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Leaders in Demand: Understanding leadership from the Point of View of Gen Y’s and Gen Z’s from the GCC region

In the GCC region, the overall population is becoming dominated by younger people and, naturally, this is also being reflected in the composition of the workforce that comprises more and more members of Generation Y or ‘millennials’ (those born between 1981 and 1996) and, increasingly, Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2015).

Although having such a young workforce leads to many organisational benefits and opportunities, it also introduces new challenges, particularly in understanding how to manage and lead these newest generations that are proving to be an unrivalled force of their own. We engaged in very candid and deep conversations with multiple millennials and Gen Z participants across the GCC through small focus groups, and established the following five major takeaways with regards to Gen Z's views on leadership.

What kind of leaders are needed to manage individuals from these generations and lead them to commit, thrive and drive organisational success?

Takeaway #1: Being a leader is much more than seniority or a title.

There was a clear consensus among participants that a 'leader' is not someone with a fancy-sounding title or someone who is “sitting at the highest hierarchies of an organisation”. In stark contrast, the participants defined a leader as someone who motivates, has the right capabilities and can manage, take charge and offer guidance to help a group of people work cohesively in order to achieve a common goal. Leaders do this best by knowing how to allocate people to the right roles and by orchestrating their efforts behind the scenes, whilst empowering them to take the lead. They also define a leader as somebody who motivates and inspires others and focuses more on creating leaders rather than earning followers. Finally, the most important attribute of a leader to Gen Y and Z is that he or she is someone who can be looked up to and perceived as a role model.

Takeaway #2: Effective leadership in the workplace trumps many other factors including monetary rewards and compensation.

When we asked participants to rank how important leadership is in comparison to other critical features of the workplace, we found that leadership ranked as one of the top three factors contributing to engagement, consistently triumphing over other factors such as compensation. Although, not as important as the opportunity to learn and to grow, having a great leader that encourages you to come to work and apply your skills is highly valued by our participants. More importantly, our young participants are not willing to compromise their comfort and remain employed long-term with leaders that they don’t trust or respect.

Takeaway #3: There are certain traits, skills and behaviours Millennials and Generation Z find desirable in their leaders.

Out of the many leadership traits and skills our participants highlighted as important to them, there were some that stood out consistently. We were able to prioritise them and group them into five distinct themes that describe the different ‘facets’ of the ideal leader the youth want to work with.

Caring - Empathetic - Supportive - Protective - Altruistic

The Selfless and Nurturing leaders focus consistently on the team’s holistic wellbeing and success, and firmly gain a deep sense of triumph and satisfaction from watching their team learn, grow and succeed. Therefore, these leaders are in tune with their team members’ strengths and development areas. They harness an environment that is nurturing and encouraging even in the face of failures or set-backs, where they will always extend a helping hand so that the team can stand right back-up and push forward to attain their best.

“A leader creates an environment that builds confidence within the team and gets the best out of them”

Modest - Humble - Vulnerable - Self-Aware - Sincere - Approachable

Ideally, the youth of today would like to work with leaders who don’t erect hierarchical barriers between themselves and their teams. In fact, the idea of hierarchy is not one which resonates well with Millennials and Generation Z. Today’s young GCC Nationals want to feel like they are working with leaders that are also colleagues who, despite being more senior and having authority, are easy to approach and interact with and who create a more open and social atmosphere. In being down to earth and relatable, leaders can support their team in becoming more comfortable and secure in the workplace, whilst allowing them to express any fears that might get in the way of their performance.

“Someone who understands the importance of consistent communication with subordinates without judgement”

Driven - Energetic - Positive - Inspirational

Vibrant and stimulating leaders embody high and contagious levels of energy and a drive that helps others consistently maintain their own high energy levels and keep pushing on to persevere. They are also able to add an element of excitement and enthusiasm that helps , overall, establish a positive and constructive working atmosphere where individuals are relaxed and motivated to give their best. Such leaders are also able to help their team members overcome obstacles, remain optimistic and focus on the bright side, particularly in the face of failures or any other setbacks they face. These leaders are not quick to give up and push themselves and others to make the best of every single situation.

Innovative - Pioneering - Courageous - Visionary - Entrepreneurial

Our young participants highlighted how important it is for them to work with a leader who is original and creative by nature and does things in unique ways without being afraid to take risks. This is a must, particularly when the competitive business landscape demands entities to remain innovative and beat trends. Therefore, the authentic and daring side of leaders allows them to inspire their teams to come up with different ideas, even if they appear to be unrealistic or difficult to implement, and helps bring the best of these ideas to life. The core mantra is to always push forward and strive to do better and bigger things.

“A person with a vision who drives the team into believing their vision and motivating them to achieve it”

Responsible - Accountable - Exemplary - Disciplined - Organised

This conscientious and guruistic side of leaders, allows them to demonstrate excellence, responsibility and discipline and to adopt a smooth and seamless approach to management. This is in full contrast to leaders that may lose their team’s confidence by appearing to lack in competence, failing to remain calm and causing chaos due to a lack of organisation. Leaders with this facet remain in full control and can always steer the team back on the right course, no matter what difficulties they face. And along the way, they can teach their team the right tactics to always be ahead of the game.

“Someone who can lead the team to reach organizational smoothly as possible”

Takeaway #4: There are certain leadership behaviours that push Gen Y and Gen Z away

Young employees are often forced to deal with ineffective leaders, who seem to do things and behave in ways that are off-putting and can contribute to disengagement. Some of the biggest examples of these behaviours, which leaders should be careful to avoid, are:

Working in an ad-hoc manner without a clear or consistent sense of direction.
Setting unrealistic deadlines or expectations that are difficult to achieve.
Lacking the ability to give constructive and clear instructions and guidance when the team seeks these.
Controlling and micromanaging the team when they are fully capable.
Not giving enough appreciation, recognition and credit to the team or taking credit for the team’s efforts.
‘Pointing fingers’ and blaming the team when things go wrong.
Being unable to understand and empathise with personal circumstances.
Not recognising individual personalities and working styles and preferences.
Appearing unenthusiastic or negative and lacking energy resulting in negative vibes.
Being ‘out of reach’ for the team.

Takeaway #5: It takes two to develop the right leadership

The reality is that the onus for establishing the right calibre of leadership is on both employers and those individuals holding, or aspiring to hold, leadership positions.We highlight the top three organisational and individual strategies that our participants agree should be used to strengthen leadership qualities and abilities.


Today, the GCC youth value the importance of leadership and appreciate its importance to their own engagement, development and success. However, they aspire to work with leaders who have mastered the art of leadership, demonstrating certain key qualities and behaviours that help bring the most out of them and make traditional employment worthwhile. 

With this understanding, both organisations and individuals serving as leaders or aspiring to become future leaders, should seek to develop the right leadership capabilities particularly those softer, behavioural skills that support leaders in adopting a fully rounded leadership style. Download the report to find out more.


Contact us

Rami  Nazer

Rami Nazer

Middle East Government and Public Sector Leader & Global Advisory Government and Public Sector Leader, PwC Middle East

Tel: +971 2 694 6800

Eyhab Abdeen

Eyhab Abdeen

People & Organization Partner, PwC Middle East

Maha Tajdeen

Maha Tajdeen

Senior Manager, People & Organisation, PwC Middle East

Tel: +971 56 480 3085

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