My colleagues and I had the privilege and pleasure to work with the team at the UAE Prime Minister’s Office on developing and executing Government Accelerators in 2016 and 2017. This was a first-of-its-kind programme in the world.
We conducted an intensive training programme for about a year to develop a cadre of accelerator coaches. Their role was to help public sector leaders design 100-Day Challenges that inspire front-line teams from different government departments to set unreasonably ambitious 100-day goals and to support these teams along their path to achieve these goals.
This was not a traditional training programme. The bulk of it happened in the context of actual 100-Day Challenges that were launched in the Government Accelerators. The results that were achieved were unprecedented. The team from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Emirates Global Aluminum, and GE reduced NO2 emissions from EGA’s aluminum factories by 16 per cent in 100 days, the equivalent of removing 460,000 cars from the streets of the UAE. The team from the Ministry of Interior, comprised mainly of police officers from several emirates, reduced fatalities by 63 per cent on the five most dangerous roads in the UAE (27 less deaths than the same period in the prior year). The team from the Ministry of Education enrolled the entire waitlist of 435 Emirati children into public kindergartens, in just 50 days.
As the programme progressed and more teams got underway in the accelerators, the gender ratio of the coaches supporting these teams kept tilting towards women. Currently, the ratio stands at eight to one. The Emirati women at the PMO are excelling at all aspects of the coaching role.
I wondered about this phenomenon. Why are women in the PMO drawn to this new way of working? And why are many of them so naturally gifted at it?
At its core, each 100-Day Challenges is designed to inspire and empower front-line teams to collaborate, innovate and execute at much higher levels than the norm. The team elects its own team leader. It sets its own 100-day goal. Team members consult with each other, design their own experiments and decide on their work plans.
The organisational leaders who commission the challenge, in turn, practise new roles: they support; they hold the space for their teams; they mentor team members; and they do all this from the background. The front-line teams are in the foreground. It is a reversal of roles where organisational leaders are practising egoless leadership.
One of the roles of Emirati accelerator coaches is to help leaders in government departments make this shift in role and demeanour. It is not easy work and not all leaders in government are ready for it. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that women understand this shift at a more visceral level, and they live it and ‘role model it’ in the way they interact with their peers and their teams.
I am picking up this trend in our work around the globe, but this may be especially poignant in the context of our Arab culture. We tend to flatter the egos of our boys from the day they are born. This makes it tough for some of them to put their egos aside when they reach positions of leadership.
To solve problems in our increasingly complex and interconnected world, we need everyone to be ‘all-in’ – whether they are in government or in the private sector. Motivation is critical, at all levels, especially at the front-line level where staff are interacting with clients. They see the problems and hold the keys to solving them. Egoless leadership is one of the prerequisites for ‘all-in’ staff engagement, and it is becoming an essential ingredient for progress in organisations and society at large.
I am convinced that women in the Arab world are more equipped to enable – and to provide – this type of leadership.
Often without intent and awareness, we have been preparing women in our Arab societies to operate in the background and to enable and support others. In doing so, we have paradoxically equipped them with the psychological tools that are needed to lead in our 21st century organisations. The Emirati coaches of government accelerators are living proof of this. They are pioneering and enabling a new way of doing government – where collaboration, innovation and execution are the norm instead of the exception.
Other Arab governments might want to take note: If you want to ‘do government differently’ and to foster the kind of leadership that generates better results and unleashes the full potential of your staff, ensure that women have the opportunity to rise to leadership positions. They will intuitively know how to practise egoless leadership and they will enable and inspire other leaders to do the same.
Tip of the hat to the female leaders in our Arab region. And a special tip of the hat to Emirati women at the PMO enabling leaders to do government differently through 100-Day Challenges at the Government Accelerators.
– The writer is president and founding board member of the Rapid Results Institute. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.