(Re) Situating Commonwealth: Educational Leadership




“(Re) Situating Commonwealth: Educational Leadership at a Time of Demographic Change”

June 6 – 10, 2014

Paper Summary

“The Adaptation of the Transformational Leadership Model to an Arab-Islamic Context:

A cross-Cultural Comparative Study of Higher Education Organizations in the United Arab Emirates & the Kingdom of Bahrain”


Hasan Toubat,

(Main author)

Higher Colleges of Technology,

Al Ain Colleges,

United Arab Emirates htoubat@hct.ac.ae

Amal AL-Gallaf


Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Medical University of Bahrain,

Kingdom of Bahrain agallaf@rcsi-mub.com



During the last few decades, the higher education sector in the Arabian Gulf (AG) countries has witnessed a noticeable expansion and reform (Smith 2008). This educational

‘revolution’ led to establishing many governmental initiatives, plans, and most importantly tens of new private universities and higher educational institutions. Most of these new private universities are branches of western universities or a kind of joint venture which are mainly led by western people. Some of those leaders face difficulties to adjust their leadership models to suit the cultural specificity of AG region.

Purpose and Research Questions:

This paper investigates how the Arabic-Islamic Culture (AIC) affects expatriate leadership and how western leaders adapt, if any, their leadership to suit the cultural context.

This research tries to answer the following questions:

 How does the culture of the AG countries modify the educational leadership of western expatriates in senior university positions?

 Do these Western leaders prepare AG nationals to eventually be leaders?


This paper will use Bass and Avolio’s (1994) transformational leadership model to study the western leaders’ behavior in order to answer its research questions. Bass and Avolio have focused on the behavior of transformational leadership: idealized behavior, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration and idealized attributes. Dimmock and Walker’s (2002) demonstrate in their work that the role of cultural differences help in creating better understanding the work environment and influence leadership practices.


This research is a qualitative study used semi-structured interviews with four academic leaders, two from a university college in the UAE and two from a university college in the

Kingdom of Bahrain.


 A group of western leaders lack understanding the Arabic-Islamic culture. So, they face real problems in solving the contradictions between the context and their cultural beliefs.

 Another group of western leaders have full awareness of culture. However, they do not adapt their leadership to suit the contextual culture. Rather, when dealing with cultural based problems, they try to “separate people from their context” (Henrich et al, 2010, p. 29) and rely on rules to explain and predict students’ behaviour.

 Both groups expect students to adapt their cultural beliefs and values to the western culture rather than the opposite.

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 Displaying a sense of power and competence in dealing with culture related issues, especially when a decision needs to be taken. Example is: one leader said: “I would say you have to think yourself then whether you want to stay in this environment”

Ballou defines the true leader as a much more than a manager, he is a person who assists, inspires, develops, and helps people they lead to be leaders (Ballou 2008).

This seems not clear and needs further research. The case is not clear in relation with the expatriate leaders in the AG countries and needs further research.


• Offering suitable induction to the national culture and religion of the GCC countries, to western educational leaders before coming to the region and throughout the working period.

• Issuing an educational guide that helps western leaders understand some important aspects of the political, social, religious, and cultural systems in the AGP countries.

• Conducting regular trainings to develop western leaders’ skills and abilities of adaptation to the context rather than the opposite.

• Conducting further research on how western leaders could prepare followers to be leaders.

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