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09 February 2013

Leadership criteria

IT is often stated that the real reason behind the world’s perennial financial, economic and political crises is the lack of ethical leadership.
If one ponders over the state of affairs in Pakistan as well, it becomes clear that it is also the singular lack of leadership that is driving the country into the abyss.

Leadership can be commonly defined as directly or indirectly influencing others, by means of formal authority or personal attributes, to act in accordance with one’s intent or a shared purpose.

There is an emphasis on the role of ‘transformational’ leadership in academic circles these days. It has been preferred as a better mode of leadership than ‘transactional’ leadership, which is characterised by a swapping, trading or bargaining motive in an exchange process between a leader and the led.

Transactional leadership lacks lasting engagement between the two sides as both ‘use’ one another as we commonly see in material exchanges. On the contrary, transformational leadership involves the mutual ‘raising’ of both sides to higher levels of motivation and morality.

It is acknowledged that authentic transformational leadership must rest on a moral foundation of legitimate values. The difference between authentic and pseudo-transformational leadership lies in the presence or absence of such a moral foundation of the leader.

In addition, leaders in different spheres of life may impart ethical values to followers who seek guidance from authorities they respect and trust. However, if the values spread are unethical, these authorities are pseudo-transformational, as we commonly see in Pakistan. Ironically, although still eyed with suspicion, spirituality at the workplace has gained currency in the West and there is even talk of spiritual leadership in Western academic circles.

Spirituality based leadership, academically, does not differ much from leadership, but rather proposes that leadership must be based on self-realisation, personal character, and foster integrity and character throughout the organisation. Besides virtuous behaviour, spirituality looks for transcendence in human life. Consciousness and affirmation of the higher self is considered essential in spiritual leadership behaviour for engendering care for others.

The moral development of the leader, thus, embraces the individual, familial and spiritual dynamics of the personality. Small wonder, then, that transformational leadership incorporates terms such as ethics, character, transcendence etc. Such leaders receive power without seeking it.

We can find accounts of these leadership styles in spiritual and religious traditions. We find authentic transformational leadership to be more consistent than transactional leadership with Islamic traditions. In Islam, the general philosophy of life centres on Tawhid — the oneness of the Creator.

From this unity of the Creator follows the unity of creation, and unity of purpose in the life of a human being. In the Islamic concept of the universe, man has been appointed as a vicegerent (khalifah) on this earth by God and everything has been given to him in trust (amanah).

As part of society, he has to perform his duties while being conscious of that trust. In fact, there are verses of the Quran pointing to the same concept: “Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth. …” (2:30).

Leadership in Islam is considered a trust. A leader is entrusted with leading a group of people or managing an organisation. The leader is responsible as well as accountable. There are two levels of trust: responsibility and accountability. Trust goes with responsibility and accountability as is depicted in the following verse: “O David! We did indeed make thee a vicegerent on earth: so judge thou between men in truth (and justice): Nor follow thou the lusts (of thy heart), for they will mislead thee from the path of Allah: for those who wander astray from the path of Allah, is a penalty grievous, for that they forget the Day of Account” (38:26).

Islam acknowledges that leadership is exercised at different levels. A well-known prophetic tradition outlines the concept of multi-level leadership: “Each of you is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. The ruler, who has authority over people, is a guardian and is responsible for them. … So, all of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges” (Muslim, 2000, 663).

Thus, leadership has to be exercised at the level of the family, community, organisation and country. A leader is accountable to God primarily, but he/she is accountable to the people/follower as well. The Prophet (PBUH) has been quoted to have said: “If a person dies having cheated the people he/she was entrusted with, he/she will not smell the scent of paradise” (Muslim, 2000).

In fact, one should not seek a leadership role in Islam for the sake of power but only when one has the expertise to help others in a crisis situation. Interestingly, it is quite contrary to what we see these days when all and sundry make a beeline for the corridors of power for any potential benefit.

Many prophetic traditions emphasise that appointments to leadership positions should be mainly based on qualifications and the ability to do the job. A Quranic verse states: “…Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. …” (49:13).

The preceding discussion informs us that the world in general and Pakistan in particular urgently needs transformational leadership bordering on spiritual leadership which must rest on moral foundations.

More importantly, only those must be considered for positions of leadership who are competent and qualified for the job and who are not only conscious of their immense responsibilities but also mindful of ultimate accountability to the higher (divine) self.

The writer is member of the adjunct faculty at Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Scotland.
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