Leadership is a mess
5 min read

What is leadership for you? What do you expect from a leader? Take a moment to think about it. 

Leadership is not easy to define because it’s unclear what we’re talking about. 

A definition 

Within a certain context, leadership is the relationship between 2 persons – one is leading, the other is following.  

Successful leadership is a complex interaction between the unique context, the leader, the follower, and the relationship. 

The nature of the relationship 

A leader can inspire, influence, or impose.  

  • Inspiring: the leader brings something out of the follower 
  • Influence: the leader brings something out of himself 
  • Impose: the follower is not involved 

1. The Leader 

The leader leads towards something. He knows where he’s going. He takes his people on a path to reach a certain goal or destination. 

Knowing is not enough for a leader. He needs to be able to communicate about his goal. 

2. The Follower 

The follower follows the opinions, the teachings, or the instructions of a leader. 

The efficiency of the follower will depend on the leader, the relationship, the context, and the purpose of a follower. 

In a good leadership situation, the follower is a critical thinker who assesses the leader. On the other way, the leader gives space to the follower to grow and become a leader.  Both the leader and the follower can benefit from this 2-way process. 

3. The Context 

The context is where leadership is applied. It can be at the office, family, community… 

A leader can be successful in one context and a total failure in another.  

Understanding the context is critical. 

Also, depending on the context, you can oscillate between leading and following in the same day. We are all leaders somewhere.  

What do we expect from a Leader? 

1. Competence 

It is the single universal quality that you expect from any leader, in any context. 

Competence is the way you use your knowledge in a specific way. 

Authority is a by-product of competence. 

2. Accountability 

Leaders can go wrong. Leaders can abuse their authority. Being able to assess them and correct them is important to reach the objectives. 

What Islam has to offer in Leadership? 

Perfection is the goal 

Even if it’s not attainable, seeking perfection in what we do, should be the goal for Muslim leaders and followers. 

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: 

“Verily, Allah loves someone when he works, he does it perfectly.” 

When Allah loves us, He blesses us, He protects us and He extends his mercy on us.  

That the Creator of the skies and the earth loves us, it’s enough reason to perfect our work. 

Seeking perfection includes gaining competence. 

The foundation of leadership 

God-consciousness (Taqwa) is a core principle of Islam. Taqwa has different meanings. Primarily, it is the state of alertness and hyper-vigilance that the believer has while performing any action. In everything he does, the believer seeks Allah’s pleasure and stay away from what would earn him His displeasure. 

Taqwa has been mentioned more than 100 times in the Quran. For a reason- Taqwa is something we need to constantly be reminded of it because we don’t really do it. 

We develop Taqwa by worshipping God. We do something physical to gain something spiritual. For instance, the reason for fasting is to increase our Taqwa. During Ramadan, the heart is getting stronger by fighting the needs of the body for 30 consecutive days! 

“O Mankind! Worship your Lord Who created you, and those before you, so that you may become God-conscious.”  (Qur’an2:21) 

“O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you—as it was for those before you—so that you may become God-Conscious”  (Qur’an2:183) 

Taqwa takes time to develop. However, when we understand this single core principle, it becomes easier for leaders and followers to live by certain qualities like integrity, fairness, or caring about others.  

Taqwa can also increase the sense of accountability. No one can ensure constantly that we’re performing our duties correctly. But God is All-Knowing. We can’t escape our accountability to Him. 


In leadership, everything needs to be ethical in Islam – the principles, the means, and the goals. 

A demoralized way of leading is at the opposite of the principles of Islam. 

Leadership style 

  • Servant leadership: it is a universal concept that has been around for centuries. Probably, the most-known ancient metaphor for a leader is one of a Shepherd. The servant-leader believes in serving people first and making their needs a priority. This is the Muslim way of Leadership. (You will find about the servant leadership in my article “The Shepherd”
  • Shura (consultation): it’s one of the principles of Islam. The leader consults his followers and makes them participate in the decision-making process. The leader should make up his mind after the consultation and not before. The followers should make suggestions in a humble way without fear of blame or criticism for speaking up. 

The leader uses the best of his capabilities to make a sound decision. He can’t never sure that is 100% right. That’s why the leader doesn’t trust his decision, he trusts Allah. And so, do the followers – they trust God in the leader’s decision. Even if the follower thinks he’s right; he must follow the leader. In the end, the cohesion of a group is far more important than 1 individual being right. 

“Those who answer the call of their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who conduct their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance” (Quran 42:38) 

“and consult them in the affairs. Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah, certainly, Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).”  (Quran 3:159)