Leadership Across Cultures in Saudi Arabia

Leadership Across Cultures in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Islamic state, ranks among the top economic power hubs of the Middle East. Not only has the nation rapidly tapped into the emerging business opportunities in the highly destabilized region, but also redefined its leadership landscape to match present day business needs. Leadership, as a concept and practice, plays a fundamental role in the management of all forms of organized entities including societies, business entities and governments. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure that countries adopt philosophies and principles of leadership that meet its needs.

In the 21st century, amid growing globalization tendencies, leadership that embrace core cultural values has become a necessary strategy for most nations in their efforts to create a niche in the international global arena. A plethora of scholarly studies on different aspects of leadership and management frameworks are in agreement on the need for transformational leaders who inspires society, in its entirety towards a common goal of prosperity and sustainable growth. Mainly, these leaders or institutional organizations adopt new frameworks or harness existing ones tow3ards realizing this primary objective. To this end, understanding the socio-cultural context of a country is unequivocally as important as its leadership because the two are the foundation of transformational change that drives progress. While there has been a dearth of peer-reviewed literature on Saudi Arabia, and by extension the Arab nations in the Middle East, on leadership and culture, there exist massive studies on the Culture and Leadership in their singular aspects. Albeit this research gap, leadership and culture are core factors to the emergence of Saudi Arabia as a socio-economic epicenter in the region.

This paper critically engages a scholarly debate with different forms of literature with a primary objective of enhancing the readers understanding of leadership and culture in Saudi Arabia.


Leadership has become the key issue in managing organizations, societies, and entire nations. The emerging business and economic environments have forced organizations to be flexible, adaptive, entrepreneurial, and innovative in order to effectively meet the changing demands of the present-day business environment (Orchard, 1998; Parker & Bradley, 2000; Sarros, Cooper, & Santora, 2008; Valle, 1999). Adopting and sharpening these virtues is not possible without a transformational leader who can fix the jigsaw puzzle and influence others to achieve greater goals.

A plethora of literature has investigated leadership issues in recent times, and the importance of leadership has achieved a distinct reference in terms of managing organizations and sustaining the pace of change. Leaders provide vision to achieve goals, and followers feel contentment because they have a vision of a better tomorrow with the help of their leader. Despite so much being written about transformational leadership, there is a dearth of country- and region-specific research, especially in the Middle Eastern and Arab regions. The national leadership dimension is being redefined, and the new meaning of leadership is being developed. Against this background, this chapter is an attempt to understand the dynamics of transformational leadership and its relevance for Saudi managers. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) consented to World Trade Organization in 2005, and it aspires to become one of the world’s ten most competitive economies.

However, it is not possible to achieve this without 200 J. Rajasekar et al. (eds.), Culture and Gender in Leadership © Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2013 Sami A. Khan and Deepanjana Varshney 201 having a set of transformational business leaders who can put their energies into achieving that goal. Emerging views about transformational leadership The concept of leadership has achieved significant importance, and most business schools are teaching their students to be leaders and not managers. A large volume of literature about leadership that has emerged in recent years is confusing and contradictory (Robbins, 2005). There have been many schools of thought on leadership, from the trait theorists to behavioural, contingency, and charismatic theorists. Ethical leadership and cross-cultural leadership are additional types that add to the confusion.

As defined by Boseman (2008), leaders are given the opportunity to lead not because they are appointed by senior managers but because they are perceived and accepted by followers as leaders. Thus the acceptance and readiness of followers is the key leadership attribute. Riaz and Haider (2010) also rightly claim that a leader is responsible for not only leading but also providing followers with the tools that are needed to accomplish the organizational goals. In the event that a leader is unable to provide adequate information or resources, a conflict may arise rooted in distrust and demotivation. They believe that a leader’s role is very delicate, and every action or decision must be strategic. Leaders can anticipate future likelihoods and plan alternative strategies to meet uncertainties. Such traits are common in historical leaders. This sense of anticipation is believed to be innate and cannot be learned. A strong leader must have self-confidence and must be able to listen, consult, involve, and explain why and how things should be done. Sheetz-Runkle (2011) claimed that boldness, decisiveness, commitment, authority, conviction, and right decision making are qualities that influence self-confidence. The behavioural school of leadership advocates that leaders are not only born but also made. Certain behaviours can be learnt and one can be a leader by demonstrating those behaviours.

Worldwide organizations train their managers and enrol them in development programmes to master those behavioural dispositions and acquire those leadership attributes. Schwartz, Jones, and McCarthy (2010) found that these organizations build their leadership programmes around competency models, which include a list of core skills that they expect their leaders to cultivate to become effective in this role. Leadership has to be taught and attributes need to be acquired. Organizations need employees who can be moulded into leaders who can influence others to complete tasks

  1. Saudi Arabia Cultural Values and Elements
  2. Organizational Leadership Styles
  • Leadership Styles and Cultural Values
  1. Influence of Culture on Leadership Principles and Philosophies
  2. Organizational Culture and Employee Behavior


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