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Lessons in leadership

In an exclusive extract, the UEA Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed reveals the three lessons in leadership he learnt from his father

By Sheikh Mohammed  

This article was produced in association with Presented by Explorer Publishing

In the space of just five decades, the United Arab Emirates has emerged as one of the Middle East’s most progressive and ambitious nations, firmly cementing its place as a global economic hub. To mark this month’s publication of his memoir, My Story, the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed, reveals for the first time, in this extract, the fundamental lessons in leadership that have underpinned his, and the country’s, unprecedented success.

My father began his rule in Dubai in 1958 with great energy, eager enthusiasm and high spirits. Every day I watched him in action taught me a new lesson, bringing me fresh ideas, exciting projects and eventually greater understanding, perhaps even a little wisdom.

One of the very first decisions my father, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, made was to establish dedicated councils for traders, merchants and any other skilled people in our society, such as builders, engineers and intellectuals.

When I asked him why he had invited all these new figures to share their views, he looked at me seriously and said: “A man does not stop learning. We want them to help us build Dubai. We want them to teach you how to be a leader. This is the start of your training.”

That was the very first simple but profound lesson I learned from Sheikh Rashid: that no man is born perfect; we all need the minds and souls of others to complete our own. Everyone must continue learning no matter how much he or she achieves. A leader needs the counsel of others to learn more, and to win their support for new plans and projects. Only an ignorant person turns a blind eye to advice.

A UEA Cabinet session. Photo: Copyright Explorer Publishing 2019

At an early age I learned that even the Prophet Muhammad—may the peace and blessings of God be upon him—was not afraid to consult his companions. Later, I learned that one of the most difficult challenges a ruler can encounter is knowing when to heed honest advice and inconvenient truths.

I grew up and watched Arab rulers and governments who never listened to their people, who ignored their citizens’ dreams, hopes and aspirations. I saw leaders of great nations overthrown because they made fundamental mistakes: they listened only to their most sycophantic advisors; surrounding themselves with people who glorified, praised and complimented their every action.

The age-old tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes still applies to many leaders today; they are so blinded by pride and flattery that they cannot see the naked truth. The worst thing a leader or ruler can do is to choose bad counsel. I grew up in the realisation that Sheikh Rashid’s principles are timeless. His advice is still valid today and will continue to be relevant forever.

Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai. Photo: Copyright Explorer Publishing 2019

On another day, in another council, I learned a great lesson that I still apply. Sheikh Rashid told one of the council’s members that he believed him to be an efficient man with leadership capabilities. He asked him if he could launch a project and follow up on its completion until the very end?

Later, I whispered to him that I did not think the man was that efficient or deserved such praise. Sheikh Rashid responded that one of the most important qualities of a successful ruler is to surround him or herself with strong leaders. We should always be on the lookout for them. We should also be the ones nurturing them. It is our duty to create leaders, to develop their talents, give them responsibility and encourage them to become genuine leaders.

Those were priceless words of wisdom that reflect the essential secret of a nation’s success and excellence: that the creation of leaders is the main enabler of development and further progress.

As with nations, so with business and also with your own family. The worst thing you can do is be the one and only leader. This was the second lesson I learned from Sheikh Rashid.

I have applied this principle for more than half a century in my own career. I launched dedicated programmes to prepare and create leaders. I took great care to invest in the ambitious young people who surrounded me throughout the various stages of my career. Today, I see them becoming world-class leaders in their own areas of specialisation.

I am very proud of them—all of them. Taking advice to heart expands your mind, and the creation of leaders multiplies your own efforts. The leaders we create are the eyes through which we see, the hands with which we build and the creative energy we add to our own to realise our vision.

The third lesson I learned from Sheikh Rashid came when I was young and I asked him who the real leaders are in this world. He replied that today’s real leaders are not the same as yesterday’s. Today’s leaders are the silent giants who possess the money, not the politicians who make the noise.

This answer still amazes me, for I see it borne out in truth every day in our modern world. Economics always drives politics—and not just in Western countries and major democracies.

Today, I look at a big country like China that challenges the whole world, establishing geopolitical reach and influence, gathering and building international alliances, less due to its military power (which is considerable) but more because of the power of its economy. It is starting to rival the United States, still the world’s leading superpower, not only because of its overwhelming military strength but also because of its unparalleled economic and cultural influence.

Sheikh Mohammed. Photo: Copyright Explorer Publishing 2019

This answer summarises much of Dubai’s current thought and philosophy and encapsulates Sheikh Rashid’s political positions and beliefs. He preferred to stay away from the babble of politics and its messy entanglements as it is of little benefit to us in the Arab world.

Rather, Sheikh Rashid’s concentration, energy and time was focused on development projects and the economy, avoiding any overt confrontation that could drag our country into a political quagmire. I believed in and adopted this philosophy and advice with conviction and faith, as well as experience, throughout my long career.

Today, many Arabs see our country’s development as the most successful in the region. In annual surveys, thousands of young Arabs report that they wish their countries would follow our nation’s model—a true beacon of hope. Many aspire to move to the UAE so they can achieve their dreams and realise their ambitions.

Dubai has become a global economic icon, thanks to the principles Sheikh Rashid instilled in us and made part of our national culture. These are the three lessons passed to me from a wise man and a tutor who helped shape my life and career. It is sound advice that guides my pursuit of the happiness and well-being of my people.

My Story: 50 Memories from Fifty Years of Service by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Explorer Publishing) is out now on Amazon UK.

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