4 Steps to Put the Ship Back in Leadership

I always keep coming back to a project I wanted to do at the masjid that I was particularly passionate about. I had a formal proposal ready, I had outlined how it would benefit the community and the masjid. The imam of the masjid was on board and excited. I had dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s so to speak.

The only thing missing was the final stamp of approval from the masjid president so we could fundraise a relatively small amount of money to kickstart it.

Not even 2 minutes into the presentation, the president vetoed it. No explanation given. It was perplexing. No matter how hard we tried, we could not get him to agree. Eventually we ended up waiting an entire year for the elections and a new administration before being able to move forward.

Looking back and assessing, it was clear there were multiple breakdowns. Relationships were not properly established — I assumed the Imam would be enough support. Politics were not taken into account. Competing priorities in regards to funds were not taken into account. And most of all, we were not able to showcase the vision of the project in such a way that the president would buy into it.

All of these shortcomings stem from the leadership law known as the Law of Navigation. The solution? Relentlessly going through the process of muhasabah, acting with hikmah, seeking shura, and executing with ihsān.

John Maxwell identifies Navigation as one of the irrefutable laws of leadership. In essence, it states, “Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”

A leader is not someone who only has a vision, but one that can draw the map for how to get there and inspire people to work together and follow it.

Why are quarterbacks and point guards so integral to their respective teams? They have to move beyond the vision of scoring and make sure the right person gets the ball on each play.

So how do you become a good navigator?

  1. Muhasabah (Reflection)

Begin by taking account of past successes and failures. Successes help us see what we’re capable of. Failures — though we tend to block them out — show us what to avoid going forward.

2. Hikmah (Wisdom)

A good navigator would never set sail directly into a hurricane. Yet, we see it all the time. There’s a false bravado that’s become prevalent now. We want to do whatever we think is right regardless of the environment or conditions.

We might hate that there are organizational politics, but if you don’t understand the landscape, you’ll fail. This doesn’t mean you have to play the politics — just understand them. Things like morale, momentum, and culture matter.

Wisdom means going beyond charting the course. It means understanding the consequence of the course you chart.

Aisha (r) mentioned, “If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks” (Bukharī).

We find the Prophet (s) showing this foresight. He was asked why he wouldn’t rebuild the Ka’bah on the original foundations of Ibrahim (as), and he replied, “Were it not for the fact that your people have recently left disbelief (I would have done so)” (Nasa’ī). In other words, he did not want to rectify one issue by creating a bigger one.

3. Shura (Consultation)

“…whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves” (42:38).

There are numerous examples of the Prophet (s) taking shura from people. One of the most famous is the example Salman al-Farsī giving the suggestion to build a ditch around the city at the Battle of Khandaq.

4. Ihsān (Excellence)

“Balancing optimism and realism, intuition and planning, faith and fact can be very difficult.” — John Maxwell

While difficult, it is precisely this ability that puts a good leader ahead of the pack.

When asked whether a person should take the security measure of tying a camel, or have faith in Allah, the Prophet (s) said to do both — “Tie the camel, and have tawakkul (faith) in Allah.”

Tying the camel means establishing relationships with people. It means creating contingencies. It means getting people on board with your vision.

It means doing everything the best you possibly can within your capacity as a leader, and then having faith in God to deliver the results.

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