Leadership postures and tenets of Islamic management


By Dr ISMAIL NOOR

The WIM Review 

IN ORDER to address the maladies (especially corruption, crime and conflict) afflicting the world today, the following altruistic management model is proposed: 

Justice, with equity (‘Adl-bil-qist), is the hallmark of Islamic leadership. The Muslim leader has to deal with all kinds of people, especially within the ummah. He must do so with justice and fairness regardless of race, creed, nationality or faith. 

The Quran commands all Muslims to be just and equitable, even when it involves those opposed to them. 

Justice signifies the placement of something in its right perspective. It also conveys the act of doing something without transgressing the proper limit, however much or little. For those in positions of authority, justice implies doing something with righteousness, without malice or high-handedness. 

Prophet Muhammad managed the affairs of his community with justice, and he exhorted his companions to do likewise. His cousin, Ali, reported that the prophet told him: “When two people come to you for judgment, never decide in favour of one without hearing the arguments of the other; it is then most likely that you will know the truth.” 

In management terms, justice is conduct becoming to one’s fellow beings. It includes fair conditions for hiring and firing, judicious selection of employees, equitable determination of salaries and wages, just allocation of duties and responsibilities, decorum in handling staff affairs, proper handling of grievances, appropriate acknowledgement for work done, among others. Thus, in all aspects of administering to people’s welfare, justice must be seen to be done. 

The second posture of Islamic leadership is syura, the prime mode of decision-making or mutual consultation in the substantive affairs of life. It is a vital process of engaging in consultation to seek a consensus, to ensure a sense of participation and fairness in solving problems and decision-making. 

The Quran calls upon all Muslim leaders to consult those who are affected or more knowledgeable or well informed about the issue at hand. God made mutual consultation obligatory and has aligned it, in terms of importance, to prayers and payment of tithes. In international relations, it urges a firm orientation towards multi-lateralism rather than unilateralism. 

Followers, too, are bestowed with insight and foresight, enabling them to grapple with issues and problem-ridden situations, rendering them as capable of contributing as leaders – so, they must be consulted by the process of syura, especially if the issues have a direct bearing on their well-being. 

The Islamic consultative decision-making process is similar to the Japanese nemawashi or consensus-seeking mode. Policies, long-term planning, and strategic decision-taking should be formulated through mutual consultation. 

During the consultation process, all the halaqah or team members must be free to concur, disagree or modify the leader’s views or proposals without restraint, so long as the niyyah (intention) is to contribute towards a beneficial outcome.  

Differences or grievances should be resolved with decorum, and should not spill over or be dragged unnecessarily out of the meeting room. 

Freedom of expression (hurriyah al-kalam), with the etiquette of dissent (adab al-ikhtilaf), is the third posture of the Islamic altruistic management model. It is the right given to anyone to voice his concern, agreement or suggestion over an issue which affects his own, or the community’s welfare. 

The prophet was adept at handling problematic issues through active listening, guiding and role-modelling.  

Freedom of expression, however, is inextricably linked with the practice of syura, which allows views for or against. Indeed, mutual consultation works in tandem with the etiquette of dissent during muzakarah (exchange of views on a problem). 

With decorum and proper etiquette, interactions become civil and polite. It allows the best of solutions to surface, provided the leader knows how to handle dissent. Freedom of expression is an inherent right of individuals, so long as that right does not transgress the rights of others. 

Islam encourages its adherents to practise quality in daily work. Firstly, personal integrity is reflected in a leader’s ability to keep covenants and trusts. Keeping trust implies that it is a substantive sin to commit a breach of it. 

Simply said, it means “my word is my bond”. This implies that when a leader promises to do something, he/she should feel accountable for its due performance. 

The prophet divided his time into three sections: one for God, one for his family, and one for himself. He shared his with his ummah. The time he allocated for his people was an enhancement of relationships with people, with the commoner favoured more than the elite. 

He did not give to himself without considering the needs of his community. People of merit were favoured and those who excelled in the dïn (faith) received greater attention. 

The personal side of his magnanimity reflected his total quality profile, the challenge to continually improve and be effective. He had constancy of purpose, to use a modern quality management jargon originally made popular by W. Edward Deming. 

The third tenet is “leadership efficacy”. This could be interpreted into a question: “What legacy do I leave behind when I depart?” Efficacy means not just doing things right, but more importantly doing the right things in life. 

When advocating others to change from a life of darkness to light, as Prophet Muhammad did, it is not sufficient to merely deliver rousing speeches.  

Compelling words of encouragement and wisdom are essential to uplift the followers’ spirits, yet one can be taciturn about it even when verbalising mere rhetoric. 

He understood followers were moved by deeds and action, not mere words. Thus leading by example is how true leaders make vision, aspirations and shared values tangible. They provide objective evidence of personal commitment to the cause, living by the ethos: “The legacy you leave behind is determined by the life you choose to lead.” 

The fourth tenet is ethical conduct. Ethics is a set of moral principles concerned with what is right and wrong. The word ethics comes from the Greek word ethos, which means character or custom. Modern parlance refers to ethos as a distinctive disposition, character or attitude of a specific people, culture or group. 

Ethics covers individual character, including what it means to be a good person, and the social rules that govern human behaviour, in particular the rules regarding good and evil (good governance). 

In a modern organisational setting, it also refers to the adherence to a code of professional conduct. The motivation behind positive ethics is to do good all the time while striving to do better each time. 

The fifth tenet is moral uplift through spiritual knowledge. Unlimited power or inspiration could be drawn from revealed or given knowledge. 

It has been said that many spiritually inclined CEOs, having a high spiritual quotient, perform better.  

The core premise of Islamic management is that man is the servant of the Creator, hence his function as a servant-leader. 

True leaders have one abiding quality – the moral will to persevere. Moral power rests upon qualitative values like a sense of purpose, pride (with humility), patience, perseverance, and perspective. 

To summarise, altruistic management works towards a balanced perspective in running the affairs of organisations and nations. 

The world today is troubled by the contagion of greed, the kind that breeds contempt, commits acts of aggression, and pursues the Darwinian creed of “survival of the fittest” without regard for compassion or dignity. 

It is time leaders and managers take stock of the situation and act with accountability. The altruistic paradigm will be a good start. 

Datuk Dr Ismail Noor is on WIM’s board of governors. He is also a WIM Business Network life associate member and CEO and principal consultant of Norconsult Sdn Bhd. 

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