Management paper

Contents

Introduction. 2

Overview of work leadership. 3

Theories of work leadership. 5

Work leadership at Emirates Airlines. 8

Leadership profile of Shiekh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom.. 9

Approaches, ideas, and theories exemplifying Almaktoom’s work leadership. 13

Conclusions. 16

References. 17

Introduction

The people who can be said to have succeeded at work leadership are those who inspire others while at the same time providing them with the empowerment required for success. People tend to watch what these leaders are doing in order to emulate them. Trusted leaders are always at the forefront in demonstrating integrity through their way of speaking, acting, and responding to colleagues and clients.

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Various theories of work leadership have been proposed in literature. Some of them include the leader-member exchange theory and the complexity leadership theory. The leader-member exchange theory has continued to gain momentum in recent years, leading to the emergence of different evolutionary stages. The same case applies to the complexity leadership theory, which has largely been used to exemplify the shift from the industrial society to the information society.

Work leadership is one of the critical components that have led to organizational success at Emirates airlines. In recent years, Emirates Airlines has experiences explosive growth to become one of the best airlines in the world. Work leadership is one of the factors that have contributed to this organizational success. One of the leaders who have brought about organizational transformation and success at the airline is Shiekh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom. Almaktoom is the chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline & Group. He is also the president of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) as well as Dubai Airports. The aim of this paper is to formulate approaches, ideas, and theories that define and exemplify work leadership taking Emirates Airlines as an example of an organization and Shiekh Ahmed Bin Saeed Almaktoon who is the director as a leader.

Overview of work leadership

            Leadership is a complex and highly contested subject. The consequences of modernity have brought about new challenges that create the need for a better understanding of its nature in contemporary organizations. In contemporary discussions, leadership is viewed as the key that for unlocking (and blocking) performance and organizational change. The benefits derived occur not from what organizational leaders do but from purposeful relationships that are created during their reign at the business organization. Leadership is not about the activities of one person but the interactions between different groups in make sense of the various situations that they confront. On this basis, leadership is regarded as an enabler of contributions to a shared cause by individuals and groups within the organization in a manner that is at par with psychological wellbeing in job-related contexts.

            Today, leadership is increasingly being defined as a platform through which persons enlist influence with the assistance of other people in order to certain goals that are of common interest.  Nevertheless, this view has not always been held in literature. A few decades ago, leadership was conjured up in images of conflict, crisis, and decisions in which the actions of one individual were pivotal to the overall success of the organization. These early models of organizational leadership, which were mainly Western with origins in the military, focused a great deal on the circumstances in which organizational leaders emerged and the psychological traits that these leaders were expected to possess. Focus was on heroic endowments that embraced ideological orientation, vision, physical vitality, courage, action-oriented judgment, assertiveness, decisiveness, intelligence, and the need for achievement. Other critical factors included the ability to motivate people, task competence, understanding the needs of followers, adaptability, and trustworthiness.

The old paradigm of leadership that focuses on command and control is unfit for the twentieth-century business organization. All around the world, “ordinary” people continue to achieve exemplary success in circumstances that are extraordinarily challenging, yet they never portray any superhuman characteristics as far as their leadership is concerned. In today’s context, organizations face numerous challenges relating to communication, technologies, connectedness of production, and frequent changes in perceptions, opportunities, expectations, workforces, and requirements.

Today, there is a perceived cultural shift where focus is primarily on delivery through workgroups that are founded on stable partnerships. Other aspects of this cultural shift include emphasis on delivery targets, accountability, and responsiveness to clients. Some of the key leadership attributes that are desired at various organizational levels include clarity of vision, sound judgment, integrity, and decisiveness. Organizational leaders of today are also expected to possess various skills, including communication skills, the ability to engage employees with the mission and vision of the organization, and the ability to formulate and implement strategy.

These developments in theoretical and practical realms put a lot of emphasis on the growing complexity of the practice of leadership. This emphasis is based on the view that organizations are communities and not machines, such that they should have all the characteristics of living systems, including resilience, flexibility, and adaptability. As living systems, organizations must also sustain themselves, self-organize, and operate in an environment of greater complexity whenever circumstances call for such changes. This theoretical development has led to the emergence of the notion of the learning organization.

In today’s organizations, imposed authority no longer works. Rather, the leader must earn it. He or she must share certain values, beliefs, and principles with people with commitment both to one another and to the common goal within the organization. Running such an organization requires the formulation of a powerful theory. Such a theory should be founded on ideas, questions, reflections, and tests in an elaborate learning process. In the present study, efforts towards the formulation of a theory are founded on a study of Emirate Airlines and its chairman and chief executive, Shiekh Ahmed Bin Saeed Almaktoom.

Theories of work leadership

Theories of work leadership may be divided into two categories. One category comprises of those whose emphasis is on underscoring the primacy of personal qualities. The other category focuses on the all-importance of organizational systems. Those theories that focus on personal qualities as the primary factor in leadership coincide with the old paradigm while those that focus on systems coincide with the new paradigm.

In this paper, focus is on two theories: leader-member exchange (LMX) theory and the complexity leadership theory. The main formulation of the leader-member exchange theory was to provide a platform for the study of linkages between processes of leadership and outcomes (Graen, 1995). Unlike other theories of leadership, this theory is based on the dyadic relationship between leaders and followers or members. Moreover, LMX is different from tradition theories that provide a definition of a leader on the basis of his or her personal characteristics, the prevailing situation, or interactions between these two factors.

Although LMX has been expanded and modified over the years, the basic building blocks of analysis remain unchanged. On the basis of this theory, the quality of the relationship nurtured between the leader and the follower can be used to predict the outcomes of individual, group, and organizational efforts. Several decades since it was formulated, LMX continues to be a source of operable alternative to the old paradigm that focuses on the traits and behaviors of leaders.

Today, many researchers are still very enthusiastic about prospects for LMX. However, some unresolved ambiguity continues to exist. This ambiguity relates to the nature of the theoretical construct, ways of measuring it, and how it relates with all other organizational variables. This ambiguity has been triggered partly by the evolving nature of the leader-member exchange theory. The LMX theory has evolved in four critical stages. The first one is the vertical dyad linkage that is characterized by work socialization. In this stage, focus has been on the identification of differentiated dyads such as out-groups and in-groups. In the second stage, focus has shifted to the quality of relationships and its outcomes. In the third stage, focus is on a prescriptive approach to partnership building. In the fourth stage, researchers adopt a systems-level perspective. In other words, they move beyond the dyad to focus on network and group levels. The most recent developments have been achieved with regard to the last two stages.

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On the other hand, the complexity leadership theory focuses on shifting leadership practice from the industrial age to the information or knowledge era (Uhl-Bien, 2007). This theory is particularly relevant in the analysis of work leadership at Emirates Airlines because this business organization achieved its most dramatic success during the information age. The theory is also part of a new paradigm that shifts away from the top-down bureaucratic approaches of the past two centuries. These approaches were effective in economies that were founded on physical production but are unsuitable in today’s knowledge-oriented global economy.

In complexity leadership theory, leadership is regarded as a complex interactive dynamic that yields adaptive outcomes, including innovation, learning, and adaptability. In this context, it is assumed that the adoption of the complexity leadership approach enables leaders develop the capacity to operate highly complex adaptive systems in the context of knowledge-generating organizations. On this basis, three leadership roles are identified; namely administrative leadership, adaptive leadership, and enabling leadership. The entanglement of these leadership roles is assumed to reflect the administrative functions of the contemporary organization and the emerging, informal elements of complex adaptive systems.

According to complexity leadership theory, the world is on the precipice of an economic epoch. A new economic age is emerging, whereby organizations of the twenty first century will continue encountering a highly complex competitive landscape that is driven primarily by technological revolution and globalization. In this new age, the core commodity is knowledge. The survival of the contemporary organization is assumed to be pegged critically on the constant and rapid production of innovation and knowledge. As new knowledge continues to become available, this era becomes fast-paced.

The complexity leadership theory is based primarily on the concept of complex adaptive systems (CAS). On this basis, it is proposed that leadership is about more than just authority and position; it is also about an emergent, interactive dynamic. This dynamic is one where a complex interplay occurs as a basis for collective impetus for organizational action and change. This organization action tends to be at its best when interaction occurs among heterogeneous agents in networks that ultimately yield new modes of operation or patterns of behavior. Therefore, in complex leadership theory, the primary objective of leadership is to identify and explore the behaviors and strategies that foster sub-unit and organizational learning, creativity, and adaptability. To do this, the dynamic capabilities provided by CAS should be exploited.

Work leadership at Emirates Airlines

            Emirates Airlines has grown at a staggering speed over the last few years. This success has been achieved largely because of effective work leadership provided at the airline. Through this leadership, groups of individuals with collective talents have been brought together to form the building blocks of a stable, fast-growing travel and tourism empire. One of the most notable things about Emirates Group is that almost all its top executives have been working at the organization since its inception. They have been an integral part of the organization’s pioneering vision. They have combined this sense of mission with meticulous planning and calculated yet brave decision-making. These factors have combined to yield the world’s fastest growing airline and the largest provider of travel and airport services in the Middle East.

            The story of Emirates Airline and Group is intricately intertwined with that of its chairman His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Sheikh Ahmed has been one of the leading figures behind Dubai’s remarkable success as a model of economic development not just in the Middle East but across the world (Balakrishnan, 2008). He spearheaded the expansion of the aviation industry in the country. More recently, he provided leadership in the process of formulating investment, economic, and fiscal strategies and policies in support of the overarching vision of the United Arab Emirates.

            The career of Sheikh Ahmed in the aviation industry started in 1985 following his appointment as President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). DCA is the institution that oversees all the activities being undertaken in the Dubai International Airport. During the same year, Dubai’s international carrier, named Emirates Airline, was launched. Sheikh was appointed as the airline’s chairman.

            Under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed, the DCA went through a successful process of organizational restructuring. In this restricting effort, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority was created. More importantly, during his reign, Emirates Airline grew from the position of a regional airline with only three destinations and two leased aircraft to an international airline with 150 aircraft flying to over 100 destinations around the world. Today, Emirates is the fastest growing intercontinental carrier in the world.

            Today, the Emirates Group operates in virtually all aspects of travel and tourism, thereby becoming one of the leading global corporations in this field. Emirates Airline remains one of most critical divisions within the group for several reasons, including the fact that its relatively young fleet has managed to scoop hundreds of awards for excellence. The Emirates Group has evolved at a fast pace to become a large transnational organization employing more than 40,000 people and handling a portfolio of over 40 brands. Emirate Group’s turnover is estimated at US$12 billion.

            One of the approaches that Emirates Airline uses to remain competitive is the proper choice of leaders and leadership styles. Since its establishment in 1985, Emirates Airline prioritized on putting the most influential business leaders in the UAE at the helm. The objective of this undertaking was to give the business organization a competitive position in the market. Today, the airline’s leaders are some of the most influential not just in the country but around the world. Under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed, they have demonstrated their ability to provide efficient and effective leadership not only for the airline but for the aviation industry at large.

Leadership profile of Shiekh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom

            One of the factors that have led to the exemplary success of Emirates Airline is the strong, charismatic, and stable leadership of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed. Sheikh Ahmed has become a symbol of continuity in the company’s management since its establishment. This element of continuity has been replicated across all management teams. Sheikh Ahmed put highly talented executives at the helm of the company. He ensured that the executives hired for various management roles had proven track records within their fields of expertise. Sheikh Ahmed set the example by having a proven track record as one of the leaders who spearheaded Dubai’s wider transformation (Balakrishnan, 2008).

Nevertheless, students of leadership have raised many questions relating to the actual contribution of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed to the overall success of the company. One of the questions raised relate to the extent to which factors such as location, culture, and strategic decision-making contributed to the company’s growing success. The main question, however, is on whether the main difference came about because of Sheikh Ahmed’s leadership or it had more to do with the powerful financial backing provided at the state level.

Nevertheless, it is evident that Emirate’s success would not have been achieved if Emirates Airline did not adopt a non-traditional management approach. While working in the context of a flexible family organization, Sheikh Ahmed refused to rely on the conventional wisdom of the industry (Sull, 2005). Instead, he chose to run the airline like a family (Sull, 2005). He did this by adopting an entrepreneurial spirit, complete with informal organizational linkages. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum takes the image of the head of this large Emirate Airline family. With a family culture in place, the airline has succeeded in operating with great structural flexibility. The strengths of various individuals are adopted as the basis of all organizational functions. This way, the airline has succeeded in overcoming the constraints caused by a rigid organizational structure. On this basis, this approach may appropriately be referred to as the non-traditional management theory.

In the organizational context of Dubai, employees generally have no problem with leaving their doors open. Unlike in the West, most Arabs have no problem with people coming in and expressing their interest to do business face-to-face. They are not as concerned about privacy as in the West. During the early days of operations, Emirates resisted advice provided by external auditors to establish a board comprising exclusively of non-executive directors. Sheikh Ahmed argued that Emirates would not be compelled to adopt a new governance structure simply because it was common among most established carriers. He insisted that the company did not have any room for a board because it already had an open agenda.

Sheikh Ahmed’s leadership style entails inviting people round the table and discussing whatever issues arise. Meetings with chief directors of the company are always held in this fashion. Sheikh Ahmed must meet with these chief directors at least once a week. He also organizes a meeting with these directors whenever there is a major issue that requires special attention.

The concept of fluid strategy process has also been entrenched under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed. In the fluid approach, Emirates Airline operates more like a start-up than a traditional airline. This approach has been instrumental in ensuring that the decision-making process is quick. Similar to the Dubai style of doing business, Sheikh Ahmed only needs to say okay to a proposal for it to be handed over for implementation. Nevertheless, it is obvious that one must have created tremendous confidence in order to find himself in a situation where his or her proposals are readily accepted by the Chief Executive.

During weekly meetings, one of the most critical enablers of success in the implementation of various policies is the ability to meet Sheikh Ahmed or the company’s senior management group and get approval for a decision as quickly as possible. However, fluid decision-making is firmly pegged on detailed analysis. This is contrary to the position taken by the classic business school, which emphasizes on the need for senior managers to look at the bigger picture. Instead, Sheikh Ahmed routinely urges his followers at Emirates to focus on detailed analysis at all times. The reason for this philosophy is simply that it is impossible to have the big picture without bringing together the small details. According to Sheikh Ahmed, large companies face numerous problems because of failure by managers to focus on such details.

By adhering to the non-traditional management theory, Sheikh Ahmed opposed the conventional wisdom that every airline is destined to head towards the path of unprofitability as it grows. He was vehemently opposed to the idea that volume undoubtedly brought about organizational complexity. To prove this point, he presented the case of the US market, where the basic business process has remained simply despite the airline experiencing challenges.

Moreover, the Chief Executive of Emirates Airline has always held onto the notion of going it alone. Again, this is contrary to conventional wisdom in the airlines industry. For a long time, Emirates has never seen any business case for belonging to an alliance. The airline has always opposed the idea of doing what everyone else is doing. Before doing anything, the company’s leadership has always been keen on evaluating empirical evidence to ensure that it supports such a move. Emirates resisted the temptation to join alliances whose membership was dominated by small airlines arguing that it was not in need of the defensive tactics being used by these alliances.

In contemporary environment of corporate leadership, the issue of multicultural operations is unavoidable. The same case applies to Emirates Airlines. To address the issue of multicultural operations, Emirates embraced the reality of diversity. This element of diversity is important given that the airline has ultimately grown to the extent of becoming a leading international airline. Therefore, it may as well be true to say that future success for Sheikh Ahmed in this company depends largely on how he manages to address issues diversity. A large proportion of the company’s employees comprises of expatriates. Moreover, the Dubai business model was founded on the ability by the state to welcome foreigners to come as visitors, businesspeople, and employees (O’Connell, 2012). This model turned into a competitive advantage as it set this Middle Eastern nation far apart from virtually all its Western counterparts. The best way to put this point in perspective is to point out that 95 percent of Dubai’s population comprises of foreigners (O’Connell, 2012). Nonetheless, for the Chief Executive and Chairman of Emirates Airlines, the challenge of managing a cross-cultural business organization has been immense for His Highness Sheikh Ahmed.

Approaches, ideas, and theories exemplifying Almaktoom’s work leadership

First and foremost, Almaktoom’s work leadership is exemplified by the non-traditional management theory. This theory goes against the old paradigm of leadership, just the two other theories mentioned elsewhere in this paper (leader-member exchange theory and the complexity leadership theory). Moreover, the ideas and approaches relating to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom’s style of leadership render support to these theories. One fundamental element of these theories is the fact that they vehemently oppose leadership approaches that focus primarily on command, control, as well as rigid administrative and bureaucratic systems. Almaktoom preferred to use informal elements to promote entrepreneurial linkages while at the same time addressing the complex adaptive systems that characterize the airlines industry.

Using this theoretical approach, this organizational leader was able to address the cultural challenge that came with the choice of Dubai as the base for the airline. In fact, one of the greatest challenges for the company in recent has been on increasing the employee population of UAE nationals. Currently, in the area of cabin crew operations, this population comprises of less than five percent of the company’s entire workforce. However, in the management ranks, this population is higher at twenty five percent. Many Dubai nationals are reluctant to work as cabin crew members because they do not want to work in an environment where they are compelled to serve alcohol to customers. Another problem is that some nationals are unwilling to work in shifts. Yet shifts are unavoidable in the airlines industry, which operates on a 24-hour basis.

By following the unconventional path of leadership, Emirates Airline succeeded in scaling great heights during the take-off stage in the late 1980s. Every three years, Emirates Airline was virtually doubling in size. The leadership of the company knew that it was doing something right when the company introduced eight new destinations every year between 1989 and 1991. The airline even won the “Airline of the Year” award in the Executive Travel category.

Other airlines started expressing interest in unearthing the secret behind Emirates Airline’s success. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom responded to these queries by asserting that the leader of any airline must be able to communicate the vision of the airline effectively to frontline staff. Ironically, this ability on the part of Sheikh Ahmed did not prevent the airline from encountering greater challenges in its quest for expansion into the Far East and Europe. One of the greatest problems took the form of cross-cultural influences. Another irony is that at some point during the expansion process, the level of growth reached a point where it could not be supported by the existing infrastructure.

Had the airline’s top leadership chosen to follow conventional wisdom in the time of crises, the non-traditional management theory would have been rendered irrelevant. Some of the non-conventional measures that the airline’s chairman introduced included a mandatory finance course and introduction of enhanced measurement systems. By understanding the basics of finance, the company’s employees had a better understanding of the company’s operations. Moreover, this decision demonstrated the willingness by Sheikh Ahmed to inculcate a culture of entrepreneurship in the company’s workforce. To reassert commitment, the chairman, in 1994, spearheaded the publication of the company’s first Annual Report. It is worthwhile to point out that the airline did not have to publish this report because it was a privately owned corporate entity.

The family ethos characterizing not only the airline’s operations but also the Dubai business model was again at play with the publication of this Annual Report. It was a demonstration of the non-conventional way of doing business with the aim of establishing new competitive advantages. This style of leadership greatly endeared Sheikh Ahmed to the airline’s workforce. Apart from acquiring new skills, the employees were being given an opportunity to share financial information with the company. This positive gesture went a long way to demonstrate how much the company valued its staff.

Conclusions

            In conclusion, the leadership style of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom demonstrates the importance of adopting the “new leadership paradigm” in today’s information age where business organizations are driven largely by the ability to acquire and make use of new information and knowledge. This new paradigm represents a shift from the industrial age to the knowledge or information age. Two major theories that support this leadership style include the leader-member exchange (LMX) theory and the complexity leadership theory. These theories represent the emergence of a new paradigm that focuses on the all-importance of organizational systems. This is unlike in the old paradigm of the industrial age where focus was primarily on personal qualities and structures of command and control.

The leadership style of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom can best be explained through a theory that is referred to in this paper as non-traditional management theory, which belongs to the new paradigm. By resisting conventional industry wisdom and adhering strictly to the entrepreneurial spirit of business dynamics, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Almaktoom succeeded in establishing one of the most profitable airlines in modern times.

References

Balakrishnan, M. (2008). Dubai – a star in the east: A case study in strategic destination branding. Journal of Place Management and Development, 1(1), 62 – 91.

Graen, G. (1995). Relationship-based approach to leadership: Development of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: Applying a multi-level multi-domain perspective. The Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), 219–247.

O’Connell, J. (2012). The changing dynamics of the Arab Gulf based airlines and an investigation into the strategies that are making Emirates into a global challenger. World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research,5(3),  94-114.

Sull, D. (2005). The hub of the world. Business Strategy Review, 4(2), 38-78.

Uhl-Bien, M. (2007). Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), 298–318.

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