There are three competencies of a leader which are necessary to inspire the followers on the path towards the destination. These competencies serve as a beacon of hope and encouragement for the followers to overcome the hardships likely to be encountered on the way. These are (i) the loftiness of vision (nigah-buland), (ii) heart-touching communication (sukhan dil-nawaz) and (iii) passionate soul (jan pur-soz) with empathy.
To develop these competencies, a leader must experientially learn three lessons and embody them as virtues in his personality; (i) truth (sadaqat), (ii) justice (adalat) and (iii) courage (shujaat). The character of the ethical leader becomes an embodiment of these virtues and a living example of these lessons.
The spiritual journey of an ethical leader consists of inculcation of three habits: (i) reflection (tadabbur) and (ii) self-awareness (khudi/khud agahi) that liberates the leader from the confines of the mundane, and opens the door to the secrets of nature and leads him to discover the purpose of life. Awareness of this purpose drives the loftiness of his vision, and keeps him motivated for (iii) relentless effort (amal paiham) towards achieving the vision and overcoming any disappointments.
1. Loftiness of Vision (nigah bulund)
Foremost among the competencies required of a leader is the loftiness of the vision. A vision that goes beyond the career prospects designed for fulfilling your personal and family needs. The vision should focus on removing the darkness from the world, and to illuminate every place on this earth, and not just your house and your life. Your vision should have the nobility and selflessness for the greater good of people as explained in my post Why Education and Why Higher Education.
Examples of such visions include the famous “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King (MLK) in 1963. This was a time when blacks could not sit on the same seat as whites, when blacks could not study at the same schools as whites, when blacks could not go to the same restaurants as whites, and in such a dismal environment he had the courage to boldly and thunderously proclaim his vision:
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.
It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today! ” [MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech]
MLK never lived to see the tremendous progress made towards the realization of his dream. He was killed in 1965, shortly after he made this speech. The landmark event happened in 2008 when USA elected a black (Barack Obama) as president. However, the situation is still not perfect as blacks and whites in USA are still struggling to throw away the legacy of racial discrimination ingrained over four centuries of black slavery. But, there is still hope as both the black and white communities try hard to make MLK’s dream come true in its entirety. The dream keeps on inspiring and energizing generation after generation of new leaders and their followers building greater and greater momentum.
33 years befor MLK’s speech, Iqbal espoused his dream for a separate homeland in his Allahbad Address in 1930 for Muslims in sub-continent where they had been enslaved and colonized by the British since 18th century.
“I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India.”
A small part of the dream was realized in 1947 when Pakistan came into existence, but we quickly forgot that it was just a partial fulfillment of Iqbal’s dream, and much more was required to be done to fulfill the other components of the dream that envisioned this new “homeland” as a springboard for serving the nation and humanity.
Unfortunately, we have used this country for self-aggrandizement, pelf, plunder and for acquiring wealth by hook or crook. Selfish pursuit for more and more has destroyed the purity of our purpose and our unity. It has made us oblivious of our duty towards our fellow human beings. We have forgotten the message of brotherhood and love for others.
The challenge for the upcoming leadership is not to lose hope and continue the strive to turn the tide of despair, doom and gloom. Ray of hope for us is the discernible awakening of transformational and ethical leadership in our youth.
2: Communication that Touches the Heart (sukhun-dil-nawaz)
Second essential competency of the leader is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of the people. This can only happen if your message is coming out from the depth of your heart. Your intention should be seeped with sincerity and selflessness that will only come from the purity of your purpose. The purpose should be to enable the visions of the followers and not to achieve your own selfish agenda. This communication stands in stark contrast to the manipulative agenda of “behavioral change” often taught in courses of Organizational Behavior, which emphasize “conditioning” through extrinsic motivators of carrot and stick to increase the equity value of organizational share holders! This contrast represents the essential difference between leadership and management.
Inability of a leader’s communication to address the hearts of the followers creates mistrust, disillusionment and eventually leads to their estrangement.
3. Passionate Soul (jaan-pur-soz)
The spirit of a leader is fired with zeal, and fervor. Passion (soz) is love with a single minded determination underlying his decisions. He is not held up by analysis-paralysis and planning which is devoid of action. His actions emanate from a passion fired by faith in the goodness of people and faith that good would eventually prevail upon the evil. Difficulties, obstacles, hindrances and barriers do not discourage him but actually firm up his resolve.
This passion provides the intellectual guidance and mobilizes the march of the followers. It provides the compass that continually gives direction towards the destination and allows for countless opportunities to recoup and recover from set backs, and to circumnavigate around insurmountable obstacles.
4. Truth (Sadaqat)
Being true to what is in your heart, your words and your actions is sadaqat as exemplified by your character. Hypocrisy can not remain hidden as people will eventually find out about it sooner or later. They can even sense it through your facial expressions and nuances of your actions. A leader’s life is under a microscope where his every utterance and every action is linked, connected and evaluated. The highest standards of this are from the life of the Prophet (pbuh) where his enemies called him every thing but were forced to admit to his being Saadiq, an embodiment of truthfulness.
Irrespective of what Machiavellis, Goebells and the others of their ilk promote, truth always prevails over falsehood in the long run:
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Abraham Lincoln
An important element of this attribute of sadaqat is being true to your commitments (sadiq-ul-waad). Not to give your word unless you are fully committed behind it and are willing to make every effort in meeting this commitment.
In our culture we typically commit and then conveniently forget and take it very lightly. We turn off our cell phones instead of apologizing for not having met our commitment because we lack the moral courage to face the truth. We would rather hide from the embarrassment of trying to give excuse upon excuse to the person with whom we have been making mis-commitments. In our degeneration, it is common to make fun of mis-commitments with out of context quotes such as “woh waada hi kya jo wafa ho jaye”, or even boasting as “topi karana”, and take it lightly when politicians routinely go back on their words. We misuse the prayer “inshallah” to mean “actually I do not intend to meet my commitment but would only do so if Allah wills and forcibly compels me to”. The misuse of this prayer is not a recent phenomenon. It was prevalent even a century ago as quoted by Mirza Farhatullah Baig in his famous book “Deputy Nazir Ahmed ki Kahani kuch un ki, kuch apni zabani”. No wonder the current state of our nation and our leaders is where we find ourselves.
In missing our commitments, we forget that it is classified among the major sins in all the religions and cultures. In Islam specifically it is classified in the category of gunah e kabira for which there are serious consequences and a difficult and involved process of “tauba” which involves among other stipulations, redemption, i.e. mandatory making of amends in this life with the person with whom mis-commitment had been done, and explicitly seeking his forgiveness, failing which that person can stake a claim on the day of judgement.
5. Justice (adalat)
Justice and fairness is what differentiates an ethical leader from an opportunistic leader. Justice and fairness requires deep introspection and hard effort. The minimum level of justice is an eye for an eye and an ear for an ear. However, justice demands looking at the context and all the emotional and social factors before coming to the judgement. Not only the letter of the law has to be adhered to but also the intent of law need to be justified. Benefit of doubt always goes to accused.
Ethical leadership requires climbing towards the highest level especially in matters dealing with the disputes related to the person of the leader. He is expected to err towards magnanimity and not strictness, even foregoing his right, and forgiveness (Ufv).
6. Courage (shujaat)
The most powerful person is the one who is victorious over his anger with his forbearance.[Al-Rayshahri, Mizan al-Hikmah, # 15027]
Overcoming your anger is also a sign of emotional intelligence and maturity.
“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within every body’s power and is not easy. ” — Aristotle
Zafar aadmi usko na jaaniye ga ho voh kaisa hi saheb e fahm o zaka
Jise aish mai yaad e khuda na rahi, jise taish mai khauf e khuda na raha
7. Reflection (tadabbur)
Reflection enables us to discover our destiny and the calling of our inner self. It is deep introspection about our relationship with this universe and humanity. Why are we here, what is our purpose, why there is so much suffering and why there is so much injustice and exploitation. This requires time alone with oneself to make connections with one’s experiences and observations. Unfortunately today we are afraid to be alone with ourselves. We are also afraid to be in company of the others. We are happy to be “alone together” with our mobile phones and tabs as explained in ted talk Connected but Alone. Our ability to have conversation with our own self and with people has dwindled. We are happy to press the “like” button without reading and skip most of the writing and latch on to just the soundbites. Our attention span has decreased to at most a few minutes (2-4) of videos. Our ability to brood over complex issues and intricacies of life has dwindled.
وہ شمع اُجالا جس نے کیا چالیس برس تک غاروں میں
اِک روز جھلکنے والی تھی سب دنیا کے درباروں میں
— ظفر علی خان –
8. Self-Awareness (Khud-Agahi): Discovery of Purpose
Output of reflection is self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-assessment and a deep sense of your destiny in a harmonious relationship of self with nature. This is also referred to as Khudi, khud-agahi, khud-ehtisabi, and khud-shanasi. This passionate energy is the secret of life, which reveals itself through self discovery of your life’s purpose that can then enable communication that can touch the hearts and minds of the people.
From this self-awareness and khud-shanasi emerges the realization of one’s destiny as embodied in the loftiness of one’s vision. The discovery of one’s destiny as embodied in one’s purpose of vision is the secret that liberates us from the confines of our daily routines and enables us to make our lives sublime. It allows us to soar up beyond the day to day confines of our lives, where we are entangled in a seemingly endless cycle of day chasing the night till one day our time to leave this world arrives.
9. Relentless Action (Amal Paiham)
An unassailable optimism guides this movement of a leader towards the goal and helps in overcoming the seemingly insurmountable barriers.
‘The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going’– Ralph Waldo Emerson.
If you want to see how people set aside space for a man who knows where he is going just go to the mutaaf of kaaba and see how the people make way for those who are running towards their goal. One can do this experiment in any crowded place or crowded market where people are so close to each other that even walking without brushing with others is not possible. In such a crowd if you assume a posture of brisk walk and start walking with determination, you will see that the crowd will start creating space for you.
To summarize, ethical leadership is characterized by a life of perpetual struggle where your most important implements include your deep faith in the truth and selflessness of your vision, your relentless and sustained effort, and an all conquering love for the people.
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Nigah Buland, Sukhan Dil Nawaz, Jaan Pursouz
Yehi Hai Rakht-e-Safar Mir-e-Karwan Ke Liye
High ambition, winsome speech, a passionate soul
This is all the luggage for a leader of the Caravan.
Sabaq Phir Parh Sadaqat Ka, Adalat Ka, Shujaat Ka
Liya Jaye Ga Tujh Se Kaam Dunya Ki Imamat Ka
Read again the lesson of truth, of justice and valour!
You will be asked to do the work of taking on the responsibility for the world.
Door Dunya Ka Mere Dam Se Andhera Ho Jaye
Har Jagah Mere Chamakne Se Ujala Ho Jaye
World’s Darkness may Disappear Through My Life!
May Every Place Light Up With The Sparkling Light Of Mine!
Hawas Ne Kar Diya Tukre Tukre Nu-E-Insan Ko
Akhuwat Ka Byan Ho Ja, Mohabbat Ki Zuban Ho Ja
Greed has splintered the mankind into little pieces;
Become the statement of brotherhood, become the language of love.
Nahin Hai Na-Umeed Iqbal Apni Kisht-e-Weeran Se
Zara Nam Ho To Ye Mitti Bohat Zarkhaiz Hai Saqi
Iqbal is not despaired with the desolation of his land:
A little rain is what this fertile land needs for the blooming harvest, oh Saki!
Dil Se Jo Baat Nikalti Hai, Asar Rakhti Hai
Par Nahin, Taaqat-e-Parwaaz Magar Rakhti Hai
Whatever comes out from the heart, has the potential to make a great impact,
Even though it does not have wings, but has the capacity for great flight
Koi Karwan Se Toota, Koi Bad-Ghuman Haram Se
Ke Ameer-E-Karwan Mein Nahin Khuay Dil Nawazi
Some got separated from the Caravan, others developed mistrust of the guide
Because leader of the caravan lacks the ability to touch the hearts of the followers
Ishq Faqeeh-E-Haram, Ishq Ameer Junood
Ishq Hai Ibn-Ul-Sabeel, Iss Ke Hazaron Maqam
Love is the commander of marching troops,
Love is a wayfarer with many a way‐side abode.
Guman Abad-E-Hasti Mein Yaqeen Mard-E-Musalman Ka
Byaban Ki Shab-E-Tareek Mein Qindeel-E-Rahbani
In the abode of doubts of existence is the conviction/faith of the Muslim hero;
In the darkness of the desert night, it is the candle of the monks.
Issi Kashmakash Mein Guzreen Meri Zindagi Ki Raatain
Kabhi Souz-o-Saaz-e-Rumi, Kabhi Paich-o-Taab-e-Razi
I have spent my nights in the deliberations of this conflicting tug of war :
At times it was the heart wrenching passion of Rumi, at others it was the intellectual wrangling of Raazi.
Woh shama ujala jis nay kiya, chalees baras tuk gharoan mai
Aik roz jhalaknay walay thi dunya k sub darbaroan mai
The lamp that lit the cave for forty years
Was one day going to illuminate all the courts of the world
 Iqbal’s Bang-e-Dra-163:
Tere Seene Mein Hai Poshida Raaz-E-Zindagi Keh De
Musalman Se Hadees-E-Soz-O-Saaz-E-Zindagi Keh De
The secret of life is hidden in your breast—then tell it;
Tell the Muslims the account of the burning and passionate purpose of life.
Khudi Mein Doob Ja Ghafil ! Ye Sir-E-Zindagani Hai
Nikl Kar Halqa-E-Shaam-O-Sahar Se Javidan Ho Ja
Immerse yourself in your self, my forgetful one, this is the secret of life;
Come out from the fetters of evening and morning, become immortal.
Guzar Ja Ban Ke Seel-E-Tund Ro Koh-E-Byaban Se
Gulistan Rah Mein Aye To Joo’ay Naghma Khawan Ho Ja
Pass like a river in full spate through the mountains and the deserts;
If the garden should come your way, then become a melodiously singing stream.
Yaqeen Mohkam, Amal Peham, Mohabbat Faateh-E-Alam
Jahad-E-Zindagani Mein Hain Ye Mardon Ki Shamsheerain
Firm faith, relentless effort, the love that conquers the world—
These tools are just what you need in the continuous struggle of life.
The ideas in this talk are inspired from Iqbal and were developed during the training programs I conducted on Strategic Visions for Timelenders.com and have undergone further reflections.
The post contains some specific terminologies defined by Timelenders such as vision, loftiness of vision, purpose of vision, character etc.