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Leadership worries top the list for Middle East CEOs

A new survey reveals that leaders in the Middle East are also concerned about talent retention, as compared to global peers.

Leadership worries top the list for Middle East CEOs
[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

According to the World Bank, the Middle East and North African (MENA) economies are expected to grow by 2.7% in 2024 – up from 1.9% in 2023. Factors such as the ongoing Gaza-Israel conflict, trade disruptions, inflation, and other issues may disrupt this development.

While such issues cause concern for the region, the key concerns and challenges for the leaders in the Middle East are leadership attraction, development, retention, succession, and turnover, according to the 2024 Heidrick & Struggles Middle East CEO and Board Survey.

Some 56% of respondents cited economic and geopolitical (56%) uncertainty and volatility as the most significant issues facing their organizations in 2024. Their global peers share the same sentiments, with the worldwide average at 63% and 39%, respectively. 

Where Middle East leaders feel most differently from their global counterparts, however, is in the issues relating to leadership. The report shows that 29% of Middle East CEOs and board members surveyed report leadership attraction, development and retention as their biggest challenge, with 24% as the global average. 

Meanwhile, 22% see leadership succession and turnover as their chief concern, 17% being the global average. Yet on these key issues, only around a third of those who expressed concern are confident in their organization’s ability to manage them, less so compared to leaders surveyed around the world. 

Richard Guest, partner in charge of Heidrick & Struggles’ Middle East and North Africa, acknowledges that Middle East organizations face an increasingly complex external business environment in 2024, suggesting that regional intricacies demand a localized approach. “To survive and thrive this year – and beyond – companies must prioritize not only attracting the right leaders but also retaining and grooming talent from within to take on the leadership mantle.” 

Markus Wiesner, regional managing partner of Heidrick Consulting for Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Emerging Markets, says that effective leadership is built on the right culture. However, he explains that putting a strategic road map in place is also essential, stating, “Boards and leaders must agree on the key skill sets needed for the future and view talent acquisition as a long-term, always-on imperative. If organizations see succession planning as reactive – such as in the case of retirement or an underperforming C-suite – or lack a rigorous assessment process for their leaders, it is natural that organizations would find themselves struggling to navigate the dynamic, fast-moving Middle East landscape.”

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