Attitudes of the Arab Manager – By Sujit Chandra Kumar – Muscat Daily – October 28 2009 – Features.
The title of Majid Said Nasser Al Suleimany’s new book on Management ‘A Cry For Help!’ sounds far more strident than that of his earlier one, ‘Psychology of Arab Management Thinking’. Not that he was ever known for pulling punches. Once again, he deals with office politics of the worst kind and if the title is any indication, the new book is bound to touch a few raw nerves.
Suleimany knows his Tom Peters, but rarely does he go the hypothetical path. He deals with office situations, mainly revolving around the expat versus local theme. Anecdotes he has aplenty, thanks to his 25-year innings with Petroleum Development Oman’s HR Department and his short stints with a few other companies in the Gulf region. After opting for voluntary early retirement, Suleimany has been working as a Freelance (HR) Management Consultant, so he has no need to hire a Psychologist to understand employee behavior or managerial dilemmas.
“I am pained by the stereotyping that goes all time about Omani employees. One such perception among expat managers is that Omanis are lazy”, he says. Suleimany hastens to add that not all expat managers are to blame. “Most of them are impartial. But there is a tiny section that have a low opinion about local recruits. Though they are few in number, the damage they cause is tremendous!”
The ‘Cry’ for changes is not just aimed at the expat, but also at the Omani employee as well. “People here who are part of the workforce need to be more tolerant, patient and prove their capabilities and understand the other point of view. Many switch off instead of addressing a problem or a strained relationship with a manager and this only makes matters worse.”
The perception came about, he points out, as a result of a section of Omanis taking advantage of the labour rights that make it hard to dismiss them even when their performance (and attitude) is not satisfactory. “When one expat manager leaves, he passes on the message to his successor that locals are difficult to deal with. Those who actually work hard (and are committed) suffer because of this perception”
What is worrisome, says Suleimany, is that the current generation is very intolerant and often rebellious. “If we don’t address this, there will be dangerous consequences”. The Omani employee’s lot hardly improves when he gets an Omani manager, who, according to Suleimany, “shoots at his own troops!” “When I studied the attitudes and behavior of the Omani manager vis-à-vis expat peers, I found out that he lags behind in his management capabilities. He ‘hates to rock the boat’ and allows the status quo when there is a problem.”
Many among the earlier generation of Omani employees rose to become managers because there wasn’t much competition in those days, points out Al Suleimany. The current crop, on the other hand, are well educated and qualified, and this leads to a clash. The Arab Manager has some typical traits, he says. “He is averse to risk taking and is unable to say no. He is not strong willed and affirmative, and wants to be nice to everyone, which stems from his culture”
It is hard to argue with Suleimany because he is basing his theories on his own experience or that of a colleague. When he gives a case study of ‘the prejudiced Arab boss[, he is referring to the Egyptian GM of a Wadi Kabir based company served his termination order to him via Suleimany’s assistant, with a day’s notice. He walks into the GM’s cabin, greets him with a ‘good morning’ and tells him directly that he has no problem with leaving but he has a problem with the BTW (Below The Waist) BTL (Below The Line) way’ in which the message was communicated.
A second case study is of an Indian expatriate who had just left for leave, but is asked to return before the leave period is over. A further case elucidates on the experience of an expatriate who had just left for leave, but is asked not to return.
Here is an Author who calls a spade a spade.