Leaders are fast becoming recognised as the key to success for organisations across the globe and as such studies on how leaders are created and how leaders interact with others are becoming much more prevalent (Chemmers, 1997). That said, the area of leadership in the Oman context has been largely overlooked when it comes to academic study and it is here that the research is going to focus. Leaders within business are increasingly being perceived as those who are responsible for either the success or the failure of the organisation in question and therefore their role within the organisation and the perception that others have of them are likely to be critical to their actions.
Leadership has both an extrinsic and an intrinsic role. Firstly, it could be argued that leadership reflects the way in which the public view the company or the perceptions that those outside of the organisation have of how the company manages its operations; secondly, leadership looks at the way in which the employees and those who work directly with the managers are inspired and encouraged to perform in a suitable manner to meet with the organisation’s goals (Chemmers, 1997).
Merely defining what is meant by “leadership” and the various styles that are seen to be available for such leaders is an academic study in itself, with one of the most accepted definitions being that of Chemers (1997, p.1) who stated that leadership is seen as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. This type of collaborative approach will form the basic underlying concept of leadership, regardless of the jurisdiction in which it is operating.
Following on from this background understanding the research will then go on to look at how leadership in Oman can be developed to achieve greater commercial success with reference to the distinction between public and private sector organisations.
Background of the Study
Although there has been a large amount of general literature in the area of leadership and the emergent theories of leadership that have come about in recent years, there has been a small level of understanding regarding the role of leadership within the developing region of Oman. It has been suggested by Dorfman in 2004 that one of the main difficulties is that organisations in Oman are typically not very transparent with their operations and this can make it harder to identify any form of business strategy, let alone one that is rooted in the perceptions of individual employees. Taking an internal view of the way in which an organisation works is a crucial element of then looking at the role of the leader and how they can influence the performance of employees. It is argued here that one of the key issues is, in fact, that the political context of the region has a real and direct impact on the organisation and the types of leadership that are likely to be effective. Crucially, it is also necessary to look at the cultural and political factors that are at play within Oman and not to simply assume that Arab culture will prevail. As a further point, by way of background, it is also noted by Dorfman that in Oman (as is the case in many developing regions) the public sector is often the driving force with internal practices, such as leadership development emanating from public sector agendas.
Finally, it is worth noting that Oman itself is a relatively small country when looking at population, with a total of 3.5 million. On the face of it, the country has many similar characteristics with its Arab neighbours and is also subject to rapid economic growth; however, it is suggested in this paper that Oman has a unique geographical and political scope which encourages the organisations, both public and private, to outperform other countries in the same region (Haligan, 2007).
There are arguably multiple factors that are likely to impact on how leadership is dealt with in Oman and these will be considered in greater detail in the thesis when comparing the approaches in the public and private sectors. These are briefly identified by Haligan in 2007 and include the political development in the region and the British influence, in particular. Issues of religion and culture are also thought to be important in the region and these are arguably factors that remain prevalent, even where there are economic changes or there are factors that may otherwise impact on the operation of the business.
The problem statement for this research paper is to look primarily at the comparison between the public sector and private sector leadership skills, with reference to the employees’ perceptions of their leaders. Although this is a relatively specific area of study, there are potential issues that need to be looked at surrounding the study, in order to ascertain the impact that the various leadership styles have on the perceptions of employees and therefore on their ultimate behaviour. Employee behaviours are arguably linked to the leadership style, but it is also expected that other underlying factors, such as religion, culture and politics will have an impact. A comparison between public and private sectors may provide a greater understanding of these issues and the ways in which leaders can improve their own behaviours, in the future, to influence the performance of their employees.
Research Question and Objectives
The question here is to undertake a comparative study of the role of the managers and their leadership styles, from the point of view of employee perspectives, in both the public and private sectors in Oman with a view to presenting overall findings. In order to be able to provide a balanced response to this research question, there are several other objectives that need to be looked at, so that the answer to the research question can then provide future guidance, which can add value to those involved in corporate Oman.
Firstly, there is a requirement to understand the various leadership styles that may be employed by leaders and the way in which these are likely to develop within the workplace. Factors that may impact on the choice of leadership approach will also be looked at, with reference to the corporate climate in Oman. For example, it may be thought that the political context is relevant to the leadership style and that this will then be different in the public and private sectors. Similarly, it may be argued that religion or culture plays a much greater role than whether or not the organisation is public or private sector orientated.
Secondly, as well as the actual factors that influence leadership styles, the next part of the research is to look at the impact that leadership styles have on employee perceptions of the leaders themselves, or indeed the organisation. The ultimate aim of this research is for those involved in leadership to be able to understand how they can influence employee behaviours to the benefit of the organisation, in the future. With this in mind, the research question will need to be broken down, to understand the factors that are present but unchangeable and those which can be influenced, so as to create a more balanced view as to what leaders and managers can do to change the operation and the perceptions of their employees within the workplace.
Background Literature Review
Despite the fact that there is a large amount of literature available in terms of leadership styles, all of which will be looked at as part of the main research, the real essence of this research will be to look at leadership in the context of Oman and Omani culture. Over the years, it is argued that Omani culture and how it deals with politics, in particular, is that it has supported a participative leadership approach as being the dominant form of accepted leadership within the culture. This was the subject of the discussion in the paper of Eickleman, (1987) who found that the people of Oman, in general, operated by consultation, with leaders being largely selected based on merit, rather than on succession. This type of underlying culture is important as a means of understanding the prevailing culture and the likely employee perceptions of their leaders.
Specific research in the area of Omani business has also taken place, identifying that the way in which leaders are selected by priests within the community by merit from a religions context which offers an opportunity for further analysis within the commercial context. Arguably, this type of social selection was also seen to be prevalent when Al-Ghailani researched the area, in 2005, considering how this then influences human resources practices. It was found in this research that the use of social criteria was often seen as important when it came to recruitment and promotional decisions. This was evidenced in the 2005 research by the fact that it was found that many religious leaders were petitioning the public sector to recruit family members into certain roles. He found that there were essentially two different leadership structures in operation, the first looking at merit and the notion of recruiting to fill a need and the second based on family and cultural issues. This two fold approach suggests that leadership is unlikely to be a black and white scenario and perceptions are going to vary from person to person not just from organisation to organisation. By looking at other areas of research into leadership and therefore the employee perceptions that emerge as a result of the leadership, it can be seen that there are very distinct opinions, with those such as Farazmand, (2006) noting that this social element in fact complements leadership and improves perceptions, rather than being a detriment to the European and Western approach.
A specific research paper that looked at the leadership values in Oman was undertaken by Neal et al (2005), which found that positive leaders were seen as those displaying attributes of strong charisma, being largely interactive and also having a degree of authority inherent in their attitude. This indicated that those successful leaders in Oman were not actually far remote from the Western ideals. In particular, Neal et al. found that an effective leader in Oman needed to be concerned with the personal welfare of all of the employees and that a further level of respect is given to the use of legal authority, which is seemingly logical given the high level of bureaucracy within the region.
The methodology that is going to be used in the research here is inductive in nature, as it will look at the observations and actions of the various different managers, before then attempting to produce an overall theory that could ultimately apply across both private and public sector organisations.
The first step of this research, therefore, is to undertake a full literature review and analysis of the leadership approaches and those factors that theoretically have a means of determining the different perceptions which are going to emerge from employees in relation to the leadership skills displayed. From this general theoretical understanding, primary research in the form of case study interviews will then be undertaken, with the author looking specifically at two organisations, one in the public sector and one in the private sector. Although it is recognised that ideally several different organisations should be looked at, it is noted that the reality is such that focusing on two organisations will allow for sufficient depth of comparison between the styles of leadership. This will then be used to produce a theory and a set of suggestions as to how the information can then be applied to establishing a set of recommendations for managers across Oman and indeed across other similar jurisdictions.
Limitations / Ethical Considerations
A key limitation which has been identified is that the case study element will only look at one organisation from the public sector and one from the private sector. It would be desirable to look at a broader range of organisations and even to undertake such research over a period of time, to ascertain how these issues change and the long term impact of culture and politics, at that point in time. There may also be concerns that the employees will not be as open as they could be, due to concerns about what their manager will think; therefore, anonymity is crucial and is something that needs to be taken to the forefront when collecting data.
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Al-Hamadi, A., Budhwar, P., & Shipton, H. (2007). Management of human resources in Oman. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(1), 100-113. London
Chemers M. (1997). An integrative theory of leadership. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, CA, Publishers.
Dorfman, P., & House, R. (2004). Cultural influences on organizational leadership. In R. House, P. Hanges, M. Javidan, P. Dorfman, & V. Gupta (Eds.), Culture, leadership and organizations, the GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Farazmand, A. (2006). Public sector reforms and transformation: Implications for development administration. In A. Huque & H. Zafarullah (Eds.), International development governance. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor and Francis.
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Jabbra, J., & Jabbra, N. (2005). Administrative culture in the Middle East. In J. Jabbra & O. Dwivedi (Eds.), Administrative culture in a global context. Whitby, ON: de Sitter.
Neal, M., Finlay, J., & Tansey, R. (2005). “My father knows the minister”: A comparative study of Arab women?s attitudes towards leadership authority. Women in Management Review, 20(7/8), 478-498.
Riphenburg, C. (1998). Oman: Political development in a changing world. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Winckler, O. (2000). Gulf monarchies as rentier states: The nationalization policies of the labor force. In J. Kostiner (Ed.), Middle East monarchies: The challenge of modernity (pp. 237-256). London: Lynne Rienner.
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