Lessons in Leadership
Dr. Iqbal Unus
Principal Associate at Education, Training and Research Associates (ETR Director of IIFTIHAR-USA)
"Go You to Pharaoh, for he had indeed transgressed all bounds."
(Musa) said: "O my Lord! Expand me my breast; Ease my task for me;
And remove the impediment from my speech. So they may understand
what I say: And give me a Minister from my family, Harun, my brother;
Add to my strength through him, And make him share my task: That
we may celebrate Your praise without stint, And remember You without
stint: For You are He that ever regards us." (Allah) said: "Granted
is your prayer, O Musa!" (Ta Ha, 20:24-36)
The Qur'an relates the story of the Prophets Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) in several different Surahs, including Surah Ta Ha from verse 24 to verse 36. In each instance, the story highlights one or more aspects of their role and actions as appropriate to the Qur'anic message at that point. When we bring together this revealed knowledge about the two prophets, we discover the full story including key principles of communication, teamwork and delegation - all vital elements of effective leadership.
1. Command to Musa (AS)
In Surah Ta Ha, Allah SWT commanded Musa (AS) to confront Pharaoh, the powerful and oppressive king of the time, saying:
"Go You to Pharaoh, For he has indeed transgressed all bounds." (Ta Ha, 20:24)
At this stage, Allah's command was directed to Musa (AS) alone as an individual. Musa (AS) recognized this to be a great challenge and a formidable task to accomplish. His response to this assignment provides many lessons in leadership. These form the roots of important contemporary concepts related to teamwork and cooperation.
2. Leadership Lessons in Musa's (AS) Response
2.1 Asking for Allah's Help
In response to Allah's command, Musa (AS) first asked for Allah's help to enhance his capabilities and enable him to succeed in completing the assigned task. His plea for help represents the hallmark of a Muslim leader, full of humility and dependent on His Lord for everything.
"(Musa) said: 'O my Lord! Expand me my breast; Ease my task for me;' "(Ta Ha, 20:25-26)
2.2 Recognizing One's Limitations
Next, he took an inventory of the skills required for the job, assessed his own skills, and recognized his limitations. It is critical for the success of a mission to understand what skills are needed and to identify one's own strengths and weaknesses in the context of what is needed. Confident leaders do not shy away from confronting their limitations.Immediately, Musa (AS) recognized that his communication skills were not as effective. He asked Allah SWT to remove the difficulty he had in speaking effectively.
"And remove the impediment from my speech." (Ta Ha, 20:27)
Elsewhere, the Qur'an refers to Musa's (AS) request as follows:
"My breast will be straitened. And my speech may not go (smoothly): so send unto Harun..." (Al Shu'ara, 26:13)
In stating his requests to Allah SWT, Musa (AS) reveals his pragmatic approach and his ability to assess potential problems. Again, he shows an awareness of his own limitations - an exemplary quality for a good leader. With the difficulties and limitations in mind, he proposes a solution: form a team to do the job, with the teammate complementing the leader's skills.
2.3 Focusing on Effective Communication
Musa (AS) made the request to "remove the impediment from my speech" for a reason which illustrates a profound principle - in fact, the essence - of communication, His reason was:
"So they may understand what I say:" (Ta Ha, 20:28)
He did not ask for removing the impediment in his speech so that he could speak better or more impressively. Instead he asked for Allah to remove the impediment from his speech so that those who listened to him could understand him. This is the core of communication, that the receiver of the message should understand the message as it was intended to be understood. Communication takes place, not when the sender sends the message but when the receiver ascribes meaning to it. To communicate with desired results, one should not become too absorbed in one's own abilities as speaker or resenter, but should focus on the interpretation and understanding of the message by the intended receiver or receivers. One should direct improvement in one's communicating ability towards a clear understanding of the message one intends to convey.This principle can be extended to other areas of human activity. Any work should be judged not by how well we did it, but how well it benefited those affected by it. In other words, all our actions should be result oriented, and one should, of course, intend the result to be beneficial. The Prophet SAW is reported to have said:
"People are dependents of Allah; the closest to Him are the most useful to His dependents." (Sahih Muslim)
One may also note here the characteristics of the audience. Allah SWT ordered Musa (AS) to go to Pharaoh because he had "transgressed all bounds," and at the same time specified a way of dealing with this ruler.
"But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (Allah)." (Ta Ha, 20:44)
The lesson here is that both the content of our communication and its medium, i.e. the manner of its delivery, should fit the receiver of the message. Further, sometimes the right way to deal with a harsh and unrepentant receiver is not in a like manner but in quite the opposite manner, speaking to him "mildly" as in this case. The essence of communication is getting a message across, not getting even.
2.4 Working as a Team
Musa (AS) also understood the need of teamwork. He recognized that he needed to complement his own abilities in order to succeed.
"And give me a Minister from my family, Harun, my brother;" (Ta Ha, 20:29-30)
Leaders who are unsure of themselves often recruit such teammates who are less qualified than themselves in order to avoid being challenged in areas of their own weaknesses. Effective leaders, however, are confident of themselves and focus their efforts on accomplishing the mission. Hence, they seek people who will complement them competently in areas where they perceive themselves to be weak or lacking. Musa (AS) asked for someone he knew to be capable, his own brother Harun, for a reason to be discussed later. Musa's (AS) wished to recruit his brother as a team member in order to strengthen his own abilities and efforts, and to enhance his own skills
"Add to my strength through him," (Ta Ha, 20:31)
For the team to be effective, Musa (AS) expected his teammate to participate in carrying out the task, and not be a mere bystander.
"And make him share my task:" (Ta Ha, 20:32)
The Qur'an brings to our attention one important reason why Musa (AS) asked Allah SWT to assign Harun (AS) to help him.
"And my brother Harun - he is more eloquent in speech than I: so send him with me as a helper, to confirm (and strengthen) me: For I fear they may accuse me of falsehood." (Al Qasas, 28:34)
An effective team is characterized by teammates whose skills complement those of the leader as well as of other members of the team. As we saw earlier, Musa (AS) feared that his speech may not be adequate for the task at hand; so he asked for someone he considered to be better in that particular area. This is the mark of an effective leader. Further, Musa (AS) asserted that the purpose of forming a team was not merely to reduce one's workload, but to get help and strength from one another Such a team is directed to a purpose and to meet a challenge, which, in this case, carried the risk of being accused of promoting falsehoods.
2.5 Mission Orientation
A team should have a mission towards which it directs all its efforts. The success of the team is dependent upon the clarity of that mission and upon the degree to which all members are committed to accomplishing it. Musa (AS) clarified his team's mission.
"That we may celebrate Your praise without stint, And remember You without stint: For You are He that ever regards us." (Ta Ha, 20:33-5)
One must note the relationship between tasbih (praise) and zikr (remembrance) on the one hand and community building on the other. The mission to which Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) were directed was the release of the Israelites from the clutches of the Pharaoh. To them that mission encompassed the praise and remembrance of Allah SWT, for all action carried out to establish His Will would amount to His praise and remembrance. Praising Allah SWT and remembering Him establish the moral bearing that crystallizes our mission and moves us to accomplish it.
2.6 Legitimacy of the Request
Allah SWT established the legitimacy of Musa's (AS) request - and approach - by granting what he had requested. (Allah) said:
"Granted is your prayer, O Musa!" (Ta Ha, 20:36)
The Qur'an also refers to the acceptance of Musa's (AS) request elsewhere.
"(Before this), We sent Musa the Book, and appointed his brother Harun with him as Minister; " (Al Furqan, 25:35)
3. The Team of Musa and Harun
3.1 Emphasis on the Team
It is very important to note that, having granted the request of Musa (AS) to assign Harun (AS) as his teammate, Allah SWT stresses that relationship in numerous verses in the Qur'an. The team of Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) is presented to us as one unit, addressed by Allah SWT as such and recognized by others as such.
"Then after them sent We Musa and Harun to Pharaoh and his chiefs with Our Signs..."(Yunus, 10:75). "We inspired Musa and his brother with this Message:... "(Yunus, 10:87).
Allah said: "Accepted is your prayer (O Musa and Harun)! ..." (Yunus, 10:89)
"And We commanded: Go you both, to the people who have rejected Our Signs:... "(Al Furqan, 25:36)
"Again, (of old,) We bestowed Our favor on Musa and Harun .....'Peace and salutation to Musa and Harun.' " (Al Saffat, 37:114...120)
Similarly the Qur'an uses the dual form to refer to the two prophets in Surah Ta Ha, Ayahs 42-49, again highlighting the fact that they are a team.
3.2 Acting as a Team
Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) acted as a team. The words "They said" and "We fear" in the verse that follows indicate a process of active consultation between the two of them.
"They (Musa and Harun) said: 'Our Lord! We fear lest He hasten with insolence against us, or lest he transgress all bounds.' " (Ta Ha, 20:45)
3.3 Recognition of the Team
Harun (AS) was a significant part of the team, not merely an attendant to Musa (AS). This fact was recognized by the Pharaoh, (AS) the Qur'an tells us.
"(When this message was delivered, Pharaoh) said: 'Who then, O Musa, is the Lord of you two?' " (Ta Ha, 20: 49)
The sorcerers in the court also referred, not to the Lord of Musa (AS) alone, but to the Lord of Musa (AS) and Harun (AS), recognizing the latter as a significant partner of the former.
"Then did the sorcerers fall down, prostrate in adoration, Saying: 'We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Musa and Harun.' " (Al Shu'ara, 26:46-48)
4. Elements of Delegation
When Allah SWT asked Musa (AS) to leave his people for forty days, he put them under the supervision of Harun (AS). In other words, he delegated the leadership of the community and the management of its affairs to his teammate. In doing so, Musa (AS) defined the delegated task in broad terms as follows:
".... And Musa had charged his brother Harun (before he went up): 'Act for me amongst my people: Do right, and follow not the way of those do mischief.' " (Al A'raf, 7:142).
Musa (AS) illustrated three important aspects of effective delegation in this case. First, he delegated broadly but clearly by charging Harun (AS) to act for him amongst his people. Second, he clarified his expectation - the intended objective - by asking Harun (AS) to do right. Third, he placed appropriate limits on the delegated authority by asking Harun (AS) not to follow the way of those who do mischief.
When Musa (AS) returned to his people and found that Harun (AS) had been unable to prevent his people from being misled by Samiri, he was upset. He held Harun (AS) accountable but assumed responsibility himself, illustrating one of the most basic rules of delegation that one cannot delegate responsibility; one can only delegate authority.
"Musa prayed: 'O my Lord! Forgive me and my brother! Admit us to Your mercy! For You are the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!' " (Al A'raf, 7:151)
Musa (AS) asked for forgiveness for himself - for getting angry, and for being unable to fulfill his responsibility - as well as his brother - for his seeming failure in his delegated task, which was "Do right...". As an effective leader, Musa (AS) went further and identified himself with his people and their role in this situation.
".... He prayed: 'O my Lord! If it had been Your Will You could have destroyed, long before, both them and me: would You destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us? This is no more than Your trial: by it You cause whom You will to stray, and You lead whom you will into the right path...' " (Al A'raf, 7:155).
4. 3 Authority
Allah SWT teaches us another principle of delegation in this story - that, one to whom a task is delegated must be given sufficient authority and resources to carry it out - when He says:
"Then We sent Musa and his brother Harun, with Our Signs and authority manifest,... "(Al Mu'minun, 23:45)
As in the verse above, so in the verse below, Allah SWT refers to the two prophets together and underscores two additional principles of delegation. These are: those delegated a task must be supported (We are with you), and they must be given a hearing and feedback as necessary (will listen (to your call)).
"Allah said: 'By no means! Proceed then both of you, with Our Signs; We are with you, and will listen (to your call).'" (Al Shu'ara, 26:15)
This message of support and assistance is repeated elsewhere in the Qur'an.
"So go forth, both of you, to Pharaoh, and say: 'We have been sent by the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds.' " (Al Shu'ara, 26:16) "He said: 'We will certainly strengthen your arm through your brother, and invest you both with authority, so they shall not be able totouch you: with Our Signs shall you triumph - you two as well as those who follow you.' " (Al Qasas, 28:35)
5. Some More Lessons
When Musa (AS) had gone to meet Allah SWT, Samiri caused a rebellion among the people against the legitimately delegated leadership of Harun (AS) and misled them into deviating from the worship of Allah SWT. When Musa (AS) returned, he did not rush to condemn anyone. He gave Samiri an opportunity to explain his action before arriving at the conclusion of expelling him.
"(Musa) said: 'What then is your case. O Samiri?' " (Ta Ha, 20:95)
The environment Harun (AS) faced was not the same as Musa's (AS); hence, their priorities also differed. We see this in the exchange between the two when Musa (AS) returned to his people only to find them misled. Musa (AS) asked Harun (AS) what prevented him from following his orders when he saw his people going wrong. After asking him not be angry with him, (Harun) replied:
".. Truly I feared lest you should say, 'You have caused a division among the Children of Israel, and you did not respect my word!' "(Ta Ha, 20:94)
The priority of Harun (AS) was to maintain unity among the Children of Israel. The priority of Musa (AS) was higher, to maintain the purity of worship among the people.
This episode in the life of Musa (AS) also illustrates how we should choose someone to whom we wish assign a task. The person to be chosen should have two major characteristics: competence and trustworthiness. These are the qualities that were apparent in Musa (AS) when he was hired by the elderly man whose daughters he helped during his journey in the land of Madyan.
"Said one of the (damsels): 'O my (dear) father! engage him on wages: truly the best of men for you to employ is the (man) who is strong and trusty' " (Al Qasas, 28:26)
The story of Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) offers us valuable lessons in leadership and the art of working together. In these lessons, we discover the Islamic roots of contemporary concepts in human development, whose understanding and practice will enhance our ability to perform and achieve, in sha' Allah.
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