Leadership in an Uncertain Environment: The Case of Fouad Zmokhol

Performing the basic managerial functions might be within the ability of any individual who climbs the organizational ladder. However, exhibiting the ability to lead is exclusive to the select few who can stand out and have an impact. Some environments impose more challenges on leaders, especially those fraught with uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity. Lebanon is par excellence one of those countries passing through constant turmoil, and Dr. Fouad Zmokhol is one among the few who were able to survive, adjust, and grow in such an environment. President of the Lebanese Businessmen Association for six consecutive years, CEO and founder of successful businesses, and a professor of management and entrepreneurship at several universities, Zmokhol says that leadership is an integral part of all the roles he assumes, even as a father.

Being left with the responsibility of running a business after the death of his father at the age of 19 and being faced with the challenge of sustaining and growing this business made entrepreneurship an integral part of his soul. “Such a challenge accelerated my entry into adulthood and triggered my sense of self-actualization,” Zmokhol says. Dr. Zmokhol finds that living a life of leadership is necessary to be a good academic, nurture a family, have an impact on the public sector, and grow a business diversified in terms of both geography and products and services. He quotes Lao Tzu who says, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say,‘we did it ourselves.’” Gaining acceptance and being trusted are prerequisites for exercising your leadership style.

Zmokhol adds that flexibility and agility are highly required in an environment characterized by uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity. “My strategy is built on clear objectives. It starts with where we are now and where we want to be at a certain point in time, based on the tangible and intangible assets we have.” People are the primary assets, according to Zmokhol.  He emphasizes that strategies can fluctuate based on the environment, but direction shouldn’t. With such an environment, your style of leadership should be based on being responsive and adaptive.

Zmokhol, whose company is a major player in the printing and leather industries in Lebanon, and who owns diversified businesses abroad, says that Lebanon is a business laboratory. Through this lab, one can test their rivals, other people, and the uncertainties one faces.  Zmokhol believes in a “3 Ds Strategy”. The first “D” stands for the development of oneself, other people, and one’s products. The second “D” is diversification based on the opportunities that emerge and should be seized. As for the third “D”, it is delegation. Talking about delegation, Dr. Zmokhol believes in distributed leadership based on the fact that a leader creates leaders who might emerge from any hierarchical level based on the power of knowledge, innovation, and expertise. Based on this belief, Zmokhol deals with his team after gaining their trust and acceptance.

Walking the talk is very challenging with the temptation of abusing power always looming large. However, the success story of Zmokhol in all the areas in which he is involved and his being looked up to as an exemplar of practicing what he preaches makes him a true and influential young leader.

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