Saturday, December 4, 2010

Leadership Development Challenges For The Ummah - the OIC and the Muslim Diaspora - Guest Blog by Arif Zaman, UK

Arif Zaman is a Principal Consultant at the Reputation Institute which avdises companies on their reputation risks. Arif is also Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain's Economic Committee, Advisor to the Commonwealth Business Council and the founder member of the Steering Group of the HRH The Prince of Wales Mosaic Programme. 

With the global economy in turmoil and facing a sustained period of uncertainty – and with trust in institutions, regulators and companies under acute pressure – a fresh focus is emerging on governance and leadership. Simultaneously, how individuals respond will become key as uncertainty and volatility look set to become more commonplace. Furthermore, actions will need to be adapted and adjusted in the light of evolving and fluid conditions. Barack Hussein Obama’s election and style has also shown how leadership and communication are inextricably linked and how within days of being inaugurated one of the hallmarks of the context we are now in is a different tone in terms of respect and understanding, which Obama looks set to lead and sustain with the Muslim world.

As the Muslim world frames its approach, there is a growing realisation that there is work to be done in strengthening – deepening and broadening – leadership capacity and development across the Ummah. Recent initiatives such as those from the Muslim Council of Britain, the World Islamic Economic Forum and HRH The Prince of Wales’ Mosaic Programme reflect this and suggest emerging areas of significant impact.

This article addresses leadership development for the Ummah with a specific focus on business and management. What are the key challenges? Is there an Islamic tradition and worldview of leadership? How does leadership link to corporate governance, (reputational) risk management and diversity? All of these questions are of particular relevance to the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) countries and for Muslim minorities - especially in Europe, North America and India.

The challenges
The challenges for the Ummah are many and varied but perhaps centre on several key areas.
The foremost area is the non-inclusive development – of women as well as men, of communities, countries and regions.

The UN Millennium Development Goals, to which all OIC members are signatories, also set out many socio-economic challenges that have real resonance where many Muslims live whether in South Asia or in Africa.

There is also a need to challenge the empty but dangerous rhetoric and narrative which contributes to the radicalisation of some young people in our community with negative consequences for us all. In this, the Muslim diaspora in the West can perhaps play an increasingly important role.

Moreover exclusion, indifference, racism and gender discrimination limit access to the talent pool to address pressing social problems and improve human security nationally and internationally. Across the Ummah there are future leaders of enormous potential whose talent has not been recognised by those in power – who must be recruited, nurtured and cultivated.

The lack of inclusive leadership narrows the range of resolutions to social problems, limits our creative potential and breeds hatred, violence, indifference and inaction that impede practical progress on the most pressing issues of our time. It must change.

Divinie inspiration
Community-building, concern for social justice within the organization and equality of voice are basic themes of Islam. The values of service, surrendering self, truth, charity, humility, forgiveness, compassion, thankfulness, love, courage, faith, kindness, patience and hope are to be found not only in the Quran, but also in popular Islamic literature and philosophical debates. Since Islam requires a balance between individual influence and social obligations, as well as a balance between material and spiritual needs, the ideal person to lead is perceived to be the most virtuous, and not the wealthiest or most powerful.

In advancing the concept of perfection of the soul as a requisite of leadership, Al-Ghazali, like Ibn Khaldun, suggested that attributes, once rooted in the heart, eventually govern one’s behaviour. Wisdom is, therefore, the outcome of actions through which one has attained knowledge. Al-Ghazali dealt with a variety of subjects in the Nasihat such as the qualities required in kings, the character of ministers and deputies, and intelligence. The Nasihat, or Advice, is part of a larger genre of political writings which dealt with issues of political authority at the time. The line of communication to leadership should be known and continually tested to make sure that leadership is engaged with the organization as a whole. Good rulership and leadership were sacred duties for Al-Ghazali and performing them well brought Allah’s pleasure while doing otherwise brought His ire.

Common failings
How does this translate into addressing the leadership and talent development challenge in the Ummah today? Too many current and future leaders are poorly prepared for their roles.
Some common failings include:-
  • to grow emotionally: the leaders who have high intelligence quotients (IQs) and low emotional quotients (EQs) are often clever and charismatic but destructive.
  • to make creative connections: leaders who see the connections between A and B and B and C rarely see how A and C connect. They miss the more subtle patterns and ones that extend beyond the quarterly reporting period.
  • to empathise: they often look at numbers or surface behaviour and lack an understanding of others’ true needs and aspirations.
  • to manage ego: deadly self-inflation, or hubris, frequently leads to derailment or nemesis.
  • to overcome personal alienation and boredom: these leaders simply stop feeling the exhilaration of learning.
Core areas of emphasis
Companies need to elevate relationship building by developing skills and values that lead to increased empathy and knowledge among all and by measuring and rewarding appropriate relationship-building activities. They also need to acknowledge that feedback and relationship programs are the most effective leadership development strategy.

International trading relationships are undergoing significant change as markets in Asia such as (but not limited to) China and India assume greater importance. At the same time, leadership development has reached a critical crossroads. A number of forces in the international business environment such as geo-politics, emerging economic power bases, ideological diversity, consumer driven technology and the carbon economy are combining and together make necessary a re-think of how we raise future leaders.

For the Muslim world, the challenge of diversity is real – whether for Muslim minorities in the UK and Europe, Muslims in India, low-paid migrant workers from South Asia in the Gulf or for that matter Christians in Pakistan.

To combat racism, inequality and hatred, it is important for leaders to challenge barriers and to bridge the boundaries of difference and distrust. It takes transformational leaders – with the ability to speak for a wide range of people - to accomplish fundamental change. At every level of society, current leaders should be on the lookout for exceptional potential leaders who are diverse and innovative - who do not look, think or talk like them – especially from excluded or marginalised groups. Professional education, especially in business, public policy and the law, must emphasise the necessity of equality and respect, creating ethical leaders who will put a priority on inclusive rather than exclusive decision-making.

Diversity at the basic level is about reaction and compliance. It is now moving from a focus at a second level on equal opportunities and corporate social responsibility, to a third level where leading companies and individuals see it more proactively as being a driver for changing trading relationships and networks amongst companies, countries and regions. Leading companies see the connection between a leader’s personal values, the diversity within their organisation and their individual and corporate reputation.

Leadership development also needs to see corporate governanceat its core as being about creating value from the quality of decision-making. Corporate boards need to be balanced. They should include both outside non-executive and executive members in their governance. Outside members should challenge the executives but in a supportive way. No single individual should be able to dominate decision making, especially in family businesses. It follows that the board should work as a team with outside members contributing to strategy rather than simply having a monitoring or policing role. Boards need to comprise members who possess skills and experience appropriate for the organisation and its strategic direction.

In making decisions, managers must employ critical and creative thinking as well as ethical principles to synthesise the apparently divergent aspects of a situation and avoid the undesirable possibilities that may ensue.

focus on reputation addresses another key business challenge which is of developing and managing organisational reputation. Reputation, responsibility and value creation need to be linked through a focus on understanding stakeholder relationships.
There are certainly other core skills and expertise that leaders need to develop that other best practices emphasize. However, the above areas are key needs for addressing the challenges to business leadership in the Muslim world.

Leadership development is indeed a journey not a destination and professionals in the Ummah can play a key role in creating better leaders and improving the quality of decision-making by establishing a global network of young, successful, Muslims. This way participants can further improve their leadership and professional skills, enhance their career progression and pursue endeavours that are aligned with the interests of the Ummah.


  1. enlightening read. Addresses some core issues of the ummah. While it is generally understood that leaders need to think critically and creatively, as Muslims, the need to think and decide ethically and place values above interests is a demand our faith makes of us. The need to develop a global network of young Muslims in leadership roles is urgent, and Mosaic is perfectly poised to do just that... may the force be with you!

  2. Thanks for sharing this useful info. Keep updating same way.
    Regards,Ashish Leadership Development -