Leadership of Muhammad (SAW): Lessons for CEOs
By Wali Zahid, a student of Seerah | ceo, SkillCity
In a survey of 150 chief executives on ranking key leader skills and abilities, decision-making came at the top.
Learning: when it comes to making complex, high-stake decisions, CEOs’ wits are often tested. Sometimes they succeed in making timely and sane decisions. At other times, they are beset by poor judgment, bad counsel and looking at the wrong end of an issue.
Now, most CEOs, grads of Ivy League or Oxbrige universities have access to Western best practices, styles, models of decision-making – from rational decision-making to analytics-based decisions to using intuition and gut feel.
Have they ever wondered that they can learn the decision-making from the best leader on earth – The Prophet Muhammad (SAW)? If not, why not?
In a recent CEO study by this writer, only 3 out 10 CEOs said yes to this question: ‘Ever thought how The Prophet (SAW)’s personality could be a guiding factor for you in doing business, making decisions, empowering others? If yes, in what ways?’
The Prophet (SAW)’s model was consultative decision-making. Whenever a complex issue arose, he would gather his sahaba (companions) and let them come up with suggestions and scenarios. Their opinions could be very very diverse. But at the end of that brainstorming, they would come up with a consensus decision.
Case in point: Battle of the Ditch (Ghazwa-e-Khandaq). It was an unusual suggestion by a Persian sahabi, Salman Farsi, to dig a ditch around Madinah and save it from the onslaught of Quraysh-Bedouin army of 10,000. This tactic, unfamiliar to Arabs at that time, could only come through a participative discussion in which sahaba could contribute to the decision-making process in a free manner and an Arab would not have preference over an ajami (non-Arab).
Consider your next big decision: Going into a new geography, launching that product, criteria for next batch hiring, appointing COOs in various divisions.
How would you use the Prophet (SAW)’s model of decision-making? Who would involve without creating an in- and out-group? How would you treat their unfamiliar suggestions? How would you build consensus in your MC/leadership team?
In my forthcoming booklet Prophet Muhammad (SAW): Leadership lessons for CEOs, I look at three spheres in which CEOs could learn from the Prophet (SAW)’s leadership style: personal leadership, people leadership and task leadership.
Video: The last sermon
Even before he was appointed the Prophet, many things stood out. I will mention two.
One, how he kept his word. He was known as sadiq and ameen and trusted by all. In today’s management-speak, we call it reputation management.
How would you like to be known and referred to by your peers, employees, customers and vendors when you are not in the room?
Two, how he used his time with focus and self-discipline. He was a leader without a title. Remember the occasion when Quraysh tribes were quarreling on who get the first right to place Hajr-e-Aswad (The Black Stone) in its place when the Kaaba was rebuilt? They decided that whoever comes first the next morning, they will allow him to settle it for them.
And guess who came! Muhammad. An early riser. A reflector. A one-God-worshipper. Not appointed Rasool yet. Using his wisdom, he asked all tribes to put Hajr-e-Aswad in a piece of cloth and bring it to the Kaaba. He then put it in its place.
How would you use your time and focus today? How would you avoid trivia, so widespread in today, thanks to technology and unnecessary social obligations on the CEO time.
Video: The Physical Description of Muhammad (SAW)
Many lessons. I will mention five.
1 How he communicated with sahaba. His communication was non-hierarchical. In spite of being a Divinely-appointed Prophet, he treated his sahaba with peer-like respect. Socially, he would sit with them and eat with them. Like, many CEOs in Northern Europe and Japan take lunch at employee cafeteria. It’s an example he set.
When a Bedouin would visit his assembly for the first time, he would ask: Who’s Muhammad? This question demonstrates that Muhammad (SAW) was not visible to a stranger because of his robe, the way he would sit, the sitting place, or even the air most CEOs carry while in management team meetings.
He would also use light-hearted humour. This contrasts with Machiavellian powerplay principles which insist that humour lowers your power over others. Hence, we see so many CEOs with such serious countenance because they want to be in control.
How would you create a peer-like environment among your workforce? How would you remove the ‘shock-and-awe’ accessories – the glasses, the watch, the branded clothes and the limited-edition, custom-made luxury car.
2 In today’s management-speak, his leadership style was transformational, not transactional. His offer – worship one God, do good and enter paradise – was so powerful that people were pulled towards it with their free will without any wages. They were intrinsically motivated to pursue that goal and didn’t need the leader’s push.
Compare this with today’s corporate workforce. They are being paid premium salaries and par benefits and you still can’t push them to achieve their mutually agreed business plan in a fiscal year.
3 While he led people, he accepted dissent. Unlike most CEOs today who want yes-men, and yes-women around them.
Case in point: During the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Hazrat Umar (RA), strongly opposed the conditions of treaty with Quraysh, which were quite demeaning to visiting Muslim convoy. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) didn’t reprimand Umar (RA) for his loud objections. Although Hadiths quote that Umar (RA) repented those words and reaction for the rest of his life.
How do you treat your direct reports who disagree with you in public space? If their intent is genuine and their judgment flawed, would you still keep them on your team or show them the door?
4 What is most striking is the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s exemplary emotional quotient (EQ) as a leader. In accomplishing his mission, he showed persistence and never lost hope. I can quote several examples.
Remember when people in Taif threw rocks on him he bled profusely and almost collapsed. When the angel Jibraeel came to him and said that if Muhammad wanted, he would blow the mountains over the people of Taif. Instead, he prayed for the people of Taif.
Or recall the woman who used to throw trash at him. When she didn’t do that for a few days, he went to inquire about her at her home and found her unwell.
Or when his life’s mission was accomplished and Makkah conquest happened, he forgave all sworn enemies.
For his team’s development, through Divine guidance and by being empathetic, he introduced gradual self-regulation in establishing new values and code of conduct – one bit at a time. E.g. Elimination of riba (usury/interest) and prohibition of alcohol.
How would you treat customers, employees and peers who wrong you? How would you enforce corporate values and still be empathetic?
5 No job is worth taking if you have a failed marriage or your children are ignored. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) created a fine balance of work, family and personal prayer time. You may recall that he would prolong his sajda if grandsons Hasan and Husain would sit on his back during prayers.
How would you make sure that your family is part of the ambition that you carry – whether it’s the next, most-prized job or creating a social impact. Are they part of your do-to list?
Video: Nothing to do with my Prophet (SAW)
Many lessons again. I will mention eight. Briefly.
1 Problem-solving: He used timing and wise acts to avoid controversy. E.g. change of Qibla direction. Upon Divine guidance, he turned his and the congregation’s face towards Makkah while they were praying. Or, where to stay on the first night of arrival in Madinah. He told everyone that he will stay wherever the camel he was riding would stop for the rest.
2 Consultative decision-making: We already have discussed this above. In addition to the companions, he would seek counsel from his wives.
A case in point: When after the signing of Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the sahaba, still in a state of shock and disbelief, refused to change their ihram dressing and wear regular clothing on his request. His wife Umme Salma was travelling with him. It was her idea that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) doesn’t need to make a verbal request to the sahaba and instead just action it himself. The Prophet (SAW) came out of the camp and removed his ihram dress and wore regular clothes. The companions just followed his suit.
3 Entrepreneurial training: He didn’t give them fish; he taught them how to fish.
Case in point: A man of Ansar came to him seeking alms. The Prophet (SAW) asked him if he had something to sell. He brought a piece of cloth and a wooden bowl. The Prophet (SAW) asked the sahaba to buy. This raised two dirhams. The Prophet (SAW) asked the man to buy an axe with one dirham and start gathering firewood and sell. He visited the Prophet (SAW) when he earned 10 dirhams.
4 Allocating work: The Prophet (SAW) only had 23 years to develop a team which would spread Islam in all parts of the world.
He used a method what now know as strengths-based assigning: he picked what was the best in people and created the best job-person fit. Based on people’s individual capability and preference, he assigned them the roles like kaatib-e-wahi, teaching, negotiating, envoys.
He appointed for potential.
Case in point: At the time of being asked to lead the Khaibar expedition, Hazrat Ali (RA) had been unwell. The night before, the Prophet (SAW) had given good news to sahaba that whoever gets to lead the expedition, Allah and his Rasool are pleased with him and he is pleased with Allah and his Rasool. Hazrat Umar (RA) says that he never wished for anything. But hearing this, he spent all night praying that he gets the lead. The next day, Hazrat Ali (RA) was assigned the task.
5 Delegating: While delegating tasks, the Prophet (SAW) saw the suitability. Case in point: At the time of migration (Hijrah) to Madinah, Hazrat Ali (RA) was asked to stay back and sleep in his bed and return the amanat while Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) was asked to accompany the Prophet (SAW) to Madinah as a companion.
6 Training people: This topic is so massive that I am working separately on this: The Prophet (SAW) as Educator. Please pray that this gets completed soon.
7 Appraising: After 10 years of serving him as a private servant, Hazrat Anas (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) did not penalise him after a mistake had been made.
This reminds us of getting rid of today’s performance appraisal system, the purpose of which is to highlight the gap in promised versus actual results only after a year has passed. If at all, perhaps time for futuristic appraisal plans.
8 Successor development: in his 23 years of leadership, the Prophet (SAW) had a succession pipeline in place. He left behind four trained and developed khalifas who would carry out his mission after his death and spread the Divine religion to major parts of Asia and Africa.
Before we close, a final lesson in avoiding the CEO derailment.
Corporate CEOs become derailed either because of burnout, family issues, their ego, power struggles or worldly greed. The Prophet (SAW) and his companions established that his followers didn’t have to.
What’s in it for us? All of these actions are practical, doable. Muslim CEOs can follow these actions in daily work life. The question is: Will they? Or when they?
Video: How to respond to haters
This excerpt (version 1) is work in progress and based on a webinar Wali Zahid gave at Madinah Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (MILE). MILE is being run under the leadership of Governor of Madinah. Several talks on this topic were given by Wali at various places: Bhurban, Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kabul and Kuwait. Wallahu Aalamu Bissawab.
Wali Zahid is a coach to several Fortune-500 firms CEOs in Pakistan, and runs a workshop on ‘Leadership for CEOs’, previously organised by British Council, Management Association of Pakistan, National Productivity Organisation, SkillCity in Pakistan and Ibn-e-Sina Foundation in Kabul.
Wali has served at the Board of Governors at Pakistan Society for Training and Development, among other boards and advisories at CBM, IBA, Indus Valley. He now sits at the Board of Governors at Pakistan Institute of Management (PIM), Government of Pakistan. His last employment was with British Council, where he worked as Country Director, Management Development Services during 2001-2008.
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The work has been reviewed for inclusion of only authentic traditions by Prof Dr Hafiz Ihsanul Haq, my cousin and formerly Chairman of Department of Arabic, Karachi University, Pakistan and Director, Shaikh Zayed Centre, Karachi University, and a TV personality who translated Khutba-e-Hajj live in Urdu from Arabic for over three decades for PTV. Dr Haq led Islam summer school and Ramadan taraveeh prayers in USA for several decades. His comments:
I have reviewed the article and found that all the facts provided in it are authentic and according to description of testified renowned Seerah books. – Dr Ihsanul Haq
This work has also been shared with my mother, Aapa Amtur Rasheed, founder of Madrassatul Banat in Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Quran Markaz in Lahore and Karachi. A scholar of Islam, she taught women Quran tafseer and Hadith book Bukhari Shareef in a teaching career spanning over 7 decades.
Other notable reviews:
Wali Zahid skillfully utilises prophetic leadership to enrich modern understanding of leadership role and skills.
– Louay Safi
Professor of political science at Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar; senior fellow at the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, USA; Co-founder of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, USA; Author of 11 books, including: Palestine: Prophetic Principles Over Prophecies, (Outskirts Press 2009), The Qur’anic Narrative (Praeger 2008), Leading with Compassion (Outskirts Press 2008), Tensions and Transitions in the Muslim World, (University Press of America 2003), Peace and the Limits of War (International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2001), The Challenge of Modernity (University Press of America 1994), Truth and Reform (The Open Press 1998), The Foundation of Knowledge (International Islamic University of Malaysia 1996), Al-‘Aqidah wa al-Syiasah (International Institute of Islamic Thought 1996), and I’mal al ‘Aql (Dar al-Fikr 1998)
Excellent. Masha Allah.
– Dr Farhat Hashmi | Founder, Al-Huda International, Canada/Pakistan
Web links & downloads:
Powerpoint presentation on Leadership of Muhammad (SAW): Lessons for CEOs on Slideshare, click here.
YouTube Video of MILE Madinah webinar on Leadership of Muhammad (SAW): Lessons for CEOs here.
Executive Summary transcript of MILE Madinah webinar, here.
Capital TV Pakistan did a 3-hour live Sehri Transmission with Wali in July 2014 on this topic.
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Our Facebook page, dedicated to this work.
See also: Back to the future: Pakistan in 2050