‘Authoritarian bosses kill innovation’

Amanda Fisher
Filed on March 19, 2013

A top management guru says innovation is being stifled in the Middle East by authoritarian bosses.

The chief executive of Malaysian-based international leadership and corporate governance centre Iclif, Rajeev Peshawaria, who penned the management bible ‘Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders’, is in Dubai holding a series of workshops with staff from Dubai School of Government, ending today.

While most leadership challenges were the same all around the world, he said there was ‘a huge problem’ in the Middle East and Asia with the use of authority.

“Because I’m big and powerful, you should just obey, and that kills innovation. That’s not leadership.”

Peshawaria said a big issue for this part of the world was the use of ‘power-distance relationships’ in relations between bosses and workers.

“How do we lead without using position, power and authority? We have got to look at governance. True leadership has nothing to do with position power.”

Gandhi was a classic example of someone who led without office, money or authority.

“The reason why junior people are not speaking up is because they’re scared to death ... they realise very quickly ‘The best thing for me to do is to keep my mouth shut’.”

The balance of power was shifting from the traditional Western countries to areas like Asia and the Middle East and the best thing this part of the world could do was to learn from the mistakes of the previous superpowers, Peshawaria said.

“We have had 100 years of Western dominance, economically at least, and now Asia and the Middle East are coming into their own and I think the best thing we can do is avoid the mistakes of the West. With success comes arrogance.”

Peshawaria said though it was controversial, he never changed his leadership style to accommodate different cultures.

“Yes, there are cultural differences. The way you show respect in the Middle East is different from the way you show respect in Japan and the way you show respect in the UK ... but what we expect from our bosses is the same, regardless of where we live.”

Treating people fairly and with respect, helping them understand what they were capable of and giving them “a vision of a better future,” were universally important traits in good leaders, said the man who has lived in eight different countries, often working in managerial positions.

Peshawaria said the two-day course for the Dubai School of Government would on the first day focus on people identifying their own purpose and values in life, and on day two discussing how to take other people along with that purpose. The course was the first step to getting people to open their minds to becoming leaders, he said.

“Can anybody be a leader? The answer is a big yes. Will everybody be a leader? The answer is no.”

Anyone who was committed to being a real leader needed to be prepared to be misunderstood, lonely and unpopular as it was hard to step out of the mould and call for change.

“Many leaders in history were killed for proposing a better future others thought was wrong, only for history to find out it was right.”

Peshawaria said the country’s leaders had taken the first steps of real leadership with Shaikh Zayed, and today’s leaders were already working out how to diversify their economy and draw it away from a dependency on oil.

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