Some Leadership Lessons for a Muslim Leader.
Our past may have been glorious, but it will not dictate our present or our future. We can learn from the past but we cannot live in the past. The present moment is always our starting point and the future will come quicker than we are prepared. We must build a better future and for that we need to give an honest direction to those who will come after us.
If we fail for any reason to provide direction for those coming after us, if we refuse to provide direction for the future generations we must then give us our pretence as leaders and give support those who can provide that leadership. Our plans, must be focused on reaching goals that will benefit those who come after us not our own personal desires to look good or powerful to others.
One of the first qualities the leader should possess is humility, the humility to learn and the awareness that this life that he (or she) has a purpose behind it – like others lives. A leadership position gives direction to the lives of others and that is role is not for the ones who just want to have power for powers sake and feel superior to others.
Of those who are aware of Allah (God, El, Adonai, Param Brahma, Waheguru, Shangdi, Ekan, Amun) they may like this prayer:
O Most Gracious I asked for strength and you gave me difficulties to make me strong,
O Most Wise I asked for wisdom and you gave me problems to reason and solve,
O Most Powerful I asked for courage and you sent me wolves to discipline and befriend,
O Most Loving I asked for love and you sent me the hateful and hurtful to love,
O Most High I asked you to raise me up and you sent the fallen for me to reach out and raise up.
O Master Creator of All I ask nothing from you for you have given me everything, I present myself before You.
1. Be focused.
And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out and will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a decreed extent. – Quran 65:2-3
In Samurai traditions there is a great saying, “Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.” This means that each time you defeat some weakness or fault in yourself, you are prepared and willing to defeat others who have these same defects and a leader needs to think along these lines.
Those who you are responsible for – are your top priority, you embody their aspirations and should be seen to and act to meet them. Those who you have guardianship over will see you as someone who can take care of them, help them and guide them. Many in leadership positions especially Muslim leaders do not have a vision or focus in their lives and seek the easiest excuse not to provide that leadership and hide behind religion or religious scholars as justification for their inaction and lack of leadership. They should be mindful that they will meet their creator and must justify their lack of leadership – even though they claimed they were leaders.
As leaders – whether we like it or not it is our duty to push through the naysayers, cut through their instragience without excuse and lead with focus and to provide that vision that will give others direction – regardless if its the quiet leadership from behind the scenes or public leadership from the front. There will be those who will use excuses based on religion and persecute others all the whilst hiding behind The Quran, The Last Prophet or sayings of the sahaba (companions of the Prophet) if Muslims and holy books of other traditions if not. The duty of the leader is to the people and the future and not the few who have used and abused religion to satisfy their own hunger for power and profit.
You follow The Prophet – not the profit.
2. Be the leader you wish to follow.
And We made them leaders, guiding by Our command; and We inspired them to do good works, and to observe the prayer, and to give out charity. They were devoted servants to Us. – Quran, 21:73
Master Sun (Sun Tzu) talked of ‘The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness’ in his writings and leads us to think of the leaders we admire.
How many of wish we can be like them and speak like them and yet few have the biographies of those leaders or looked deeper into their lives. Leaders are not perfect, no one is and at times those we admire may have a problematic past or certain issues that may not meet our definition of what a great leader should be and we ourselves then become reluctant to lead either within our own families, tribes or locally – let alone nationally or internationally. Each of us have our own problems and when we lead we need to understand that we are not perfect and those around us also are likely to have a variety of problems and issues – our purpose is not to solve everyone’s problems, but to provide firmness and direction in a compassionate way for those who look up to us and are guided by us.
You are not perfect – only Allah is perfect.
3. Empower others and delegate.
And the slaves of the Most Beneficent are those who walk on the earth in humility and sedateness, and when the foolish address them they reply back with mild words of gentleness. – Quran 25:63
Many who fail at leadership fail at delegating as they become drunk on power and to empower others they feel their power will be taken away from them. When a leader delegates, the leader empowers others and what usually happens that empowerment and delegation goes down the chain of command and whole team works together and moves forward and accomplishes something much quicker. Individuals do have egos and that leader who subdues his ego shows true power and that humility of a true leader shines so much that others can see how powerful that is and they themselves then move forward empowered as leaders themselves. The successful leader empowers and delegates.
Delegating tasks, creates followers – delegating authority, creates leaders.
4. Surround yourself with people more intelligent than you.
The best of people are those with the most excellent character. – Sahih
Master Lao (Lao Tzu) said that ‘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.’ And this is the ideal state of mind of a leader.
Of course the leader has to consult with others and engage in dialogue. Abu Hurairah, one of the most learned companions of the Prophet said, “I have not seen anyone who consulted with his companions more than Mohammed the Messenger.” A leaders gentle advice may correct anothers path. It is not weakness for us to seek advice from those who are experts in fields where we are not. There may be a multitude of solutions and perceptions which we haven’t considered and will delay us in doing our duty as leaders.
There are sincere, courageous and blunt people out there who hold keys to the problems we have and reaching out to them does not weaken our position but on the contrary, grows it, because our ultimate goal is to serve others in the way that The Prophet taught and not have personal egotistical agendas that hold us back.
Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.
5. Think outside the box.
There are two kinds of people worth envying: someone whom Allah has made rich and who spends his money righteously, and someone whom Allah has given wisdom and who acts according to it and teaches it to others. – Bukhari
Confucius said ‘It is not possible for one to teach others who cannot teach his own family.’ Knowledge is essential in making decisions that are effective. We should not limit our lives to follow certain working hours or days as this is a form or mind-slavery for the leader who aims to make a difference. Being alert and ready to take action anytime, on any day is the key. We need to express ourselves clearly. We need to break out of our limiting beliefs and cultural conditioning that refuses to help us rise to the reality of who we really are and what our overall mission in life is about.
Many around us – to fool us will use ideas and difficult-to-understand language to misguide us from our paths – they do this mostly to make us think they are better than us or experts in something we are not, think of scientists or religious figures or politicians. Thats fine but we must keep in mind the real leader uses simple, everyday language to explain and avoids detours, repetition and overdoing ‘leadership’.
Look at new perspectives and conquer fear.
6. Live for the ones who will come after us.
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the Earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly star lit from a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things. – Quran 24:35
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk said ‘The necessary thing for anyone to be happy and contented as long as he lives is working for the ones who will come after him rather than working for himself… One can reach the true delight and happiness in the life only by working for the existence, honor, and happiness of the future generations.’
As leaders we need to keep in mind that we will die and there will be those who will come after us and a leader works for a future that he may not see. There is a great saying that goes something like this ‘The trees we plant we do so so others can sit in their shades and eat their fruits.’ This is the mindset of the leader that we should strive towards a leadership that is humble and focused, that builds a noble character with the leader and those the leader comes in touch with, leaders that are happy to shoulder of responsibilities and respect those they lead.
Be loyal to your future, not your past.