I’m working in Dubai for several weeks this month, and struck by the management and leadership structure of the country. The political system is the antithesis of the democracies usually favored by the west: essentially a monarchy with no voting and no meaningful citizen participation, but also one of the new breed of “benevolent dictatorships” that many look to admiringly. Fans of this system point to places like Dubai and China and their ability to accomplish massive infrastructure projects in months, and an ability to implement a clear and consistent vision for the benefit of their citizens, without having to deal with the objections of those same citizens they aim to serve. Projects that would take western democracies years of debate and consideration are planned, approved, completed and forgotten before a western country could pick up a shovel or pass a relevant law.
In Dubai’s case, effective leadership drives expansion more than some inherent benefit of the political system that’s employed. The Middle East and Africa have no shortage of patriarchal monarchies, and Dubai’s individual leaders seemingly have leveraged the system to exploit their talents, essentially a victory of management and leadership over political methodology.This of course brings up the nagging question and inherent flaw of absolute rule: are the economic miracles in places like China and Dubai sustainable if the next generations of leaders lacks the talents of their predecessors?
The great power of western democracies is their considered advancement, and the general inability of a single person to completely corrupt and change the system without consent of the citizenry. Without delving too deeply into a political discussion, this is a nice analogy for the old debate in the corporate space about whether individual leaders or disciplined processes and methodologies create maximum benefit. In extreme cases, one can compensate for any flaws of the other, but they are most effective together.