A Leader’s Foundation

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TMV Professional Development Series, Part 1

A leader’s foundation is the trust of his followers. Trust impacts us 24/7, 365 days a year. It undergirds and affects the quality of every effort we are engaged in. Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t, rather trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create. In this article, I trace some aspects of the life of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), since he exemplified this trait of trustworthiness in his character.

Abu Bakr’s inaugural speech is a remarkable one. Many had immediately become apostates. Many groups wanted the next leader to be from them. Imagine the task of this man: He was to lead and unify the entire Muslim Ummah (community) and he was the first one ever to do this job. And if he failed to follow the footsteps of the Prophet (peace be upon him) he would lose the trust of the people very quickly. In those days, trust was quite volatile with Islam being a new religion. Let’s go through the main parts of his speech:

“Now, it is beyond doubt that I have been elected your Amir, although I am not better than you. Help me, if I am in the right; set me right if I am in the wrong. Truth is a trust; falsehood is treason. The weak among you will be strong with me till, God willing, his rights have been vindicated; and the strong among you shall be weak with me till, if the Lord wills, I have taken what is due from him. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Prophet, when I disobey Him and His Prophet, then obey me not. And now rise for prayers; may God have mercy on you.”

No doubt today we have crises of leadership in our Ummah. Unprincipled, unscrupulous action has become the order of the day. We do not trust our leaders anymore, and the reasons are obvious. How do we ensure that we become trustable leaders?

“Trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t, rather trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create.”

Stephen M R Covey defines the 4 cores of credibility in his book The Speed of Trust, that makes you believable, both to yourself and to others. All four are necessary to self trust.
(1) Integrity- Integrity includes honestly, but it’s more than that. It’s having the courage to act in accordance with your values and beliefs. A Muslim should be honest to the point that he never repeats anything he hears or reads until he verifies it, because of the hadith: “It is falsehood enough when a person narrates everything he hears” (Muslim).
(2) Intent- The famous hadith, “actions are by intentions” (Bukhari) says it all. Intention deals with our motives, agendas and our resulting behaviour. Both integrity and intent are matters of character.
(3) Capabilities- These are the abilities we have that inspire confidence: our talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge and style. They are the means that we use to produce results. Capabilities also deal with our ability to establish, grow, extend and restore trust. Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) says in the Qur’an, “Let there become of you a nation that shall call for righteousness, enjoin justice and forbid evil. Such men will surely triumph” (3:104). Our abilities also include being able to spread good in this world, and prevent corruption at our hands.
(4) Results- Every magnificent and important project not begun with the praise of Allah remains defective (Abu Dawud). Beginning in the name of God makes us mindful of our results. This core refers to our track record, our performance, our getting the right things done. Capabilities and results are matters of competence.

The address of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) contains many lessons for Muslim leaders and laity. We will look at the first three:

If I Do Good Assist Me
One of the favours that Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) gives anyone in authority is a good entourage. And one of the ways Allah punishes a servant (leader) is to give him a wicked entourage (small-minded, evil people). Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) is telling his people and those far, to do good for his sake: “help me”, to be the entourage that does good and not the entourage that brings hardships to the leader. He’s also embodying the hadith, “this religion is sincerity” (Muslim). He was asking people to be sincere to him. Sincerity creates openness so that there’s no apprehension or hesitation, from the leadership to the community or vice-versa. With his gentle treatment of believers, he created an atmosphere of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. Seek forgiveness for your followers and consult with them.

This invitation from Abu Bakr is also to avoid two extremes. (1) Dependent and weak personalities: those who can not make a contribution to the Ummah; and (2) personalities with destructive criticism: nothing the leader does is correct or worthy of support.

Our Muslim communities today are bogged down with unproductive individuals, not everyone, but there are enough to cripple the societies. We have to encourage people to stand up for their worth. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “search for that which benefits you, and don’t be incompetent” (Muslim).

Honesty is a trust
The scholar Raghibul Isfahan said: “Honesty is being consistent in your spoken and unspoken word. The tongue is merely a spokes piece for the heart”. Honesty is that there’s no pollution in your inner faith. There’s no doubt in your belief. It’s firm. And there’s no defect in your action.

According to Imam Zaid Shakir, the following four make us say the truth:
Shariah: Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) only legislates in the Shariah that which is good.
Intellect: A sound intellect recognizes the nature of the mind.
Basic human decency: A person’s basic human decency makes him or her stand up and accept responsibilities for their action.
Love of good reputation: A person does not want his or her integrity to be questioned.

Ibn Qayyim says honesty has 3 manifestations:
In the speech: The uprightness of the tongue is like the uprightness of the ears of the corn.
In the action: The uprightness of the human act in dealing with the commands of Allah and following the messenger of Allah. This is like the uprightness of the head on the body.
In our internal state: Uprightness of the heart. Exerting your utmost and striving towards the Will of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala).

Allah says: “Surely the (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and His Messenger and then do not doubt, but struggle with their wealth and their selves in the way of Allah. These are the sincere.” [49:15] From the time of Adam (upon him be peace), Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) has gives such people a special rank, as-Siddiqoon. And Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) was known for his trustworthiness and sincerity.

Defending the Weak

Abu Bakr (radhiallahu anhu) addressed the issues of injustice at the first possible instant, which is an important reminder for all of us. This is a spectacular way of winning the trust of his people because they immediately know their rights will be taken care of. He emphasised that it is a responsibility of the state.

We’re often in situations, especially in our personal lives, where no one seems to have the courage to bring up something. In the book, The Speed of Trust, “Confront Reality” is the 8th (out of 13) behaviour based on principles that govern trusting relationships. Most people do not want to be bearers of bad news or avoid discomfort. In other cases, they do not want to lose face. All these reasons are why we don’t confront reality. When leaders leave the difficult issues or the bad news for their lieutenants to deliver, people feel their leader is not being honest and ducking from interacting with them on these thought issues, and leaving the “dirty work” for others to do.

Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, wrote: “In confronting the brutal facts, the good-to-great companies left themselves stronger and more resilient, not weaker and more dispirited.”

When you confront reality openly it builds the kind of relationships that facilitate open interaction and fast achievement. Secondly, instead of having to wrestle with all the hard issues on your own while trying to paint a rosy picture for everyone else, you actually engage the creativity, capability and synergy of others in solving those issues. Ideas flow freely. Innovation and collaboration take place. Solutions come much faster and better, and are implemented with the understanding, buy-in, and often the excitement of others involved in the problem-solving process.

Trust is not a simple matter, as you have read thus far. There’s a lot of personal accountability behind it. Every time we think about trust, or use that word, we have to ask ourselves if we have the 4 cores of credibility within us, and remember the lessons from Abu Bakr (radhiallahu anhu)’s speech.