2.0 LEADERS: ATTRIBUTES
2.1 ATTRIBUTES and SKILLS OF LEADERS
A. MODEL LEADERS
The Prophet Muhammad and the 5 rightly-guided khulafaha after him as well as other illustrious
leaders in history are models of ideal leadership. The Prophet's character was patience and perseverance, wisdom and foresight,
kindness and empathy, concern and care for others, honesty and truthfulness, justice and fairness, courage and firmness, love
and mercy, forgiveness, simplicity and humility, and good humor.
The rightly-guided khulafa had many merits, fadhail
al khulafa al rashidiin[i] and had a distinguished and common behavior, sunnat
al khulafa al rashidiin[ii] which followed the prophet’s footsteps. They led according to the dictates of the
noble teachings, maintained justice, avoided oppression and promoted the welfare of their immediate followers and generations
Abubakr is remembered for his piety, wisdom, gentle character, honesty, principled behavior,
and justice. Abubakr was gentle and kind in most cases but when the need arose he would be very firm and decisive. Omar Ibn
al Khattab is remembered for his courage, justice, hard-work, seriousness, and generosity. Uthman b Affan is remembered for
his piety, gentle character, modesty and benevolence. Ali b Abi Talib is remembered for his bravery, scholarship, learning
B. TYPES OF ATTRIBUTES and SKILLS
Very few attributes necessary for successful leadership are in-born. Most are acquired early
in life in the home and community environment or are learned in adult life. Those who are associated with good leaders for
a long-time (friends, offspring, friends, and followers) are likely to be good leaders by learning and imitation. Children
of good leaders, if well brought up, can be good leaders not because of genetic endowment but because of early environmental
Effective leaders have personal attributes, conceptual, practical and human skills that enable
them to succeed. Attributes are what leaders are. Skills are what leaders do.
Personal attributes are basic character and personality: drive, values, attitudes, bravery,
strength of personality, humility, simple life, honesty, integrity, commitment.
Practical skills are needed for performance of technical activities: communication, decision
making, problem solving, and execution.
Human skills are needed to understand and motivate followers: understanding followers.
Conceptual skills are intellectual functions involving planning, coordination and integration
of activities. They include analytic, rational, and intuitive abilities. Examples are: setting goals, knowledge, ummatic view, learning from mistakes.
In any given situation there may be several highly qualified people available for leadership.
Allah gives authority to whomever He wants. Not everybody can become a leader. Everybody must be prepared to be a good follower.
The best leaders are those who have no ambition to lead. They lead when called upon but will equally be happy as followers.
C. LEARNING FROM
Effective leaders monitor and learn from the environment. They benefit from opportunities that
exist and try to avoid dangers. A leader must have a good sense of timing so that actions and interventions have maximum impact
2.2 PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES OF LEADERS
A. LEADERSHIP VALUES AND ATTITUDES:
Effective leaders have positive moral values and attitudes. A leader must have positive and
moral values such as honesty, ethics, and social responsibility. These values are taught by religion, the family, peers, and
life experience. Values can be inculcated by habit. A leader with no values is very dangerous. Islamic leadership values are
derived from three main concepts: tauhid, khilafat, and ‘adl. These values are universal and do not change by time and place.
Attitudes are enduring or permanent feelings, opinions, or beliefs about self and others. They
may be positive or negative. Attitudes start with ideas. Wrong ideas are associated with negative attitudes whereas good ideas
are associated with good and positive attitudes. Ideas determine behavior and feelings. A good leader has positive attitudes
toward others. He will keep away from negative attitudes such as racism or prejudice in any form. An optimistic attitude to
life is needed. Pessimistic leaders discourage their followers.
B. DRIVE, ENERGY, AND SELF-MOTIVATION:
The most important trait of successful leaders is drive which includes a strong desire for achievement,
high ambition, high energy levels, tenacity and initiative. Drive combined with high motivation, honesty, integrity, self-confidence,
emotional stability, and intelligence distinguish leaders from non-leaders. Both genetics and environmental influence contribute
to drive; the relative contribution of each is not known.
Successful leaders have a high level of motivation to lead. They want to make a change, to improve,
to influence, to exercise power for achieving definite goals. They take charge. Effective leaders have the mental and physical
stamina as well as aptitude to take responsibility and to be accountable.
A leader must have a strong personality. Strength of personality does not mean violence, roughness
or stubbornness. It is strength of character, sticking to moral values and attitudes at all times, and avoiding whatever is
immoral even if it is expedient and is attractive. A leader must be brave. In times of danger followers will be firm if their
leader is firm. There is a mutual psychological dependency. A brave leader will have reassured followers around him. When
the followers are reassured and are firm, the leader is also encouraged even more to be firm and face crises. The leader must
be objective and not confuse personal and organizational interests. The credit for whatever he does should go to the organization.
He must not overestimate his importance as an individual. He must have a healthy mixture of confidence (for the organization)
and humility (for himself). He must focus on the organization and not his person.
A leader must have a dignified physical appearance but must not be extravagant. The leader is
a spokesman and representative of the followers. His appearance is a reflection on all.
Successful leaders have the ability to learn from previous mistakes. They readily accept mistakes
once they are apparent. Poor leaders do not even acknowledge their mistakes and will hate anyone who points them out.
D. SIMPLE LIFE,
HONESTY AND FINANCIAL INTEGRITY:
A good leader leads a simple life. Extravagance and materialism weaken and destroy the spirit
eventually leading to corruption and evil. Too much materialism destroys the spirit of the leader and eventually that of the
A leader must not distinguish himself from the followers. He must actively discourage the development
of a personality cult around himself. He should never think he is special. It was only Allah's wish that he was selected among
many capable people to be a leader.
Simple living and avoiding luxuries are necessary
for integrity. The leader must be a model of honesty. Honesty in public and private affairs in a crucial test for a leader.
Honesty is required in seemingly small or trivial things. Dishonesty is a habit, once acquired is difficult to shake off.
Small dishonesties will one day become big ones. Good leaders deal with their followers honestly and are up front.
A successful leader has financial integrity in dealing with public property. It is not enough
to be honest; you must be seen to be so and you must avoid any suspicious behavior. The only way to ensure this is complete
transparency in financial matters. Followers must know what is going on so that they are assured that had there been any discrepancies
they could have seen them. A leader and his immediate or extended family should never gain materially from his position. Taking
public property is clearly theft.
There are other situations that are not so clear to which moral and not legal tests have to
be applied. A leader or his family can, like all citizens, sell or buy legally. However those dealing with them may give him
preferential treatment because of the leadership position. Such treatment would not have been possible before assumption of
leadership. In such a case there is unacceptable gain from the leadership position.
2.3 CONCEPTUAL SKILLS OF LEADERS
A leader must have a vision. The vision is developed from wide consultation and is refined by
practical application. The vision must be maintained in easy and difficult situations. The followers must be convinced about
the vision. The vision must be focused and in conformity with organizational culture. A good vision must be backed up by positive
values. A distinguishing characteristic of great leaders is ability to see farther than the followers and to see the big picture.
The bigger the vision, the greater the leader.
An ummatic view is needed so that the leader is not parochial or provincial. Local issues should
be been in a holistic context of the whole ummah if they are to be understood well. However when it comes to solutions the
leader should be more local in approach in order to succeed. The only precaution needed here is not to create problems on
the macro level while solving problems on the micro level
UNITY IN DIVERSITY:
A leader must accept diversity. Try to get consensus only on a few really strategic issues and then allow people to
exercise their initiatives. You however must continuously monitor the trends in opinions to be able to detect serious deviations
from the overall strategy. The vision and unity of purpose must be maintained at all costs despite the diversity.
B. SETTING GOALS:
An effective leader sets goals and is an example to the followers on how to reach those goals.
The best leaders lead by example. Failure in many leadership situations is a result of failure to set goals and to communicate
them to the followers. The consequence of such failure is that followers may move on one direction while the leaders move
in another direction. In the end the whole organization fails.
C. CAUTION AND PRUDENCE:
A good leader will avoid too much speculation and will know the difference between taking a
risk by an individual and by an organization. An individual may take more risks because if things go wrong the damage is limited.
A leader in charge of a group will be more prudent because an error will have more consequences. A sense of balance is needed.
Too much caution will destroy initiative and paralyze action. Too much risk-taking may completely destroy the organization.
Knowledge, both basic and specialized, is necessary for leadership. No one should become a leader
without the basic knowledge needed to carry out responsibilities in the particular leadership situation. A religious leader
must know at least the basics of the religion. A business leader must know the fundamentals of business. A leader however
need not be a specialist. He can always employ people with specialized knowledge for particular tasks. The leader must be
honest with himself and know the limits of his knowledge. Some deficiencies can be corrected by more education. Others can
only be compensated for by relying on people who have the necessary knowledge.
The leader must be committed to the organization he is leading and the followers. He must be
committed to certain values and to a vision. He must respect his promises and decisions and must be committed to carrying
them out. Commitment does not mean lack of flexibility. When circumstances require it, the leader may have to change strategy
and tactics but must remain committed to the permanent values of the organization. Part of the leader’s commitment is
to lead for no personal gain or ambition seeking leadership, talab al imarat. Those
who seek leadership should not be appointed[iii].
2.4 PRACTICAL SKILLS of LEADERS
Communication is an important skill for a leader to convey his vision and plans to the followers.
Leadership failure will ensue very quickly if communication fails. Both vertical and horizontal communications are important.
Vertical communication is either up-down or down-up and is between the leaders on the top and followers at the bottom. Horizontal
communication is between peers. There is a need to communicate both inside and outside the organization.
Decision making and problem solving are primary managerial functions that every leader must
undertake. Failure to make correct decisions on time or solving problems timely will lead to leadership failure. Timely decision
making is so important that it is said that a less than perfect decision in time is better than a perfect decision that comes
late. A bad decision can always be corrected by a later decision whereas there is no remedy for a missed decision.
C. PLANNING AND
Leaders undertake managerial functions of planning, setting goals & objectives, and evaluation.
These require both vision and technical competence. The leader need not be an expert in the technical aspects. As long as
he has the vision, he can get assistance from those with the professional skills.
D. LEADING TEAMS:
Leaders form and lead work groups. They coordinate their work and make decisions on tasking. A leader cannot work alone. He can only produce quality work if he has a team to help
him. The team must be formed, trained, and directed.
E. PEOPLE SKILLS:
Dealing with people involves: conflict resolution,
motivation, maintaining relations with superiors and subordinates. People or human skills are the most important of skills
in leadership. A leader who is good with people can get the best out of them. Failure to handle people well leads to a distance
between them and the leader. The distance could even become outright hostility and conflict. A leader who lacks people skills
can not keep his team together. There will be continuous conflicts among followers with eventual break-up of the organization.
2.5 HUMAN SKILLS of LEADERS
A. RESPECTING AND
Good leaders show concern, respect, and consideration for followers. Followers reciprocate by
showing loyalty. Good and mutually-beneficial leader-follower relationships cannot be sustained without loyalty. A good leader
has well developed human skills. He understands those below him as unique individuals and not in a generic sense. He will
deal with each person in an individualized and unique way.
The great secret of leadership is to be able to tap into the potential of each individual and
make him a peak performer, each in his individual and unique way. A good leader realizes that individuals are unique and have
God-given talents and potentials to make them productive and useful contributors to the organization. He respects followers
each in his uniqueness. Good and effective leaders have a firm belief in people.
B. HUMANE BEHAVIOUR.
Good leaders have compassion and empathy. They have high consideration for others. They have
no pride and are like their followers not seeking to be different from or superior to them. They are lenient and forgiving.
They treat their followers well. They protect the followers from both physical and emotional hurt
Representing followers and their interests in front of others takes a lot of the leader’s
time. It is however a mistake for the leader to consider himself a mouthpiece for the followers just transmitting their messages
without checking and making sure that the message is appropriate. The leader must lead and help the followers articulate their
interests and then represent them. In a symbolic way a leader represents followers and has to be careful about his image and
behavior because all these reflect on the followers.
D. LOVE BY FOLLOWERS:
A leader will succeed if loved by the followers. Love by followers is like an emotional savings account. The better
the leader treats followers, the more the deposit into the account. Sometimes the leader may make mistakes or things may not
work out well. That is when the savings account comes into use. Withdrawals can be made from it to cover the defect. If the
account is big, a big withdrawal will not lead to immediate bankruptcy. A small account will be overdrawn quickly exposing
both the leader and followers to an ugly confrontation. In most cases love by followers indicates good leadership. In exceptional
cases bad leaders who do not set standards may be loved by lazy followers who just want to be left alone.
3.0 DISEASES OF LEADERS AND FOLLOWERS
3.1 BACKGROUND OF LEADERSHIP DISEASES
A. HUMAN IMPERFECTIONS:
With the exception of prophets, no leaders or follower can claim perfection. Any leader will
have diseases (hopefully few). Followers also have diseases. The diseases of leaders and followers could be synergistic. The
aim of good leadership is to minimize or compensate for diseases. This requires maturity and balance. The leader must be able
to look at himself in a mirror or listen to trusted advisors to know and acknowledge weaknesses. Only the greatest can do
Bad leadership is learned from poor role models in the home, the general society, and the work-place.
Societies or organizations that depended on authoritarianism, no delegation, no participation produced the worst leaders in
Good leaders have attributes and skills that have been discussed. Bad leaders are not necessarily
those with opposite attributes and skills. Bad leaders have definite diseases that could exist alongside some of the good
qualities. In the extreme some bad leaders have only diseases and none of the good qualities.
D. DEVIANT PERSONALITY:
Some bad leaders are actually psychologically sick: sadists, megalomaniacs, jealous, immature,
or psychopathic personalities. Organizations and societies that allow such individuals to rise to the top pay a heavy price.
E. DEVIANT VALUES:
It is an irony of human experience that the best and the worst leaders can share some of the
same practical and conceptual skills. They differ in the underlying values, personality, goals, and how the skills are used.
Good moral leaders serve humanity while the bad ones cause suffering and harm.
3.3 DISEASES THAT MANIFEST IN THE PERSON
A. PRIDE AND VANITY:
Leaders are supposed to be humble in dealing with their followers as the prophet was enjoined
to be humble to the believers, janaah al dhull li al muuminiin[iv]. Pride and vanity have destroyed many leaders. They are from the SHAITAN and eventually
lead to mutual hatred between leaders and followers. They may also become a disease of both the leader and his followers in
which case there is mutual hatred between groups, organizations, and even nations.
Petty-mindedness is a sign of an immature personality and lack of vision. Small things become
big while big things are not even recognized. The self becomes more important than the public interest.
C. UNCOMPENSATED WEAKNESSES:
A leader is a human being and cannot be perfect. There will be weaknesses. The way to deal with
them is to compensate for them by relying on strong people who have the skills that the leader may lack. The careful leader
will also avoid activities that he lacks the ability to do well.
Some bad leaders are sincere and are committing mistakes without being aware of them. Some commit
mistakes because of basic inner limitations. Ignorance of a leader that is not acknowledged or compensated for spells disaster
for the organization. Wrong decisions will be made and will be defended by the leader.
E. LACK OF CREATIVITY:
When a leader starts thinking he knows all and is perfect in all what he is doing, he closes
his mind to new ideas. He suppresses creativity and innovation and persists in old ways even if they are unproductive. Some
of such leaders realize the futility of their stand and tend to hide behind bureaucratic policies, rules, and regulations.
3.4 DISEASES THAT MANIFEST IN DEALING WITH FOLLOWERS
A. SEEKING EXCESSIVE VENERATION:
Bad leaders with weak egos seek excessive veneration from their followers. These are inadequate
persons who are not sure of themselves. An organization that allows such persons to occupy leadership positions will regret
B. OPPRESSION and INJUSTICE:
Bad leaders who lack legitimacy, personal authority, and self-confidence tend to be oppressive.
They try to use force to impose their will. Those who oppose this are dealt with badly. Oppression eventually fails.
Bad leaders treat followers unequally. There is favoritism. Those who praise the leader
and pander to his ego are preferred over the more principled ones. Sychopanths are brought near while the productive and hard-working
are kept away. Favoritism may also manifest as nepotism, appointments or promotions based on family relationships and not
merit. Injustice of a bad leader may be in attitude, actions, judgments, decisions, and communication. All what deviates from
the truth and fair and equitable treatment is injustice. The leader who is just has great recompense from Allah, ajr al imaam al aadil[v].
Bad leaders are manipulative. They control and do not build or develop their followers. Manipulation
is not leadership. It is a form of coercion and deception. A manipulative leader does not deal honestly with followers. He
uses physical and psychological pressures to get compliance. Often he uses outright deception.
D. DISHONESTY and SEEKING FALSE REPUTATION:
A dishonest leader will be punished in hell,
al waali al ghaashi fi al naar[vi]. Bad leaders
concentrate on building false reputations, appearances, and images. They neglect the hard work that produces real results.
Such leaders who deceive themselves and their followers will not hide their weaknesses for long. False leaders are exposed
sooner or later. If not exposed in their lifetime or period of tenure, history will expose them in unflattering terms. The
Qur'an recounts stories of such leaders in bygone eras as a lesson to all of us.
E. ABANDONING FOLLOWERS:
Bad leaders will abandon their followers in times of crisis or danger. They will not stand to
share the pain with them or lead them to a solution.
3.5 DISEASES OF FOLLOWERS:
Hypocrisy is when they say something in front of the leader and the opposite when away from
him. They may outwardly show loyalty and obedience when they are secretly plotting against the leader.
Insincerity is all forms of dishonesty and lies to the leader and fellow followers. It also
includes doing things for selfish individual interests while hurting the interests of the group
C. BAD ADVICE FOR LEADERS
Some followers may give advice to a leader that they know is bad either for some selfish personal
gain, or to hurt someone else, or to hurt the leader by making him commit mistakes.
Disloyalty in all its forms is bad. It is however not loyalty to support and follow a leader
in committing immoral acts. Followers must obey the leader as long as he is ordering them to do good. Disobedience rapidly
results into chaos and break down of the civil order. Violence by the ruler against followers or among followers rapidly ensues
in a situation of anarchy. It is for this reason that obedience should not be withheld even if the leader commits some minor
Some followers may spoil the leader by pandering to his ego and showing him excessive veneration.
When all of this gets to his head he may start behaving like a dictator, develop vanity and pride and eventually fail in leadership.
REFERENCESNB: due to shortage of time it has not been possible to re-verify the Qur’an and hadith
[i] (Abudaud K39 B7, Abudaud K39 B 8)
[iii] (Ahmad 4:393, Ahmad 4:409, Ahmad 4:411, Ahmad 4:417, Ahmad 5:62, Ahmad 5:63,)
[v] (Muslim K33 H18, Muslim K33 H19, Muslim K33 H43,
Tirmidhi K13 B4, Nisai K49 B2,)
[vi] (Muslim K1 H229, Ahmad 2:425, Ahmad 2:431, Ahmad 2:479,
Ahmad 2:521, Ahmad 3:441)