Analysis: Development of business leaders in Saudi Arabia does not live up to the global standards

The Leadership Circle has analyzed the investments made in development of business leaders in the GCC countries. The conclusion of the analysis is that organizations in the region, and not least in Saudi Arabia, are not living up to international benchmarks for how to develop future business leaders.

The problem

The lack of leadership development is a serious issue in Saudi Arabia. With the largest population of the GCC countries and a government ambitiously committed to the Nitaqat program, increasing significantly the involvement of its nationals in the private workforce, there is a growing need for qualified leaders.

More than 100,000 Saudis have recently obtained, or will obtain within the next few years, managerial positions or promotions to executive roles. The speed with which this change is occurring requires crucial leadership development support.

The root causes

The clearest gap in the support for current and aspiring managers and executives is found in the application of coaching, which is significantly underrepresented in developing business leaders in Saudi Arabia.

An internationally accepted rule of thumb is that professional development should consist of 70 percent on-the-job learning, 20 percent coaching from the line manager or a coach, and 10 percent classroom training. The gap in coaching has negative repercussions on the entire leadership development.

The Leadership Circle concludes that there is an inadequate supply of both capable coaches and teachers of coaching with an understanding of the local culture and business practices. There are four major root causes to the situation:

  • Executives have historically been served by coaches flying in and out of the GCC countries who do not have a thorough understanding of this unique culture and business environment.
  • The executive coaches based in the Middle East are primarily English speakers, but proficiency in English is not as high in Saudi as it is in the rest of GCC.
  • The demand for female executive coaches has historically been and is still to a large extent low, even compared to the other GCC countries, and therefore the supply is not being nurtured. It is more attractive for Arabic-speaking female coaches to serve clients elsewhere, and Saudi women have been discouraged from taking up the profession.
  • Popular coaching tools that are widely used around the world have either not been translated into Arabic or have been done so poorly. This raises the bar for what it takes to deliver effective coaching and convince organizations of the potential in the approach.

The rich tradition for apprenticeship in the Arab world cannot compensate for the gap in coaching. Young aspiring leaders need more than advice from family elders or senior colleagues in today’s highly dynamic and increasingly international business environment.

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