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ISLAMIC MEDICAL EDUCATION RESOURCES-03

0510-LEADERS: ATTRIBUTES and SKILLS

Paper at the Leadership Enhancement Program of the Institute of Medicine, Universiti Brunei Darussalam held at Empire Hotel and Resort on October 1, 2005

2.1 ATTRIBUTES OF LEADERS

A. Model Leaders

B. Types of Attributes and Skills

C. Learning from the Environment

 

2.2 PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES OF LEADERS

A. Leadership Values and Attitudes:

B. Drive, Energy, and Self-Motivation:

C. Personality:

D. Simple Life, Honesty and Financial Integrity:

 

2.3 CONCEPTUAL SKILLS OF LEADERS

A. Vision

B. Setting Goals:

C. Caution and Prudence:

D. Knowledge:

E. Commitment:

 

2.4 PRACTICAL SKILLS of LEADERS

A. Communication:

B. Decision-Making:

C. Planning and Execution:

D. Leading Teams:

E. People Skills:

 

2.5 HUMAN SKILLS of LEADERS

A. Respecting and Understanding Followers:

B. Humane Behaviour.

C. Representing Followers:

D. Love by Followers


.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 to come.

 

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 and justice.

 

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 influence.

 

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 THE ENVIRONMENT:

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 and advantage.

 

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.

 

C. PERSONALITY:

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 followers.

 

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. VISION

VISION

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.

 

UMMATIC VIEW:

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.

 

D. KNOWLEDGE:

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.

 

 

 

E. COMMITMENT:

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

A. COMMUNICATION:

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.

 

B. DECISION-MAKING:

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 EXECUTION:

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 UNDERSTANDING FOLLOWERS:

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

 

C. REPRESENTING FOLLOWERS:

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.


[i] (Abudaud K39 B7, Abudaud K39 B 8)

[ii] (Ahmad 4:126)

[iii] (Ahmad 4:393, Ahmad 4:409, Ahmad 4:411, Ahmad 4:417, Ahmad 5:62, Ahmad 5:63,)

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule October 2005