5 Lessons Learned from the RAK Executive Leadership Program and Training
An effective leader in the corporate world of the twenty-first century must have the ability to respond to difficulties with intellect, strategy, and competence. Business success demands leaders who are capable of navigating change, driving performance, and fostering a people-centric level of commitment. As Lombardi expresses, leaders are not born but made through encountering challenges that require hard work. Programs such as the Al Qasimi Foundation’s Ras Al Khaimah Executive Leadership Development and Training (ELDT) Program, launched in 2021, provide some essential skills on this path.
Over this 14-month program, participants focus on capacity building in the area of Improving Organizational Performance, Enhancing Community and Skills, Developing Advanced Writing Skills, Adopting a Growth Mindset, and Developing Personal Leadership Skills. Core to the program is leadership training, private sector engagement, a capstone project, and an international exchange. As a participant of its first cohort, here are five lessons I took away from participating in this innovative program:
- Challenge your own perspective
The training sessions of the ELDT Program deviated significantly from the conventional lecture format by prioritizing open conversations, presentations, activities, case studies, and debates. The sessions drew upon the concept of “practicing mind,” expounded by Sterner in The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life - Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process. The sessions encouraged participants to understand and develop a skill as a process and as a “natural part of who [they] are” (Sterner, 2012, p. xv).
ELDT’s high-quality training sessions emphasized practical engagement as a way to use knowledge and skills and gain access to real-time coaching and feedback in an environment that emulated real scenarios. These scenarios were often shared by the leaders, allowing them to challenge each other’s perspectives and reflect on their own. As a result, the ELDT Program helped participants explore and execute the most effective leadership style and understand which style they could use to influence others.
- Clarify your vision
Leaders often have a crystal-clear vision of their goals, but they may also have difficulty in envisioning the pathway to achieve these goals. Through brainstorming sessions, active discussions, exchanging knowledge, and engaging in an active learning environment, the ELDT Program allowed leaders to stand back from their day-to-day tasks, analyze their organization, and consider the possible ways in how the future may evolve. Switching to a “leadership student” mode allowed the participants to discover strengths, weaknesses, and potential in expressing their vision to inspire and encourage those around them creating a people-centric environment. One of the leaders in the ELDT Program expressed: “I realized I have the necessary skills, but how to put them into use could be challenging. Being able to discover your capabilities motivates you to encourage those around you to do the same”.
- Push yourself beyond your comfort zone
The ELDT Program used a variety of strategies, examples, active discussions, and critical thinking to emphasize that everyone has the potential to become a great leader by stretching their comfort zones and discovering their own strength and potential. Identifying possibilities for growth was triggered by being exposed to unique points of view, observing practices of others, learning from mistakes, and sharpening public speaking skills, through group discussions, exchanging points of view, and active debates, until they were mastered and ready to be used in real-life work scenarios.
The sessions offered the crucial skills and strategies the participants needed to view situations from a new angle. This gave clarity to challenging circumstances, encouraged knowledge, and boosted confidence. One leader in the ELDT Program said: “I began with the Program as a hesitant person, afraid to talk in public. But today, I've become a more confident person who can talk in public professionally and fluently, especially in English. There has always been an added value from each session I have attended, but the book club, without a doubt, had the greatest impact.” The book club, indeed, was a great way to engage reading and analyzing skills, public speaking and expressing thoughts, and listening to different thoughts.
- Excel in communication
Goleman asserts in his book, The New Leaders, that emotional intelligence is essential to a leader's success. Emotional intelligence implies being emotionally savvy and employing compassion to develop and engage people. When leaders carefully listen, accept, and react differently in response to reoccurring issues, their communication skills improve. Several researchers of emotional intelligence, such as Goleman, Mayer and Weisinger all argue that emotional intelligence leads to improved communication effectiveness.
The ELDT Program helped leaders to connect emotional intelligence with communication skills and demonstrated how this connection can be used to build relationships between managers and employees. As one leader in the ELDT Program described, “Emotional intelligence is underestimated, in my opinion. With emotional intelligence, I am able to know when, why, how, and what to say in different situations”. One activity that was very effective was the role-playing exercises as managers and employees in order to observe their reactions in different scenarios and give feedback. Also, they would present work-related scenarios that they were facing and receive a variety of perspectives, which is considered to be a key part in building resilience through unexpected challenges.
- Solve problems with evidence
Integrating evidence-based practices is a great guide to drive performance and navigate change beyond the status quo. A key part of the ELDT Program is the capstone project with the purpose of addressing a real-world issue and produce a final display of the abilities the leaders have acquired throughout the sessions. The capstone project was introduced in the ELDT Program to enable critical thinking, problems solving, and improving abilities like verbal communication, public speaking, research, communication, teamwork, planning, independence, and goals setting.
Through independent research, leaders linked their theoretical and practical knowledge, and developed an emotional and practical connection with the topic. Leaders identified a topic that concerned them, did research, identified findings, and worked on generating a final capstone research to present to policymakers within RAK government with the aim of generating solutions and suggesting improvement action plans.
Problems do have solutions and leaders may have ideas for improvement. However. the quality of research and identification of the issue, the uniqueness of the proposed recommendations, and the persuasiveness of the delivery and presentation to attract the attention of policymakers are all crucial factors for creating impact. Thus, learning to go through these steps is a valuable experience for those in leadership positions. The ELDT program ensured that leaders came away with increased awareness and understanding of these skills.
Stay tuned to review the capstone projects from the RAKELDT Program!
Saqr Al Malki is the Senior Innovation Specialist at the Al Qasimi Foundation. He holds a Master's degree in Innovation & Entrepreneurship with distinction from the University of Wollongong, Australia.