Refining Leadership skills for strategic success

Boyden is working with public sector organisations across the GCC to help develop the leadership skills necessary to achieve government goals

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Refining Leadership skills for strategic success Matthew Lewis, Partner, Boyden, says that the company is working with a number of public sector entities on training leaders.
By  Mark Sutton Published  October 28, 2017

The public sector in the region has been undergoing a transformation in recent years, as government initiatives and programs have sought to bring both efficiency and new levels of service to the sector. Many of the programs have focused on new technology and digitisation, but there has also been a strong focus on reforming government agencies, delivering better results, improving user satisfaction and happiness, and also on creating government entities that are able to speed up their processes and create a faster pace of decision making and change.

Delivering on these initiatives has required not just digital transformation, but also transformation in people, and especially in leadership — the human factor is key to successful change. Governments in the region have implemented a number of different approaches to developing human resources, including working with external organisations, such as Boyden, a specialist in executive search, executive coaching and leadership development.

Matthew Lewis, partner with Boyden, said that the increasing scope of government has meant that the supply of talented and experienced individuals cannot always match demand, so governments are looking to new solutions to meet their manpower needs. The increased emphasis on human development has meant that government clients now account for around 40% of Boyden’s business in the GCC, and while the company is best known for executive search, it’s interactions with governments are really more about managing human performance, in particular in creating transformational leadership and injecting pace.

The reform and restructuring of the public sector in the region has put more emphasis on areas such as governance, transparency, efficiency and global best practice, Lewis said, which has placed new demands on leadership, at the same time as there is a generational shift and an opportunity for the next generation of local talent. Demand for expertise in new areas such as smart government or financial regulation has also driven new personnel requirements, and overall there is a desire for leadership that is more able to meet the pace of change.

“There is a need to be nimble and dynamic as the region changes shape, and adapts to market conditions, and government has been keen to be ahead of that curve,” he said.

Typically Boyden has worked with government organisations to place key people in roles, whether that was taking GCC nationals from within government or attracting them from the private sector; identifying expertise in disciplines that are new to the region, such as nuclear power or waste management, or increasingly, in helping government to identify and develop existing talent.

“Most prevalent in the past 18 months has been a focus on developing and coaching the nationals that are in the process to take on the next level of leadership,” Lewis explained. “Evaluation and executive coaching for succession planning, and helping the government to sort out who has the leadership qualities, who has the resilience, the mental agility to take on bigger or more complex challenges at pace.”

Part of this work has been to help implement strategic plans that have been developed by management consultancies, where Boyden will ‘fill in the blanks’ with manpower planning and organisational design, to ensure that the right personnel are in place to execute those strategic plans. The company is usually engaged to make independent recommendations on the requirements, and on which people in the organisation can fill the roles, and then also to provide the training, development and coaching to help the resources available to meet the requirements.

Sometimes engagements might require resources to be reallocated elsewhere, Lewis said, and sometimes the organisation needs to identify people with related, transferable skills that can be trained into new roles, such as identifying which personnel can be reskilled for roles such as chief digital officer, or compliance officer.

The skills and qualities that government requires from its ‘new’ leaders are often around leadership skills, coupled with an openness to change, Lewis said. Soft skills such as delegation, stakeholder management, decision making, and interpersonal skills are required, and engagements often also introduce relatively new concepts such as 360-degree reviews of performance.

Government programs are not necessarily excluding non-GCC national staff, Lewis added, but there is a greater emphasis on skills transfer than previously: “If you bring in non-GCC expertise, then you need to make sure that they are training [their successors], and that you leave behind a legacy of skills transfer and knowledge,” he said.

Boyden’s engagements with government organisations vary, Lewis noted, and include understanding the culture of the organisation, identifying expertise or skills required, and analysis of what is required for execution of strategic plans. Engagements are not an overnight fix, and will often include working with multiple individuals, to help them identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and their own career aspirations. The engagements are not training programs, he added, but in-the-role performance coaching to get the most value for that organisation at that point in time.

The skills gaps are universal, Lewis said, rather than generational, with senior officials as keen for change, to improve the speed of decision-making and to increase the pace of work as much as the younger generation. A large part of the engagement is often forming a rapport with individuals, and helping them to understand that perhaps the work environment has changed, and to help them to identify their skills gaps and work on those.

Lewis said schools of government and government leadership initiatives are the best solution to preparing young people for leadership roles, but they also need to be able to learn on the job, and to acquire skills that aren’t easily taught in the classroom.

“The one gap that we continue to see is that you can teach the theory, but you need practice — people need to be able to make mistakes, and also to develop the interpersonal and soft skills that will allow them to execute. They may be called soft skills, but they are the hardest to learn,” he said.

There is also lot of government focus on developing the next generation of female leaders, especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, he added. “There is a desire and a need to identify and promote future female leadership in all functions and most departments — there is a lot of value in potential female leaders. From our experience, there has been a huge shift to really well-educated female nationals across the GCC, who are likely to be very high flying in the future.”

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