Lessons on leadership… Apple, Bahrain and Dubai

It’s (hopefully) common sense that leadership can make or break any company or organisation. A leader, normally the CEO, will define the company’s direction, they will set the agenda, lead the execution and innovate.

Leaders like Steve Jobs define their organisation and create success on their own terms, much like Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum has done.

The late, great Steve Jobs has been acclaimed as one of the best CEOs in business. Jobs did it his way, he focused on the business and on creating works of art/technology that changed how we live our lives.

For me, the Apple of today is different to the Apple of yesterday. Nothing would go out of the door until Jobs was satisfied that the product was right and ready.

A simple example is cited by Mike Elgan in his recent article on Apple.

Apple had been developing the iPhone for years. After major arguments about materials, the team had decided to use reinforced plastic on the screens for the first version. That was the plan, and everybody spent more than a year working on it.

Just one month before the first iPhone shipped, Jobs summoned his team and issued an edict: The screen would be glass. He just didn’t like the plastic screen.

Of course, Job wasn’t perfect. He had his flaws. But I can’t imagine that Jobs would have let Apple Maps into the world without the solution being ready (the linked article here does make the point that Jobs himself was late to realize the importance of a maps application). As a leader could we imagine anyone else taking Apple forward better than Jobs? No. That is evident more so today when he’s missed.

So how is this relevant to us in the desert? I was talking to a work colleague, a well-respected Emirati, about the Gulf and how it has developed. He was talking about Bahrain, and commenting on how 20 to 30 years back Bahrain was where Emiratis would travel to shop and vacation.

What he was saying made sense to me; Bahrain had a well-developed economy at the time and Dubai was setting out on the journey to become one of the globe’s trading hubs. Bahrain was the GCC’s banking hub, Gulf Air was the airline of the region, and the island could do no wrong.

Fast-track to today, and it’s as if the roles have been reversed. Dubai is now the trading hub for the region, and it’s the one must-visit destination for business and tourism. Emirates is the world’s largest airline by passenger numbers, Dubai-owned Jumeirah is becoming a global brand for the hospitality sector, and, despite the credit crunch, Dubai is still thriving. As for Bahrain, it’s fair to say that the country isn’t doing as well as Dubai.

Countries are no different from companies. The leadership shown by the ruler, the prime minister or whoever at the top can be and often is the difference between success and failure. Nowhere is that more apparent than in today’s Gulf and in the vision set out by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum. Leadership is success, and a lack of leadership can be the opposite.

Internal communications may be the best investment you ever make

I was incredibly lucky last week to listen to two compelling business consultants. I’m usually a hard critic to please and I don’t often take to consultants coming in to tell me what I should and should not be doing. But the two gentlemen who came into the company last week, Scott McKain and Jonar Nader, both emphasized the importance of listening and knowing your customer.

What impressed me most during the two days of business and management workshops was Nader’s insistence that companies fail because of a disconnect between their employees. By forgoing the people-management skills and internal communications companies fail to engage their staff. For more about Nader and his thoughts have a look at his blog which includes thoughts on his visit to Dubai.

To quote from one of Nader’s recent essays, “Most people are plagued by miscommuication, jealousy, and immaturity, resulting in poor performance. Individually, staff members might be great workers, but when lumped together with a range of personalities, egos clash.”

“As a technical genius, your success will depend on how well you marshall your team. Sadly, many technical gurus either isolate themselves and become eccentrics who lack influence, or they jump in the deep-end of management and drown in unfamiliar territory.”

I couldn’t agree with Nader more on people management being at the core of a company’s success and failure. Both Nader and McKain talked about information, about communication between employees. One of the best tools that I ever used and managed was was an internal website, an intranet. It may sound strange – after all an intranet is only designed for use by employees rather than the general public. Its audience is strictly defined and limited.

However, I’ve found that companies with intranets have a much better educated workforce. Employees generally understand their firm’s rules and regulations much better than companies who don’t have an intranet. An intranet also plays a major role in keeping the workforce up to date in terms of new products, successes, and company changes.

In short, the more a workforce is empowered with information, the more your employees will communicate. The less they’ll be in the dark about where the company is headed and how the company intends to grow. Your employees become your advocates rather than your naysayers. For the return on the investment is there anything better than an intranet and more internal communications in general?

And if you’re interested in knowing about Scott McKain have a look at this video!