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Leadership isn’t about making wishlists

It is based on building something much more tangible than hope

Gulf News

When I recently asked a young manager about his ambitions and plans, his response was: “Well, I want to get involved with …” and followed by “I plan to…”. I had been looking for specific actions — things that he was actually doing — but all I heard were wishes. I wouldn’t even call them plans. Instead of acting and doing something about his future, all he did was talk about the things that he’d like to happen.

I was getting utterly frustrated. “Why aren’t you doing something about it?” If you have a hope, make it a reality,” I thought to myself as he reeled off his wishlist.

What really bothered me was the fact that he represented the norm, not the exception. Too many people have ideas about what they want to achieve, but they don’t do anything other than talk about them. Talk is cheap.

Your future can be anything you want it to be. You can become, and achieve, whatever your heart desires. Your future is full of unlimited possibility.

You should see what’s possible even when others don’t; you cannot get distracted. More importantly, you have to act — turn that possibility into reality. Embracing what is possible is what distinguishes those who say what they’ll do, from those who do what they say.

Tomorrow is definitely what was on Majid Al Futtaim’s agenda as he developed the 560-store Mall of the Emirates in the early 2000s, complete with its indoor ski resort. The site was in the middle of the desert, 25 kilometres away from central Dubai. It seemed like a long journey from town.

Very little existed along the drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi at that time, except for Emirates Towers, which housed one of Dubai’s a five-star hotel as well as the Ruler’s Office. The population and geographical spread of Dubai was a fraction of what it is today.

People just didn’t understand Majid Al Futtaim’s plans. They pitied poor “Mr. Majid”, as he’s fondly known, fearing he was going to lose the fortune he’d amassed from the hugely successful Deira City Centre mall.

“Why would he throw away all his money?” people would ask, “Why build another mall?” And it wasn’t only expats who questioned — neighbours and childhood friends did too.

Years later, after the mall became one of the Middle East’s largest shopping, entertainment and leisure centers, raking in $1,423 per square foot per annum (the seventh most profitable in the world), I wanted to know how Mr. Majid kept focused.

One night, while enjoying suhoor in his majlis during Ramadan, I asked, “Mr. Majid, how did you stay focused when building Souk al Nakheel [later the Mall of the Emirates]? How did you keep your people focused?”

Like most nights during Ramadan, Mr. Majid’s majlis was packed. In front of dozens of Emirati leaders, he paused and turned to look at me. “That was so long ago. Can’t you ask me about where we are going in the future?”, he responded.

As conversations at the table resumed, I smiled to myself. While he hadn’t answered my question, he had in fact just shared the secret to staying focused — act today for tomorrow.

Leaders act on the future even when the future isn’t clear and when it isn’t popular to do so. They aren’t distracted by what’s happening around them and what others are doing. Too often, too many so-called leaders — you know, the ones with positions of authority but who lack real foresight — spend their time talking when they should be doing.

Leading today for tomorrow’s future is delivering what others don’t see, greeting what’s possible for you or even your team or business. Have a clear idea about what you want, then go get it.

This will give your people real hope. If you do that, they will follow you.

Leadership isn’t about today, it is about creating tomorrow.

The writer is a CEO coach and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at