INSEAD Participant Interview

Best Practice Leadership and Healthcare Management 


Laila Abdel Wareth, MBBCh, FCAP, FRCPC, EMHCA

Chief Clinical Pathology, Medical | Pathology & Laboratory Medicine Institute
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

How the Middle East Health Leadership Programme delivers lessons in best practice leadership and healthcare management

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?

Though I am a clinical pathologist by training, and have spent nearly 20 years practicing in Abu Dhabi, I now spend roughly 40-50% of my time as Chief of Clinical Pathology at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi involved in administration.

The clinic is new; I started here two and a half years ago when it opened and for the first year we were really operating in a start-up environment. As a team, we had never worked together before. All the systems were new. This posed a challenge considering I came from an established environment/workplace. It was not something I had encountered before.

Another challenge that comes to mind is working in such a diverse workforce. This is something that is quite unique to the region. We have 38 different nationalities in the team and that sometimes makes it feel like you are working in the United Nations! All of these individuals bring different experiences and different backgrounds. It’s a very rich environment in which to work, but also challenging, especially in a laboratory environment.

We want things streamlined and done in a standardised fashion. Because we work in such a diverse team, people have a habit of approaching processes differently. So, in the first year we needed to iron out these differences and work collaboratively. We needed to establish guidelines, a work culture and an understanding of how to work together as a team.

We have now moved on from this start-up phase to a growing phase.

Moving into administrative work, were there new skills you needed to acquire?

There were a number, including HR management skills, organisational culture, understanding team dynamics, understanding myself better - my abilities and weaknesses - as well as those of others. Additionally, I had to strengthen my knowledge of how to get the best out of people. There is really a science as to how you motivate your team. You also need to think strategically, and provide direction.

Then there is of course the financial aspect of helping to run the department. I needed to learn how to read profit and loss statements. As a doctor, your job is to treat patients and you don’t worry as much about the expenses. My new role meant I had to also ensure the business is financially sustainable.

Other skills I need to strengthen related to quality management, especially given that I work in a lab environment. We run many tests per minute, which generate thousands of results. As such, we need to have tight control over the process. I can’t supervise every result and so, we needed to put an effective quality management system in place.

Given all of this, why did you decide to enroll on the Middle East Health Leadership Programme (MEHLP)?

Before joining the programme, I felt that I had a knowledge gap that needed filling. I had recently completed an executive Masters in Healthcare Management, but what stood out with the MEHLP, was that it focused on leadership and strategic thinking. For me, this made the course interesting. It was something different. I felt it was a good opportunity to develop and shape my behaviours, interactions with colleagues and my understanding of business.

Did you come onto the programme to find help for any challenges you were facing?

I joined the programme at a time of transition. I was about to leave my role as Chief Medical Officer at Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) to join the Cleveland Clinic. It was an important phase in my career.

I enjoyed working at SEHA and had helped establish their laboratory services. I wanted to leave it in safe hands and so proper succession planning was very much on my mind. I was worried people would think am abandoned them. How do I explain that I was leaving for the right reasons? How can I put a positive spin on it? I came into the programme with all these questions in mind.

Change is exciting and so I was also looking forward to my new role. I was looking for guidance. Guidance on how to make the right decisions for my new team, how to work effectively with new people, networking etc…I wanted answers on how to move in to my new role with ease with proper transition planning for my old role.

In these respects, the programme was very useful and very enlightening. The various discussion I took part in helped me realise what should be done and how.  

It reaffirmed existing thoughts and gave me new ideas; Thoughts on how to go about things and how change is inevitable. Leaders cannot stay forever. They also have to move on. What is fundamental in any transition is that if you care about the organisation you are leaving, you need to have a succession plan in place. Before leaving, make sure you put in place an environment that will encourage your old team to grow and flourish. These are things I was struggling with.

The programme reaffirmed all of this. It helped leave my job at SEHA and prepare the ground for my new role in terms of management and administration.

What did you enjoy about the programme?  

Firstly, all my expectations were met, if not exceeded. I enjoyed the strategic thinking discussions, as well as the change management sessions – the importance of change management. These were particularly relevant for me at the time. What is the role of the leader, how can they bring about positive change and how they can execute the strategy? Also, how they motivate, inspire, foster teamwork and bring integrity into their role. These are all important for any project to succeed.

The situational leadership component was also interesting, especially when we discussed leadership styles and how effective they can be.

The discussion covering the understanding of one’s limitations and abilities, as well as those of others was great. This really helped further my understanding of how each individual can add to the team. Teams are made up of innovators, advancers, implementers, analysers etc… No one individuals can be all of these things, but collectively we can work together to draw on each other’s skills.

All of this helps with understanding effective change management and leadership.

Did the programme help you pick up new tools?

I picked up a few yes. Ones that stuck with me are:

  • Strategic thinking and the differences between assumptions and fact, and how to separate the two in your head.  Often, we act on assumptions as if they were facts. However it is important to take time out to see if something is really a fact or rather an assumption. I like to advance and carry projects through and understanding when and where to take that time out was an important lesson for me
  • The change management tools were very helpful, especially given my circumstances. They helped me understand how to get to the tipping point and to then move the masses quickly and effectively
  • The situation leadership exercise stuck with me. How in different situations you need to adopt different leadership styles in order to be effective. It was a very interesting concept which helped me understand when to the different styles and in which situation  

Has the programme changed the way you approach your job?

It gave me additional wisdom and knowledge to use in my career. When you reflect and change your way of doing business it becomes a habit. I’ve become the voice of wisdom to colleagues who come to me to seek advice. They trust my opinion.

So, the programme gives you that extra edge beyond knowledge. It gives you confidence.

Has the programme had a trickledown effect in your team?

I hope so. We work very effectively as a team and have harmony and understanding. We have an appreciation of the values that each member brings.  

The first year was the hardest. We had to lay down the foundation, the culture, the transparency and the trust.

We have now reached a level where we trust each other and work well together in an open environment. We all come together as a team to build and practice trust. There is a common understanding of goals.  

If you could sum it up, what do you think the programme offers participants?

It gives tools, insights and thought leadership into how to best manage healthcare. It also helps fine-tune business acumen.

It also brings best practice leadership. You can learn about management and administration in books. However what you can’t learn as well is how to be an effective leader and how to bring about positive transformational changes. This is where the programme comes in. It helps you reflect on your own style and what it takes to create well-rounded leader. 

Was there anything on the programme that surprised you?

The networking exercise was very powerful and unexpected. It very clearly showed you how you can effectively network and influence in your organisation. I was also surprised by the MBTI Simulator. I had always considered myself an extrovert. What it told me was that I am actually an introvert.  

What was the programme networking like?

This was a very interesting and interactive part of the programme. We do learn from each other. Hats off to whoever puts group together. There is clearly so much effort that goes into ensuring there is a good mix of backgrounds. Not just nationality-wise, but also job function from administration and physicians, to HR management and Ministry of Health.  

There were good breaks and good teamwork. The fact that we changed working groups during the programme was good.

Overall, the networking thanks for the participant mix was very enriching. I have even stayed in touch with a couple of my peers.

What level of knowledge did the faculty bring?

They were very talented and very effective in simplifying and delivering the messages with great clarity. The helped facilitate discussions and gave us many insights.  

Finally, how important is lifelong learning?

It is very important to seek personal growth and development. Things change and you need to be able to cope with this. You will also have weaknesses and gaps in your knowledge that you need to address. Lifelong learning helps with this. 

Interested in INSEAD's Middle East Health Leadership Programme? Have a look at the Middle East Health Leadership Programme web page.

The Middle East Health Leadership Programme is the result of the Trust’s longstanding partnership with INSEAD to provide management education for healthcare professionals. INSEAD is a Flagship Partner within the Trust’s 2020 strategy and a key component of the Trust’s goal to advance knowledge and innovation in seeking to transform health care systems. The Trust works across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region in making a difference in human health through multiple social impact interventions. Currently within the Trust’s partnership portfolio there are over 70 active programmes run with partner organisations. For more information about the Trust and its activities, please visit

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