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Tunisia’s former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa shares the value of business skills in a political crisis

The leader gave a keynote speech at OWP
July 2016

Speaking at IMD’s Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) Program to over 450 executives coming from all over the world, Mehdi Jomaa, Tunisia’s former Prime Minister said his past experience as a business leader helped him to transition the country out of a political crisis.

In the one-year mandate from January 2014 to February 2015, Mr. Jomaa’s mission was to bring back stability and prepare the general elections. For this task, he said that his international experience as an engineer and corporate manager in the aerospace industry helped him deal with the unprecedented situation.

“Tunisia is a true start-up democracy,” Mr. Jomaa said. “We are in a defining phase. There will not be linear progress, but the aim to build is real. The direction forward comes from people and from their underlying beliefs in the country’s success.”

As Mr. Jomaa said his business skills, especially those in a crisis situation, served him well in government, he offered executives at IMD four pieces of advice for dealing with new challenges.

Find fresh people
Mr. Jomaa said it is important to be ideologically neutral. He belonged to none of the political parties in Tunisia and he required the same of his future cabinet members, none of whom he had known before.

“In selecting a team, it is important to go outside of friends and family and find diverse people who are experts in their field, patriots and at the same time do not have egos.”

Trust and delegate
Mr. Jomaa said he empowered others by showing confidence that they would succeed. “Trust is very powerful. Otherwise, you can’t ask for sacrifice or for people to wait.” Positive feedback and recognition are motors to get people involved and put them in action. “Real leadership is helping people defeat their fear of change.”

Adapt to the situation
It is better to adapt a style of governance, rather than to introduce radical changes. “To increase performance, it is important to see and understand the new atmosphere.” His team proposed numerous reforms; they started implementing some of them and handed over the others to the elected government to pursue them.

Keep perspective
Mr. Jomaa explained that nothing much happens during incubation periods. “Don’t get impatient even when you don’t feel anything is happening.” He said during transition periods one must keep the motivation level high through reminders of expectations and constant recognition of the value of the team’s work. “You have to believe in the future and if you do, show it and others will also believe in it.”

After finishing the 1-year term as Prime Minister, Mr. Jomaa said he has some regrets that the new government has not yet been able to carry out some of the objectives his team set in place, particularly with respect to the economy. Nevertheless, he expresses confidence in the future.

“Now is the time to invest in Tunisia, not later,” Mr. Jomaa said. “With a high level of education, including women, a secular state and a republican army, now is the time for a vote of confidence. To invest in Tunisia today is to jumpstart democracy.”

Further, Mr. Jomaa said that the youth will be the key to Tunisia’s development. “The revolution was made by young people looking for job opportunities, he said. “We have given them new hope and patriotism. Now we must follow through on productivity so that we can shape a future that concerns everyone and especially the youth.”