Management in the Arab world

What’s expected from a “good” manager in the Arab world? Why is networking important for managers? And why should invitations often be expressed three times? We’ll answer these questions and more for you in todays blog post.

A lot of Arab countries [e.g., Saudi Arabia] play an increasingly important role in the international economy and industry. This makes it all the more lamentable that cultural misunderstandings often arise when dealing with Arab business partners – misunderstandings that can have serious ramifications on business dealings but that are actually quite avoidable. We want to look at how to avoid these today, which is why our first blog post of the year addresses the topic of management in the Arab world.

Expectations of managers

The first thing you should know is that hierarchical structures play a major role in Arab countries. Men outrank women, the elderly outrank the young [“seniority principle”], and hierarchical structures also have a hold in Arab companies, especially when it comes to employee leadership.

In contrast to several Western countries, an authoritarian, patriarchal leadership style prevails in the Arab world. This means that managers are considered people of authority, with the CEO being the undisputed number one. Managers coordinate and supervise their employees’ tasks, and they take full responsibility for them in the process.

On top of that, decisions tend to be made without consulting the employees who will potentially be affected by them – regardless of the scope of the decisions. In turn, less initiative is expected from Arab employees. They’re rather meant to be available to the manager in more of a consulting capacity [“shura”].

Even though managers, especially the CEO, have nearly unconstrained decision-making authority, they can’t neglect their duty to care for their employees. This can apply not only to professional matters, but also to private ones [e.g., families, which are a top priority in the Arab world].

Tips and tricks

If you’re working as a manager in an Arab country, we’d like to give you three more tips:

  • Well-established networks are incredibly important in the Arab world. The right contacts can open important doors and cut through bureaucratic mazes. That’s why you should absolutely nurture your network and constantly expand it. Personal meetings and the exchange of a few private words will help tremendously to that end. Try it for yourself!
  • When it comes to business appointments, be sure that the partners are on the same hierarchical level. If an appointment is attended by an employee at too low a hierarchical level, the Arab side could easily interpret this as a sign of low esteem. Please plan for this and show respect!
  • In a lot of countries in the Arab world, the “three-times rule” applies. This means that invitations to important events and business meals have to be expressed multiple times in order to be truly taken seriously and not to be understood as mere politeness. Just be aware of this and invite your Arab business partners to events one too many times instead of too few times.

Please keep in mind that the Arab world is composed of numerous countries and consequently of a variety of value systems. Values and norms can thus vary between countries in the Arab world. In addition to that, cultures are subject to constant changes in all spheres of life, including the business world.

What this means for you is that you shouldn’t consider the information given above as set in stone, but rather as a rough guideline. Always keep that in the back of your mind when interacting with Arab business partners. We’d be happy to help you more with our cross-cultural training on the Arab world.

About Sophie Humpisch

I studied business communication and cross-cultural competence. During my studies I lived abroad for a long time and therefore experienced cross-cultural differences on my own. I have been with Eidam & Partner since 2014, being responsible for the support and recruiting of cross-cultural experts. Eidam & Partner offers worldwide services related to cross-cultural communication, such as cross-cultural training, cross-cultural coaching, eLearning and preparation for international assignments for more than 80 target countries.
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