Islamic Management: Meetings and Consultation (3)

Continuing from our previous discussion, we gave examples of consultations of leaders with experts and those who were seniors.

However, seniority and experts weren’t the only group that Saidina Umar r.a. sought advice. Saidina Umar r.a. started to add younger people to the gatherings too, because he knew that the elders were approaching the end of their lives and would soon go to their Lord and His mercy and forgiveness, and the state needed to renew its manpower. The brilliant `Umar realized this fact and started to choose from among the youth of the ummah those whom he sensed were knowledge and pious. `Abdullah ibn `Abbas was one of the first of them, and `Umar continued to choose some of the youth of the ummah as advisors based on how much they knew of the Qur`an. `Abdullah ibn `Abbas said:

“Those who were well-versed in Qur’an were the members of `Umar’s council and his advisors, whether they were old or young.”

If at all, leadership through syura helped to develop young leaders. Az-Zuhri said to some young people: “Do not think too little of yourself because you are young, for when `Umar ibn al-Khattab was faced a difficult problem, he would call the young people and seek their advice, relying on the sharpness of their minds.

Women were part of the consultation and meetings and therefore, part of governing the country. Muhammad ibn Sireen said: Saidina Umar used to consult people about matters and he would even consult the women ,and if he saw something in a woman’s opinion that he thought was good, he would follow it. It is narrated that on one occasion he consulted the Mother of the Believers Hafsa r.a. If at all, this should reinforce the opinion on the importance of women in governance or leadership.

The areas of syura at the time of Saidina Umar were many and varied, such as the administrative and political fields, such as the selection of agents and governors, military matters, purely shariah issues, such as determining shariah rulings on whether things were halal or haram, and matters pertaining to courts and the passing of judgements.

For example, with regard to calamities, Saidina Umar practiced a consultative approach towards crisis management. He would assemble the Sahabah and widen the circle of advisors as much as possible, as he did when the plague struck Syria when he was on his way there. News of that reached Saidina Umar when the governors came to meet him in Saragh, which is a place near Syria. The Muhajireen and Ansar were with `Umar, so he assembled them asked them whether he would carry on or go back. They differed concerning that. Some said, “You came out seeking the pleasure of Allah and this should not stop you from carrying on.” Other said: “It is trial and death, and we do not think that you should go and meet it.”

Then he summoned the Muhajireen of Quraysh, and they did not differ concerning the matter, rather they advised him to go back. So Saidina Umar called to the people; “In the morning we will head back.” Abu `Ubaydah said: “Are you running away from the decree of Allah?” He said: ‘Yes. We are running away from the decree of Allah to another decree. Do you think that if you have camels and you go to a valley in which there are two areas, one which is green and one which is arid, if you graze your camels in the green are that is by the decree of Allah, and if you graze them in arid area that is also by the dcree of Allah?” `Abdur-Rahman ibn `Awf heard them and came to them and said: “The Prophet (SAW) said: ‘if you hear that this epidemic is in some land, then do not go there, and if it strikes a land when you are there, do not leave and flee from it.’

What we would like to emphasize is that the caliphate of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs was based on the principle of syura which is derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah. The reign of Saidina Umar was not an isolated case which was something invented solely by him, rather it was one of the principles of the system of Islam.

Islamic Management: Meetings and Consultation (2)

We briefly discussed the importance of syura (meetings and consultation) in Islam in the last article. In this article, we will briefly touch upon the ways it was practiced during the time of the second Caliph, Saidina Umar Al-Khattab r.a. There is a specific reason we chose his period.

The issues that required syura became numerous during Saidina Umar’s rule because many new issues as Islam spread and reached lands with civilizations, traditions and different systems. New problems were created which required comprehensive ijtihad, such as how to deal with conquered lands, how to regulate stipend according to new principles, how to war booty collected by the state was to be spent. Saidina Umar r.a. used to assemble the largest number of senior Sahabah he could for syura, and the shaykhs of Badr enjoyed a special status with regard to syura because of their virtue, knowledge and superiority.

Saidina Umar r.a. considers holding syura as one of the key traits of a leader. It shows decisiveness, humility and resourcefulness. He says:

“Men are of three types: a man who deals with problems according to his own opinion; a man who consults other with regard to matters he is confused about and follows the opinion of those who have wisdom; and a man who is confused and helpless, as he does not consult others and cannot take decisions.”

Consultation and meetings are also a key trait for leadership. Consultative practices allows the leader to analyze the situation from different perspectives prior to making a decision. Saidina Umar r.a. put this into practice as a leader. He used to consult the common people first and listen to them, then he would gather the elder Companions of the Messenger of Allah (SWT) and the people of wisdom among them, tell them about the issue and ask them to reach a good conclusion, and whatever they agreed upon, he would carry it out.

His actions in this case are similar to those of constitutional regimes in many kingdoms where issues are first discussed in the parliament, for example, then after being agreed upon by the majority, they are referred to a higher council which may be called “senators” or “lords”, and once that council has reached its decision, the king executes a decree. The difference between what Saidina Umar did and what these kingdoms do is that in Saidina Umar’s case it was based on his own ijtihad (opinion), without there being any system or laws in place.

On many occasions, Saidina Umar examined an issue, thought about it and expressed his view, then the weakest of people would come and explain the correct view, offering evidence for that, and Saidina Umar would retract his mistaken view and accept the correct view once he became convinced of it.

Extending from this style of leadership, Saidina Umar used to urge his military commanders to engage in syura (mutual consultation). For example, when he sent Abu `Ubayd ath-Thaqafi to fight the Persians in Iraq, he said to him: “Listen to and obey the Companions if the Prophet (SAW) and let them have a say, especially those among them who were present at Badr.”

He considers those who are senior and more experienced as valuable resources to overcome challenges and achieve excellence. As such, he instructs the highest military commanders to keep their egos low and consult experts as well as others.

To illustrate this point further, as another example, Saidina Umar used to write to his commanders in Iraq, telling them to consult `Amr ibn Ma`diyakrib and Talhah al-Asadi concerning their military affairs. He said to them: “Consult Talhah al-Asadi and `Amr ibn Ma`diyakrib and seek their help concerning war, but do not give them any control over your affairs, for each person knows his own field best.”

This also illustrates another point. Consulting another person or having meetings does not imply delegating power or giving them control. The control and responsibility should still be held by the leaders. Consultation and meetings should help leaders to be more decisive.

Saidina Umar r.a. was not the only sahabah who practiced Syura. One of the things that `Urwah said to `Utbah ibn Ghazwan when he sent him to Basrah was: “I have written to al-`Ala` al-Hadrami, telling him to send `Arfajah ibn Harthamah to you, for he is experienced in warfare and in drawing up plans to defeat the enemy. When he comes to you, consult him and keep him close to you.”

To be continued…

How to Fail As A Leader – in an Epic Way

We have established that a leader must communicate to persuade and influence followers. How can a leader fail in communication? Its just an act of conveying a message, it can’t be that hard.

Oh, yes it can.

Today, the proliferation of electronic media has increased communication by thousands of folds. Emails are now considered a thing of the past, compared to whatsapp, telegram and its like. These communication modes can send voice messages, files, text and we can expect a reply soon – since everything is readily accessible through our smartphones. With all these technologies available at the leaders fingertip, how shall he/she wield this power?

A leader understands the richness of an information channel. He/she uses this knowledge to effectively influence followers. The richness of an information channel is characterized by its ability to handle multiple cues simultaneously, ability to facilitate rapid two way feedback, and the ability to establish a personal focus.

This would mean that the Face to Face communication will he richest medium, as it permits direct experience, multiple information cues, immediate feedback and personal focus. Telephone conversation are next in the richness hierarchy as eye contact, gaze, posture and body language is missing.

Next in the list is internet messaging tools such as whatsapp and telegram. It allows immediate feedback, but lacks in other direct cues.

These proliferation of electronic media has contributed to poorer communication. Employees who work in offices down the hall from one another would rather send an email rather than communicating face to face.

An effective leader knows when to use the particular channels to influence followers. He/She must decide what is the richness of information that he/she requires to convey the message and influence the followers.

Leadership Communication

I’ve talked about a communication and leadership in a few of my LinkedIn posts earlier this year. The leader, whether you like it or not, is a communication champion. He champions and to a certain extent masters communication. The reason is very simple – to lead, you must influence and to influence, you must persuade through communicating with your followers.

Let’s face the harsh realities of today. We are facing generation gaps to the likes we have never seen before. The days of command and control leadership is gone. Does not work anymore. Today’s generation requires the answer to the question “why?” “Why do it this way?” “Why do I have to do this?” Ask any any leadership guru, and they will agree.

In this age, leadership requires persuasion and effective persuasion is based on four sets of principles:

  1. The leader must establish credibility. In the age of information, truth and misinformation is blurred and a leader cannot operate in this region. Therefore, the leader must build his/her credibility through his/her knowledge, expertise, by establishing good relationships and keeping other’s best interest at heart. Credibility leads to follower confidence.
  2. The leader builds vision, mission and a direction based on common grounds, not based on divisive issues or differences. The need to understand the commonality of all the stakeholders and how it will benefit them and the leader. Common ground is good measure of an effective leader. However, if the leader is unable to find common grounds, it is a good signal that the goals may need to be revisited.
  3. The leader’s position must be compelling for others. Leaders do not merely rely on facts and figures. Compelling followers relies on an emotional level of engagement by using metaphors, symbols and stories. The great words of Martin Luther King, “I have a dream!” resonate till today and continue to compel people to strive towards their dreams.
  4. Leaders connect emotionally. If we observe many of the United States Presidential Speeches, we can see strong emotionally engaging words recurring throughout the speech. Good leaders sense others’ emotions and adjust their approach to match the audience’s ability to receive the message. Emotional understanding allows the leader to influence others in positive ways.

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Credibility – Common Ground – Compelling – Connect Emotionally. This is my 4C of persuasion.