One of my dreams is to step foot in as many countries as I can in this lifetime, learning and contributing to the well-being of people of all walks of life. Last month, I reached another milestone – my first workshop in Abu Dhabi made possible through the tremendous collaboration and partnership we have with Blue Visions Management and their client, the Regulation Service Bureau in Abu Dhabi. What a wonderful, wonderful experience.

The place is brimming with energy – driven by the vision of great leaders who, in my opinion are tremendous change catalysts. Research (“Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman, 1995) on emotional intelligence has shown that the ability to lead change is a trait that distinguishes high performing leaders (a la Lee Kuan Yew, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela) from the rest. The Emiratis leadership exemplify key attributes that make them outstanding change catalysts:

  1. They confront the brutal reality – to make sure that their economy is not dependent purely on oil and prospers into the future generations, they are taking the difficult steps of diversification and re-shaping the skills and capability of its people.

This is not an easy change. I learned first hand that local Emirati women play key roles in the workforce, working with the likes of well-credentialed expats from all over the world. Think about it – most are first generation within their family to work in a modern office, yet, I was impressed by the Emirati women (and men) I had the privilege of working with at the workshop, who conducted  themselves with great competence and grace. Such change can only occur when people believe their leaders have their best interests at heart.

  1. The Emiratis are inspired by a bold and empowering vision, which in turn is creating significant opportunities and in many cases, simply a chance of survival not just for Emiratis but for hordes of expats who are drawn like bees to honey. I am personally inspired by the vision of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan  former President of  the United Arab Emirates and former Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi – God bless his soul – who I’m surprised and embarrassed to not have learned more about until I got to Abu Dhabi! His Highness was the principal driving force for the formation of the UAE in 1971, a federation of seven Gulf sheikdoms. A man who believed in the philosophy of TEAM (“Together Everyone Achieves More”) and was able to infect others to share this belief. A man who is held in deep reverence by his people even after his death in 2004 – see here a moving tribute to His Highness Sheikh Zayed.

His vision is now making a difference to the life of Mahmoud, a cabbie from Afghanistan. When I asked Mahmoud what he thought about Abu Dhabi, he told me how much he loved the place for giving him a chance to support his family. He took pleasure in simple privileges like being able to walk out at night without fear, something his homeland of Afghanistan could not provide and something we in the Western and other developed economies take for granted.

He makes AED3000 a month (about AUD$800), of which after paying off his rented accommodation and meals, he’d save AED1000, every cent of which he sends home to his family – a wife, one young child and his parents. He works 7 days a week, for “as many hours at it takes to meet his quota” (often 16). AED1000 was “barely enough” to pay for his father’s medical bills – a visit to a decent hospital in Afghanistan sets him back as much as AED3000. He gets to visit his family for 5 weeks every 2 years (a part of his “contract”) – making me feel incredibly blessed for every moment I get with mine and my access to Skype!!!

Mahmoud is just one of hundreds of thousands of people all over the UAE who share a similar story. I will always fondly remember Abu Dhabi as a city of great “love” – tremendous sacrifices by people who are able to find simple pleasures in life and express gratitude in adversity.

The power of a vision.

  1. They believe in and practice the principle of “synergy”, unafraid of drawing on the strengths of others. They empower others who have the expertise they need to get the job done, removing roadblocks that stand in the way.

Apparently, only 1 out of 11 people in the UAE are local Emiratis – 91% of the population are expats (like Mahmoud) filling all sorts of roles. In many cases, this has created tremendous win-win situations – cabbies, restaurant hosts and hostesses, cleaners, senior HR professionals, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs etc. from all over the world – all who were drawn to the UAE to capitalise on the earning, living, learning and contributing opportunities the place offers.

The belief that collaboration is the way is etched in the fibre of their being. An example of this is Emirates Aluminium (EMAL), a state-of-the-art aluminium smelter that is a joint venture between Dubai Aluminium and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala. Together, they form the fourth largest aluminium smelter in the world, one of the largest industrial projects in the UAE outside the oil and gas sector and one of the key projects leading the diversification of the UAE’s economy.

The place is a hive of activity with ambitious jaw-dropping projects evident everywhere – freeways, bridges connecting islands, world-class tourist-enticing facilities, eye-catching skyscrapers and a way-of-the-future hub for cleantech companies called Masdar City. The latter is being constructed 17 kms out of Abu Dhabi and will rely entirely on renewable energy sources, with a sustainable, zero-carbon, zero-waste ecology and will be a car free city.

What a powerful testimony of what’s possible when we decide to collaborate, embrace diversity, to break down silos and to appreciate the strengths rather than dwell on weaknesses of others.

I visited the place seeking to inspire others and left feeling totally inspired myself. I hope you are too! Inspired to create or revisit your vision, to not be afraid to draw on the expertise of others and to have a “whatever-it-takes” mindset to achieve that vision. And along the way, creating magic moments and opportunities for others!

Make this the most outstanding day you deserve!

Yours in service and contribution,