Building great leaders requires hard work from parents, educators, teachers, counselors, imams, elder siblings, and community leaders. Some of the greatest leaders have emerged when Jahiylah was far and wide. In fact, Islaam spread at a time of great cruelties and social ills. As centuries passed, eminent leaders continued to appear even though there was corruption in the land. Therefore, instead of allowing the disheartening realities surrounding us to wallow in despair, we should focus on ways in which we can foster distinguished leaders. The biggest problem that the Ummah faces in building righteous leaders is a lack of unified vision and mission.
In this article , we will start by going over five important characteristics that every great leader must possess, giving examples of the greatest leaders along the way, and conclude with some crucial steps to be taken in order to cultivate impressive leaders. Keep a notebook and pen handy for the Action Steps listed below!
Purify Your Intentions
‘Umar al-Khattab narrated that the Prophet (Salallahu alayhi was salam) said:
Deeds are [a result] only of the intentions [of the actor], and an individual is [rewarded] only according to that which he intends. Therefore, whosoever has emigrated for the sake of Allah and His messenger, then his emigration was for Allah and His messenger. Whosoever emigrated for the sake of worldly gain, or a woman [whom he desires] to marry, then his emigration is for the sake of that which [moved him] to emigrate.”
(Al- Bukhari and Muslim)
Our sole intention should be to please Allaah swt in everything that we do, otherwise our deeds may be pointless. So many people give Zakat and do other deeds, but their intentions are to either show off, or make people respect them, etc.
Action Step: Before every action, take a moment and think about your intentions and make sure they would be pleasing to Allaah (subhannah wa Ta’alah). Every great leader starts here. The best way to go about this is to make a list of all that you will do for the sake of Allaah (subhannah wa Ta’alah), and then plan to achieve each task accordingly. For example, I will read 2 hadiths a night with my children and discuss it with them inshAllaah.
Allaah (subhannah wa Ta’alah) says in the Quraan:
“We will certainly bestow on those who are patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do”
(The Quraan Chapter16: Verse 96)
Having reserves of patience is the key to being an effective leader. Without patience, it is very difficult to keep oneself on the straight path, much less guide, motivate or inspire others. Indeed, anger kills all of the other great habits one may possess. Allah (swt) tells us that those who are patient will have the best of rewards in the Hereafter, insha’Allah.
Action Step: Make a list of all of the things that make you angry and then find ways to overcome such situations. For example, if tardiness angers you, then figure out how you can be on time, i.e., wake up 20 minutes earlier, and then take that action step so that you may no longer get angry for that behavior.
Prophet Ayoub: An Inspiring Role Model
When it comes to have the most amount of patience and enduring extremely trying times, Prophet Ayoub (alayhi salam) is truly the shining example. His (alayhi salam) story is one that we should all reflect upon and learn from. He (alayhi salam) endured so much, yet he (alayhi salam) was patient and thankful for everything, mashAllaah. Ayoub (alayhi salam) was given many graces by Allaah (subhannah wa Ta’alah). He (alayhi salam) had wealth, many children, health, and more. This, however, did not make Prophet Ayoub arrogant at all. Then Allaah swt began to take each one of these things away from him, and Prophet Ayoub (alayhi salam) did not even sigh. He would thank Allaah (swt) each time, and pray to Him. He knew that it was Allaah (swt) who had given him the wealth, health and children, and if Allaah (swt) chose to take them away, he would not be upset. This was the kind of attitude that helped him get through his hard times, and show Allaah (swt) that he truly was patient. This example should teach each of us that when a hardship or a test comes to us we must hold tight to the rope of Allaah (swt), and be patient, inshAllaah and that we must do as Prophet Ayoub (alayhi salam) did and make dua to Allaah swt as he did:
“Truly adversity has afflicted me and You are Most Merciful of all who show mercy.”
(The Quraan: Chapter 21: Verse 83)
Be a Visionary
The leader must have a vision and stimulate people to make it their vision too. In this way, his team should be motivated to be a part of something inspirational. Together, they must be able to think big and help the community see the vast picture toward which they are working.
Action Step: What is it you want to achieve? What is the ultimate goal you want to work towards? For example, you want to write a book; maybe the big picture is to have the book translated in 30 languages, inshAllaah, or maybe the book will be the first in a series of 10 books inshAllaah. This is how you think bigger and dream higher. Make sure you take notes!
Prophet Muhammad (Salallahu alayhi was salam): A True Visionary
The best example of someone who was a visionary was the Prophet Muhammad (Salallahu alayhi was salam). One example of this would be the treaty of Hudaybia which showed the Prophet (Salallahu alayhi was salam)’s wisdom in accepting terms that many leaders would not in a treaty for the benefit of a better Islam tomorrow. The treaty was in favor of the Quraysh and the Muslims were upset at this, especially Umar (RA). He was angry and did not want the Prophet Muhammad (Salallahu alayhi was salam) to accept this. However, the Prophet (Salallahu alayhi was salam) was a visionary, he knew that sacrifice for today and being patient now would lead to a better tomorrow, inshAllaah. It definitely did, it bought peace between the Quraysh and Muslims for 10 years and that led to the conquest of Mecca, and much more, Alhamdullilah.
Speak the Truth
Allah Will Defend The True Believers (Against Evil).
Verily Allah Does Not Like The Deceiver,
Or The One Who Disbelieves.
(The Quraan, Chapter 55: Verse 9)
If a person is known to be honest, people will trust him/her inshAllaah. Nobody wants a leader who lies and deceives people. This is one of the major reasons that many people followed the Prophet (Salallahu alayhi was salam) when he said that he was a messenger of Allaah. He was known all of his life to be the Trustworthy, and so when he said it, many people just accepted mashAllaah.
Action Step: Write down every time when you are about to lie, or when you lie. This is important because it makes you conscious of a mistake; next to it, write what will you do instead. For example, someone asks you what you do and you say I am a nurse. Technically, you are a medical assistant not a nurse. However, since nurse sounds better and that word is more common, you chose that word. Instead you must force yourself to say medical assistant, and if they do not know what that means you just explain it to them. I would say write out your list and inshAllaah look for other ways you can tell the truth. Fear Allaah (subhannah wa Ta’alah), not people.
Narrated Jarir bin ‘Abdullah: Allaah’s Messenger (Salallahu alayhi was salam) said,
“Allaah will not show mercy to him who does not show mercy to others.”
(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Narrated ‘Aishah: Allaah’s Messenger (Salallahu alayhi was salam) said,
“Allah is Kind and He loves kindness, and confers upon kindness which He does not confer upon severity, and does not confer upon any thing besides it (kindness).”
Contrary to dictatorial tactics many leaders utilize, Islaam encourages leaders to teach, educate and guide, and then we pray for success if it is good for us inshAllaah. The results are always up to Allaah (subhannah wa Ta’alah). So if we are kind, gentle and thoughtful then inshAllaah those we are leading will love to be around us, and will love to follow our vision inshAllaah. However, if a leader encounters problems, he/she should step back and put themselves in the other people’s situation; this enable us to be compassionate and kind. There may be times when we have to let some people go, but it must be done with respect and kindness.
Action Step: Record every time that you are not kind. What makes you annoyed? For example, you ask someone three times to do something and they do not fulfill your request; so you get upset, and say it in a loud, rude voice. After you make your list, jot down a solution for each situation. For example, if someone does not fulfill my request by the third time, I will ask someone else to do it, or I will do it myself, inshAllaah. However, I will not let that person make me rude or unkind. You see finding solutions and writing it down makes it easier for us to remember next time and inshAllaah will make us start to change. You may not use all of your solutions on Day 1, but keep looking at your notebook, and memorize your solutions, and then just use them enough times till they become habitual!
Important Steps which Cultivate Leadership
Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job. That takes all of the good characteristics, like integrity, dedication of purpose, selflessness, knowledge, skill, implacability, as well as determination not to accept failure.
Admiral Arleigh A. Burke
Firstly, we must educate ourselves. As parents, teachers, educators, imams and community leaders, we should understand leadership characteristics and recognize the ingredients which make great leaders. The best way to go about this is to study great leaders by examining their lives. The most useful example is of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and then the messengers of Allaah (subhannah wa Ta’alah), then remarkable leaders through time.
Action Step: I would highly recommend reading two new biographies a month, inshAllaah. Make a list of 24 bio’s that you want to read for the year inshAllaah. Then after each one is done go back to your list and get the next one inshAllaah.
After reading the biographies of the greatest people who existed, and learning leadership traits from them, then we should begin to first and foremost implement it in our lives. You see if we want to raise leaders, then inshAllaah we need to act like leaders. We need to be living examples, inshAllaah. We might not possess every trait but we sure can try our best inshAllaah. In that way, we can be effective role models for our youth. After all, they need to hear about the best people who possessed these traits and then see that inshAllaah we can still use the same qualities today.
Action Step: Use the newly found knowledge of great leaders by applying it to your lives. Make a goal of using three new things you learned from each great leader of the past, inshAllaah.
We need to have programs to help us implement leadership in our youth. The program should be geared towards educating parents, teachers, and community leaders about leadership skills. A seminar-type class on the weekends every few months inshAllaah can be a great tool for this. Then, these “graduates” should in turn have a weekly class for the youth where they impart the knowledge they learned. Dividing these classes according to age groups can optimize learning; the groups can be: 5-8 years old, 9-12 years old, 13-15 years old, 16 -19 years old.
Action Step: Have a meeting within the community, and consolidate a team of 5 members who commit to attending the class and then teaching it to the youth.
Bonus Step: Managing Our Time
This step is vital to our success as leaders inshAllaah. Great leaders mashAllaah know how to manage their time really well.
Action Step: Make a schedule for yourself and write down everything important that must get done daily inshAllaah. Then make every effort to achieve it; avoid phone interruptions, Internet distractions, etc. Get back to non-important matters when you have time, or the weekend inshAllaah.
Nurturing our youth to become potentially great leaders is not a very difficult task so long as each one of us does our part fully. We need to make time to educate ourselves, and then apply the material in our lives, and teach it inshAllaah. The biggest problems that many of us face is first taking the time out to learn it ourselves, and then the challenge of teaching it. Once we are able to work on ourselves and manage our time, then it is time to give back to our youth, inshAllaah. Lastly, do every action step mentioned above – they really do help to make you a more organized person and leader, inshAllaah!