Succession planning & Leadership development

No goal can be achieved by anyone alone, no matter how talented or powerful of wealthy that person may be. The biggest challenge for any leader; indeed the single factor which can mean success or failure of his mission; is his ability to inspire others to follow him and commit time, energy, wealth and talent for the achievement of his goal. The key to achieving this attention and commitment of people does not lie in paying money or granting favors or making inspiring speeches but in showing how much you really love and care for your followers. By showing I don’t mean any pretension because acting cannot be sustained. Showing means to express the love and concern for followers that you truly and genuinely feel so that they also know it.

As they say, ‘They don’t care what you say, until they know that you care.’

Rasoolullah(SAW)’s concern was not only for his followers but even for those who denied him and tried to harm him only because he wanted to invite them to the truth and save them from the Hellfire. This sounds like a strange thing because in all worldly matters people love those who are willing to give them things for free. But when someone invites a person toward eternal success some people find that offensive and fight that person and oppose him and even try to harm him.

This happened to Rasoolullah(SAW) many times and in many ways. Most of all was his own frustration and grief at the fact that despite his best efforts his own people refused to listen to him. His concern for them was such that Allah(SWT) revealed:

Would you, torment yourself to death [with grief] because they refuse to believe?

Ash Shua’ara 26:3

Perhaps, you, would kill yourself (O Muhammad) in grief, over their footsteps (turning away from you), because they believe not in this narration (the Qur’an).

Al Kahf 18:6

It was this concern that came through and to which they responded and not only believed in him but then supported him and were willing to do anything to protect him and propagate his message even if it meant losing their lives.

Allah(SWT) said about the love of Rasoolullah(SAW) for his followers:

Verily, there has come unto you a Messenger (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves (i.e. whom you know well). It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He (Muhammad) is anxious over you (to be rightly guided, to repent to Allâh, and beg Him to pardon and forgive your sins, in order that you may enter Paradise and be saved from the punishment of the Hell-fire), for the believers (he is) full of sympathy, kind, and merciful.

Tawba 9:128

If there is one thing that is crystal clear about the character of Rasoolullah(SAW) as a leader it is his patience and gentleness. There are several instances in his life where others behaved with him in such foolish and harsh ways that those who were with him drew their swords to teach the person a lesson. But Rasoolullah(SAW) never allowed them to take that course. His way was to deal with the harshest of treatment with calmness, gentleness and a smile.

Allah(SWT) said

And it was by Allah’s grace that You [O Muhammad] dealt gently with your followers: for if you had been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from you. Pardon them then, and pray that they be forgiven. And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when you have decided upon a course of action, place your trust in Allah: for, verily, Allah loves those who place their trust in Him.

A’al Imran 3:159

There is the famous story of a woman of Makkah who out of sheer hatred for Rasoolullah(SAW) used to lie in wait for him in an upper storey of her house and when he would pass through the street below her, she would throw garbage on him. He would say nothing and would just brush his clothes clean and would continue on his way. This was a regular pattern for a long time. One day however when he passed by that house nothing happened. So on his return Rasoolullah(SAW) knocked on the door and asked about the lady. The person who answered the door said that the lady was ill. Rasoolullah(SAW) asked to see her and went in and enquired about her welfare. The lady was so ashamed at her own conduct and so astonished at the fact that despite the fact that Rasoolullah(SAW) had only suffered ill at her hands, he had actually stopped by to enquire about her welfare that she accepted Islam.

There is another story where Rasoolullah(SAW) saw an elderly lady standing by the wayside with some luggage. He enquired and she said that she was waiting for someone to help her to take her luggage to a place where she could join a caravan going out of Makkah as she had decided to leave the city. Rasoolullah(SAW) took her luggage on his head and shoulders and walked with her to the caravan camp ground. On the way the lady told him that the reason she had decided to move was because of how unhappy she was with this young man called Muhammad(SAW) who claimed to be the Messenger of Allah(SWT) and was persuading people to leave the polytheistic religion of their forefathers and worship Allah(SWT) alone. She went on in this vein and warned Rasoolullah(SAW) from coming under the influence of this man. She said to him, ‘You are such a nice young man, so helpful and kind. Stay away from this man or he will misguide you as well.’ Just then they reached their destination and the old lady thanked Rasoolullah(SAW) profusely for being kind enough to help her when she was in need. Then she said, ‘And what is your name my son?’ Rasoolullah(SAW) said, ‘My name is Muhammad, O Mother.’ The lady was so shocked that it was the very person who she had been criticizing who had not only helped her but hadn’t said a word and listened to all the criticism without complaint that she said, ‘If you are Muhammad(SAW) then I believe that your claim that you are the Messenger of Allah(SWT) is correct. I bear witness that there is nobody worthy of worship except Allah(SWT) and that you are his Messenger(SAW).’

On one occasion in Madina, Anas bin Malik(RA) narrates ‘Whilst we were in the Masjid with Rasoolullah(SAW) a blind Bedouin came and started to urinate in the Masjid. The companions rushed to stop him. Rasoolullah(SAW) said, ‘Do not interrupt him until he is finished.’ Rasoolullah(SAW) was thinking of the likely consequence if he were stopped while in the process of his action, he would most likely run away from the companions leading to the impurity spreading over a wider area of the masjid. Rasoolullah(SAW) had the far sightedness to see that leaving him alone until he had completed what he was doing, was the lesser of the two evils. After he had finished Rasoolullah(SAW) led him out and told him what he had done and then had the place washed.

As mentioned earlier Rasoolullah(SAW) would follow the command of Allah(SWT) scrupulously, to consult with his Sahaba before he took any decision. This may seem strange because for one thing he knew more and better than they did as he was the recipient of Wahi (revelation) as well as being the wisest and most experienced of them. Yet we realize the wisdom of this when we reflect on the effect that this consultation had on the Sahaba themselves.

  • 1. It made them feel included, valued and responsible for the effort and outcomes.
  • 2. It ensured their commitment to the cause because they had been consulted.
  • 3. Sometimes they had critical information about local matters which came to light when they were consulted and enabled a better decision.
  • 4. It was training in decision making for them for the future for the time when Rasoolullah(SAW) would no longer be among them.
  • 5. It served to create cohesion among them and enabled them to think across their tribal and local boundaries for the benefit of all concerned and the success of the mission of propagating Islam.

A combination of picking the right people, setting a high personal example and intensive hands on training, Rasoolullah(SAW)
created not one but a set of leaders who were able to take his message forward long after he had passed away. It is true that there were various conflicts three decades after he passed away which led to consequences that he wouldn’t have wanted or approved of but this fact only underlines the reality that no great effort is sufficient for all time. It must be continued generation after generation if one is to continue to reap its benefits.

Whatever happened in history, the example and model that Muhammad(SAW) left for the world remains clear, vibrant and
valid for anyone who is interested in benefiting from it. It is true that the world has changed beyond recognition from the world of Muhammad(SAW) but the principles he laid down are still as true as other laws of nature that don’t change because society changes. Just like gravity or the law of aerodynamics, the law of success in this world and the next remains the same. That is what Muhammad(SAW) was sent to teach the world. To that we bear witness and ask Allah(SWT) to make us worthy of being his followers.

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