Leadership – A Scientific Approach, Part 1
By Mohamedarif Suleman
Questions about leadership have long been a subject of speculation. Whether it is inside our homes, in our places of work, at local levels or even international levels. The current crisis facing the Muslim Ummah the world over is as much a consequence of a failed Islamic leadership that has seen gradual collapse from a mighty imperial superpower to a victim of international terrorism campaigns. While all this can plainly be blamed on a lack of education or of over emoting in circumstances of changing proportions and variance, one thing remains quite oblique – that unless an understanding of what leadership really means, scientifically that is, individuals who walk this tight rope, will at best be replicating others’ pitfalls, or would continuously engage in trial-and-error approaches.
At community level, we regularly hear of a barrage of allegations leveled against our leadership, for inept decision making, lack of foresight, and more recently total lack of vision and coherence. The leaders, on the other hand, have their own grief to mourn. That after years of sleepless nights, of selfless service and devoted participation, all that the community has to offer is blame, hatred and bad mouthing prose. This situation is hardly different from that of a household where a parent in his or her own attempt to salvage family values, for instance, incurs vehement wrath of the child for inconsiderateness and inconsistency, all this after years of struggle and upbringing. But why should such a situation arise when each party is honest and only intends to attain the pleasure of Allah (SWT)? If this premise was indeed true, then additional incremental effort must be instituted in creating an understanding of this good-and-bad combination social role that we fondly refer to as leadership.
Scientific research on leadership actively took off in the 20th Century, but for many years after that behavioral scientists have restlessly attempted to discover what traits, abilities, behaviors, sources of power, or aspects of the situation, determine how effective a leader will be in maintaining his or her leadership position, influencing followers and accomplishing group objectives.
There are various representative definitions of leadership. But a true understanding can probably be derived by the fact that leadership is the behavior of an individual when he or she is directing the activities of a group towards a shared goal. This definition recognizes leadership in all its forms and at all levels of life. A man and his wife share the common goal of establishing, nourishing and progressing as a family unit, whether the goals are spiritual, economical or academic. In a similar manner, the head of a business organization is performing a similar role with respect to the corporate objective of either market leadership or leadership in sales. Going further, it may be interesting to understand that the exercise of interpersonal influence in a given situation, and directed through the communication process, is also an integral part of leadership. This effectively means that a leader must feel the urge to create and then use positively his influence on those that he is leading. This of course can be achieved through various forms of effective communication so that the common need is met. In this regard, examples are often given of how Adolf Hitler, although hated by the world, was loved by his own people, for appealing to a common and shared vision of Germany. The Late Ayatullah Khomeini, who propelled Iran into a historic revolution, was simply using his influence as a leader, and communicating with the masses.
Maintenance of structure in expectation and interaction is also paramount. Leaders who attempt to change the structure of a given leadership hierarchy are frequently threatened with collapse, however imminient or necessary that change may be to meeting the common goals of a society. In our own scenario, when leaders are accused of being sluggish to make a certain move, the young generation often feels that there is a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Whereas not an entirely false presumption, the truth is that shifting of goals or ideals, usually acts counter productively vis a vis the expectations that the majority have of the leader. This is not to suggest that change must never be addressed, but it is a predicament nevertheless.
The US President George W Bush has added further context to another angle of leadership. In essence, it is known that the US is eager to create its massive empire across the globe. In this process, when the case fro war against Iraq was being made, it was imperative to create and promote an evil angle to the Iraqi regime, so that sympathetic support may be garnered. This is called an internaction between persons in which a leader presents information of a sort and in such a manner that the other becomes convinced that their outcome will be improved if they behave in the manner suggested or desired.
And finally while still on the US, leadership in undoubtedly a particular type of power relationship characterized by one member group’s perception that another member has the right to prescribe behavior patterns for the former regarding his activity as a group member. This is one reason why the whole world is going “American”. This is one reason why leaders, elders and parents need to set the right examples.