies. Allah wishes us to perfect our work, and we are gathered here today to do our best to perfect the work we are carrying out, and to develop our country, the UAE, which provides us with all we need. We are here to reward our country for the great gifts it offers us.
I think we will begin by discussing some governmental practices then move on to an explanation and definition of leadership.
In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate, we in the government believe in the necessity of achieving excellence and success in all fields and in all events held in our country. Of course, everyone who works in the government shoulders a great responsibility - to continue to contribute success after success, achievement after achievement, to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. Such achievements would have been impossible without the unique, visionary leadership embodied by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE President, by His Highness the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, may Allah rest his soul in peace, and by His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai.
Everyone knows that our country's progress would have been impossible without their continuous toil to serve the nation and our people. So, the government, and I include all its employees in this, must devote itself to constant improvement in its performance and service, so that our country's competitive potential can be achieved.
As for leadership... one may become a leader of a simple business, but leading nations requires something more.
Some say that leaders are born, not made. I think that is probably true. But others say that one may learn how to become a leader. It is certainly true that one either possesses the qualities required of a leader, or one does not, regardless of how these qualities were attained. We all recognise whether a person is a leader or a follower, there are many examples throughout history, which suggests that leadership is a quality that has certain definable characteristics that make person "A" different from person "B".
But still there is a certain magic to a true leader. No individual leader can possess all of the characteristics. Indeed, even if a person did possess them all, it is quite possible that he still would not be a true leader. So, it is extremely difficult to define leadership, and even harder to explain it.
It is not my intention to confuse you, please be patient while I try to explain.
It may not be possible to acquire the qualities we are talking about, but we can identify them and then examine ourselves and see to what extent we may or may not possess them. If one identifies these qualities in oneself, then one can be a leader; if not, then one must strive to improve one's competence, and so prove worthy of one's responsibilities.
I would like to talk about some of the qualities that we expect to find in a leader. Leaders are not found only in a particular group of people, for example, not everyone born on a Friday can become a leader, or everyone born at the beginning of a month, or everyone who graduates from an American college, or any famous college, institute or university, because leadership is a blend of magic and wits, with which a leader is born. However, knowledge and experience cultivate and polish leadership skills. So, I say that leadership is not learnt, but cultivated. By associating with people and gaining life experience, a leader draws out the spirit of leadership that is already inside him.
One of the characteristics of a leader is selflessness, putting others before himself. Such a thing is easy to say, but many people are selfish, lacking modesty and strength. A leader does not seek praise or acknowledgement as a leader, he knows himself. A leader guides people on and does not retreat. He tells them what they should do, takes the initiative and says, "Follow me!" and they do follow, because they know that their leader will solve problems in an appropriate manner. They believe in his power. He deals with problems by himself.
Now, if any manager faces a problem with his staff, he brings it to our attention, and we solve it.
A leader has faith in Allah; he also has faith in himself, his country and his people. Along with these beliefs, he must have the resolve to see his vision achieved honestly, openly and fairly. When one has faith in oneself, however, one must avoid pride. If a man sees himself as superior to others, and has implemented one or two successful projects, he may start thinking that all his decisions will be right, that his opinion is the only correct one, that he is infallible. Once a man starts to think this way he is no longer progressing, rather he is going backwards. There are many examples of this.
One such example is Hitler. He was an excellent leader, putting his country at the vanguard of education and industry. Then, he began to think of himself as infallible, he broke his non-aggression pact with Stalin in Russia. I am certain that if he had not done so, the world would have been very different today. But Hitler's pride and arrogance tempted him to occupy many Russian territories. Stalin moved around 1550 factories to the Ural Mountains to produce the weapons which would drive the Germans out of Russia. He succeeded in doing so after manufacturing thousands of warplanes, tanks and cannons.
He took advantage of the Russian winter and expelled the Germans from his country. Many Germans perished in the cold weather. At the outbreak of the war, around 600,000 Germans were living by one of the Russian rivers. I can't recall its name at the moment. Stalin ordered his military to move them out in one day. His officers told him that it would be impossible to move that many people in one day. "Two days," he replied. They transported them in two days, but half of them died.
A dictator always fails in the end. Hitler was a leader, but he was overwhelmed by pride and arrogance. These are traps that we, at the beginning of the road, must avoid.
A leader must know how to carry out his work. He must also have the intellectual capacity required to do it, so that his mentality can prevail over others. Knowledge can take various forms; it can be common sense or scholastic. Knowledge can be acquired in schools, colleges and universities and a leader combines it with the magic of leadership, the special qualities of ambition, opinion and vision.
Once there was a group of people who heard a voice asking them to go forward, "Go to the edge," the voice said. "No," they said, "we will fall." "Go to the edge," the voice said. "No," they said, "we will be pushed." A third time the voice said, "Go to the edge." So they went, and they were pushed, and they flew.
A leader can see things that cannot be seen by his followers. Many people criticised Sheikh Zayed for planting so many trees when there was a shortage of groundwater. He was ahead of his time. Back then, if one walked between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, one would die of thirst. Sheikh Zayed ordered the excavation of ground water, ten years ago, in places where nothing existed, and where nothing was ever expected to exist. That is vision.
Another example: many people criticised Sheikh Rashid when he first established Jebel Ali port in what was then a remote desert area. It cost millions, but such are the decisions of leaders. Of course, talking about the achievements of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid is a lecture in itself, the evidence of their work is everywhere in our country.
So, a leader does not necessarily need to be the most intelligent member of his group, although many of us think that this should be the case, rather he is the one with the clearest and most far-reaching vision.
A leader's immediate circle will include people with a range of specialised expertise. There may be people in the group who are more intelligent than the leader, but the leader is the one who must consult with the group, examine their opinions and arrive at a correct decision.
A leader must admit his mistakes, accept criticism, and listen carefully to advice. For example, Sheikh Zayed, though he is more knowledgeable and experienced than I am, still consults me on certain matters. Leaders will always try to acquire more knowledge from other leaders.
I, myself, have consulted soldiers, and their opinions have proved correct. Prophet Mohammed, may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, regularly consulted with his soldiers, exchanging views with them.
So, when a leader consults with others and ultimately comes up with a solution to a problem, he rises in his people's estimations.
Idleness leads to despair. Leadership requires energy, initiative and strength. A leader should be active, both physically and mentally, and overcome exhaustion, short term and long term. Long-term exhaustion can be caused by boredom and depression. In our ministries, there are many who are bored and tired due to the monotony of work. They have no sense of progress or creativity and do not try to do anything new. Their Minister is even lazier than they are, and this breeds frustration, as does routine. Every day they go to work and follow the same monotonous routine, becoming less and less productive.
A leader, however, does not allow such things to happen. He uses his leadership and vitality to ensure that his people are not ensnared by boredom and routine. I thank Allah that we have young men and leaders of whom we are proud - but we also have victims of routine whose departments need to be overhauled.
A leader must accept personal responsibility and should believe that mistakes are his fault and his fault alone, but that success is due to the team. Responsibility may be the easiest quality to define in a leader, as the true leader is the one who says, "I am the leader and all mistakes are mine."
It is vitally important that people be loyal to their leaders, but it is even more important that a leader be loyal to his people. A leader and his people share a bond of faith in each other, which, if broken, is extremely difficult to fix.
This is a very important quality, as I learnt at college. There was a great deal of emphasis placed on the ability to convey orders to your men. There are people who give a lot of orders without conveying their objectives, which means that their objectives cannot be met. Communication is a vital part of leadership. If your thoughts and ideas are easily understood by others, this gives your leadership a positive quality. You must also remember that your word is final.
It is a waste of time to use complicated language that is not understood by others, as they will end up with more questions than benefits from your speech. This is all down to your communication skills.
You will often hear people say, "This man is lucky." Or "That leader is lucky." It may be true - certain people are lucky. But luckier still is the man who is watchful and alert, and takes opportunities when they arise.
"You sat with hands tied and said, 'Time is against me.'"
One must not sit idly and wait for fortune to come. If fortune comes your way, you must be ready to seize the chance.
All of you here today have good jobs and responsibility in the government. As I told you, we cannot learn leadership. We can, though, agree on the characteristics that a leader should possess and look for these qualities in ourselves. We should then be able to recognise how to develop our characters so that we can be good leaders.
Some of these characteristics are:
Faith in others, being a role model, self-confidence, knowledge of your work, faith in your abilities, vitality, a sense of responsibility, the ability to win the loyalty of your people so they will trust you, and the ability to express yourself clearly.
Our departments should be organised in a way that matches our objectives and the managers should understand the organisation, the objectives and the relationship between the government and its various departments. Otherwise, you will be working in a vacuum, separated from our plans, and we do not want that.
You can prepare to achieve your goals in the following way:
Make sure that you have everything necessary to draw up your plan. When your overall plan is clearly defined and understood, select the best people to coordinate your department. Once your plan is set, stick to it. Break the overall objective down into a series of smaller steps. You must then ensure that you communicate these objectives clearly to the people who work with you.
My objectives are clear. People can sit with their managers and tell them, "Sheikh Mohammed has set these goals, and this is his plan. These are our goals and that is final. We must study them." Deadlines should be set for planning and achieving the objectives. When these deadlines are met, then an accomplishment is there. This is of great importance. One cannot be content with just saying, "I have a plan." When are you going to put that plan into action? We live in an age of urgency. We are about to welcome the third millennium.
Every department in every profession should have clear job specifications to be followed by employees who understand how to apply them.
These job specifications must be studied and clarified, to avoid cases where several people are doing the same job. One should review these job descriptions at least twice, to ensure they are applicable. The world is progressing rapidly, and we must keep pace with this development.
Monitor your objectives constantly, to ensure they are in line with our national objectives and the objectives of your department.
Place greater importance on your country than on how much money you make, or what your job title is.
Communicate with others, to ensure that neighbouring departments share your goals. Otherwise, you may believe you are doing a good job, when you are not. Ensure that you are not moving away from the objectives of other departments, or of the nation.
Once you have an overall plan on which to base your objectives, and have set your own management system in place, it is easy to sit back and believe that everything will run itself. This is a huge mistake, because the role of a leader is to improve the performance of his department, and to plan for the future and any unexpected events. If something goes wrong, the leader should first look to himself.
I would like to give an example of how morale can affect performance. I am proud of my knowledge of horses. I own many horses, stables and racecourses throughout the world. I could write books about horses. I have noticed that if the morale of the people working in this field is low, through following rigid routines - always giving the horses the same food, or the same training exercises - and their fellow employees give them no encouragement, this can affect the performance of the horses. I have seen many examples of horses that are proven winners performing badly because the people working with them have low morale.
That's the case with horses, so what about humans? If employees are not happy with their work, if they think their employers do not care about them, their work will suffer, goals will not be achieved and morale will fall further.
The morale of his people is the measure of a leader. If spirits are high, then employees will work hard, out of loyalty to their leader. They will take care. On the other hand, if spirits are low...blame must be placed on the leader.
To reiterate then, no one can teach you how to become a leader. We can help you to develop your potential, and point out the qualities required by a leader, but you must look inside yourselves to see whether you have these qualities whether you can use them.
Let's take a break from leadership for a moment. I would like to take the opportunity, while you are gathered here, to talk to you about how you can help us to promote Dubai as a tourist destination, so that you can all play a part in promoting our great country.