Too many managers, not enough leaders: being an effective senior professional in the Middle East
In the Middle East, the title of manager is used more loosely than in the West and some "manager" do not necessarily have the skills to be a good manager, says Geetu Ahuja of CIMA (Shutterstock)
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For a lot of people, landing a managerial role is one of the high points of their career. Leading a team is synonymous with success and achievement, and often higher financial rewards.
In the Middle East, there is quite an indiscriminate use of the designation of manager. Some professionals, despite being relatively new to their job, have been handed the title of manager, but it doesn’t always follow that they are good at leading people.
“Here in [the region] the title of manager is used more loosely than in the west. Some may achieve a title such as account manager in three years but not necessarily have the skills that it takes to be a good manager to others,” noted Geetu Ahuja, head of GCC, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima).
Pursuing the path to a real leadership position takes time. After all, no one becomes a CEO or president overnight. This is something that many of today’s younger generation of career seekers and professionals understand quite well.
In a study by Cima, which polled the Generation Ys, including people from 15 years of age, the vast majority of respondents in the UAE (84 per cent) are looking to start their professional life in a non-managerial role and are marginally less inclined to jump-start their careers as a manager. Cima’s survey covered more than 4,000 students and young professionals globally, including a little less than 200 from the UAE.
“Compared to their fellow non-working peers worldwide, respondents in the UAE are slightly less inclined to seek a direct entry into their professional lives in a managerial role. Globally, 18 per cent of Gen Ys are hoping to bypass the elementary stages of their professions and join right away as a manager,” a Cima report said.
Marjola Rintjema, senior communications and change management consultant at Towers Watson Middle East, said it is not bad to start one’s career with a non-leadership role, because being a manager involves quite a lot of responsibility.
“When fresh out of college, most people have no idea about working life. It is wise to first spend a few years finding out what you like and what you’re good at, before taking on the responsibilities of a management job,” Rintjema added.
A number of professionals, however, may find themselves stuck in a non-managerial role for years or even during their entire career. But this should not be taken as a sign that they are not progressing in their profession.
Rintjema pointed out that not everyone is made to lead people. “Many people are much better and happier as an expert or a professional without people management tasks. And some people need to gain some more experience before they are ready to become a manager,” she said.
“If you’re determined to move high up in the hierarchy, then it is wise to start moving towards management positions as soon as possible. Having said that, I have met successful executives and even a CEO, who did not become a manager before they were almost ten years into their career. That shows that there are many ways that lead to Rome,” Rintjema said.
But those who really feel they’re stuck are well advised to consider changing employers. How a company perceives an employee can be tough to change and if the management did not see a potential in an employee for many years, it is unlikely that they will in the near future.
“A new environment, where you can start with a clean slate, can provide you with new opportunities,” said Rintjema.
Ahuja said the long years of service that an employee has put into a company is not a ticket to a managerial position. What matters most is the type of experience one has acquired, coupled with people skills, planning skills and perseverance.
To increase the chances of earning a leadership position, it is worth practicing.
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