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Leadership Styles in Saudi‐Arabia: Public and Private Sector Organisations Compared

Helga Drummond (Professor Helga Drummond holds the Chair in Decision Sceinces at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Public Administration and Management.)
Fayyadh Bani Al‐Anazi (Former doctoral student of the Institute.)

Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal

ISSN: 1352-7606

Article publication date: 1 April 1997


This study compares leadership styles and employee reactions in public and private sector organisations in Saudi‐Arabia. The results both confirm and contradict media reports of conservatism and inefficiency in the Saudi‐Arabian public service. The practical and theoretical implications of the findings are discussed. Saudi‐Arabia is popularly regarded as a wealthy country. Yet whilst some individuals enjoy extreme riches, the nation as a whole is ranked by the World Bank as a middle income nation. The future, moreover, is potentially bleak. Faced with a chronic budget deficit, the government's immediate priority is to identify new sources of income whilst simultaneously seeking to reduce expenditure. There is also the added pressure of needing to develop new industries as oil reserves become exhausted. Although Saudi‐Arabia's economic difficulties reflect the effects of Gulf War and the current depression of oil prices, the real cause of the apparent malaise may rest with the performance of its government executive: Saudi Arabia is not facing an economic crisis…but is suffering from over‐centralised government ministries best noted for the opportunities they have missed… Too many ministers have been too long at their posts for the good of the country. Clearly the suggestion is that an injection of entrepreneurial enthusiasm, ability and cosmopolitan outlook is required in order to make progress not least because many of Saudi Arabia's industrial and service organisations are in total or substantial government control. Although such claims of malaise in government and government controlled organisations are based upon media reports, empirical studies suggest that they may be alid. Saudi‐Arabian managers are apparently averse to innovation and risk, restrained by fear of failure. Such caution is reflected in relatively high reliance upon authority and relatively low delegation compared to north American organisations. The evidence is conflicting, however, as some enquiries suggest a high preference for consultation and participation amongst Saudi‐Arabian managers. We wish to suggest two weaknesses in the existing corpus of knowledge. First, existing studies concentrate upon the perceptions of the leaders rather than the led. A manager may perceive himself, (it is invariably him in Saudi‐Arabia), as participative or authoritative but there is no guarantee that this perception is shared by his subordinates. Second, existing studies fail to allow for the possibility of variation in leadership styles between different organisations. Whilst it may be true that Saudi‐Arabian managers are generally risk averse when compared to their north American counterparts, this does not mean that all Saudi‐Arabian managers are equally cautious and reactive. Such a broad brush approach may mask important differences between organisations. The present study seeks to explore such issues by comparing leadership styles in a range of Saudi‐Arabian organisations from the subordinates' standpoint. The theoretical rationale for the choice of organisations is explained in more detail later in this article. Here it is sufficient to note that the basis of comparison is the assumed level of bureaucratic formality. The research organisations range from the nearest equivalent to a European or North American private company, to the Saudi Civil Service.


Drummond, H. and Bani Al‐Anazi, F. (1997), "Leadership Styles in Saudi‐Arabia: Public and Private Sector Organisations Compared", Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 3-8.




Copyright © 1997, MCB UP Limited