Coaching at Work magazine
Coaching in the Middle East is growing in both scale and quality and its key base is in the United Arab Emirates. Paul Cochrane reports from Beirut
The professional coaching sector is booming in the Middle East. Over
the past decade the region has become increasingly interconnected in the
global business system, and has adopted international standards. This
has driven the need for professional coaching and training. But with
coaching modelled on US and European norms, there is a need for greater
localisation, while more accreditation is necessary to develop further
confidence in the fledgling sector.
Professional coaching started to take off in the Middle East
following the global financial crisis of 2008. Demand was driven by
multinational corporations (MNCs) based in the Gulf region, particularly
in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a popular location for coaching
organisations wanting to cover the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
“When I arrived in 2009, I told people I was a professional executive
coach and was asked: ‘What is that?’ There were only five credentialed
coaches in the UAE listed on the International Coach Federation (ICF)
website. Today there are hundreds of coaches, so the sector is
definitely growing,” says Annette Kirby of Executive Coaching
Connections; she is a Danish leadership coach in Abu Dhabi, with an ICF
Professional Certified Coach (PCC) qualification.
The UAE’s most populous emirate, Dubai, is a good location for
coaches, given that it is a key business hub for major companies
operating in MENA. Coaching specialists estimate that there are around
1,000 coaches in the MENA region with varying qualifications, while
there are only a few hundred Gulf-based members of the main coaching
bodies, such as the European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC),
the ICF and the International Association of Coaching (IAC), according
to Nigel Cumberland, an executive coach and leadership facilitator in
Dubai, with an EMCC Accredited Coach–Senior Practitioner level
qualification, among others.
“I would say the amount of coaching is what you might see in the UK
per capita, as a large majority of coaches live here in Dubai. There are
smaller groupings in Abu Dhabi, Doha [Qatar] and a smattering in Muscat
[Oman], Riyadh and Jeddah [Saudi Arabia], and the Levant,” says
Dubai’s location as a business and tourism hub has enabled coaches to
cover more than the Middle East. “Most of my coaching is now through
the web – video coaching – but I like to encourage people to meet in
person. Luckily, because of Dubai’s popularity, we can do that, with
people flying in from, say, Islamabad [Pakistan] or Kabul
[Afghanistan],” he adds.
While there is demand for coaching from numerous sectors, and for
different purposes, the leading certified coaches are involved with MNCs
and the Gulf’s sizeable state and state-linked companies.
“A large number of us are helping organisations and governments to
coach either leaders, managers or aspiring talent, which often means
locals – Emiratis, Saudis or Qataris. So we call ourselves leadership
coaches, or maybe business coaches, used interchangeably,” says
Keep it local
Across the Gulf, governments have set targets to bolster the
participation of locals in the workplace, known as nationalisation
programmes – Saudisation, Emiratisation, Qatarisation and so on.
Governments are particularly keen to have local nationals – a small
minority of the population in ex-pat hubs the UAE and Qatar – in
managerial and leadership positions, providing funding for study abroad
at leading universities and business schools. But academic experience
requires additional support once in the workplace, which is where
leadership and executive coaching comes in.
“The region is realising the importance of coaching, which as a
culture started with the MNCs, as well as large local companies and
organisations since they didn’t trust local providers,” says Rawan
Albina, a Lebanese coach based in Dubai, with a ICF-PCC qualification.
Until recently, coaches and leadership development experts would be
brought in from outside the region, but organisations soon got wise to
the higher costs. “It got to the point where they realised they were
paying an arm and a leg for people that didn’t know the region or how
people think. So [international] coaching firms would look for local
talent instead. For me, this was the big wake-up call for regional
coaching,” adds Albina.
Locally based coaches have the advantage of knowing the culture and
society, as well as the particularities of the Gulf, such as the high
proportion of foreign workers. “Multiculturalism is unique here as you
can have 12 nationalities in a [business] team. And within the past
couple of years there’s been more requests for coaching of multicultural
and multidisciplinary teams,” explains Executive Coaching Connections’
“The cultural component of coaching is very important, to know what
you can and can’t do, those unwritten codes of behaviour in the
workplace, which is not something you can understand unless you live
here for years,” she adds.
Another difference in Middle Eastern coaching compared to the West is
the blending of coaching and mentoring, attributed to a general lack of
knowledge about what coaching is. “What’s interesting is people’s
understanding of coaching, confusing mentoring and advising. When I
coach I’m often looked to for advice. That is entering mentoring
territory, and I happen to think a lot of coaching is a combination, as
in this part of the world people are keen to explore coaching as
personal exploration, but also can’t help asking: ‘What would you do?’ ”
Not being able to speak Arabic is not a major obstacle to being a
coach in the region, with middle and upper management usually fluent in
English. Albina said that around 30 per cent of her coaching is in
Arabic, and 10 per cent in French. “Most clients have very good English.
However, Arabic is important, and being a woman also, as it works well
with Gulf women, since they prefer to be coached by a woman,” she says.
Nationalisation of the workforce is likely to trigger more demand for
Arab coaches. “The more nationalisation increases, there will be more
leaders getting to the top who are local, so there will be more need for
Arabic speaking coaches,” adds Albina.
However, there is not as much interest in the profession from Arabic
speakers in the Gulf, particularly men. “Coaching is labelled as a
woman’s vocation. In every workshop I attend related to pure coaching
skills, it is always 80 per cent women and 20 per cent men, and the men
tend to be Western. It is still such a new industry that there needs to
be a mindset shift,” says Albina.
Lebanese coaches have a particular advantage over their
English-speaking peers, as they are typically fluent in Arabic, French
and English, and as a result able to cater to the whole region,
including the French-speaking parts – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and
“It is a strength of Lebanese coaches, and something you can’t really
find in the Gulf. It is also what makes Lebanese coaches a bit
different. For instance, a trend now is for NGOs [non-governmental
organisations] in Lebanon to use coaches for capacity development
projects, such as for people in stress, or to coach farmers, so Arabic
is an important bonus,” says Nada Jreissati Daher, founder of coaching
firm PragmaDoms and a master certified coach trainer in Beirut.
Thwarting the development of Arabic language coaching is the lack of
translated material: “There is a need for courses in Arabic as values
are really different, while in business there is a different culture,
especially as most are family-run. The problem is that coaching was
really tailored to Western societies, so we try to adapt as much as we
can, although with an accredited programme there is a limit to what you
can do,” she adds.
Driving the popularity of coaching as a profession is the potential
income. In the UAE, professional coaching remuneration can be anywhere
from US$500 to US$700 per hour, whereas in Lebanon, executive coaching
starts at US$250, up to US$600 per hour, depending on length of
But the profession’s popularity has led to a large number of
unaccredited coaches with minimal experience offering their services.
This has undermined trust in the sector at the very time local firms and
accredited professionals are trying to get the advantages of coaching
better known in the marketplace, as well as to better compete with
international coaching firms.
In Lebanon, this unwelcome situation has prompted Daher to set up a coaching syndicate to improve standards in the sector.
Over in the Gulf, it is a similar story, despite the presence of
local chapters of international bodies such as the ICF: “People want to
get into the coaching market and to make good money from the beginning.
It’s a very opportunistic market as it is not mature and companies don’t
know what to look for in experienced coaches,” says Kirby.
Albina thinks governments in the Middle East need to recognise the
profession before any regional coaching bodies or regulators can be
“At a very simple level it would be great if governments considered
coaching as a vocation. When I applied for my licence [in the UAE],
coaching was not listed. It is not in the vocabulary, although you find
training and development, and consulting,” she concludes.