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Leadership Lessons from the Quran

Leadership Lessons from the Quran 1

Do you remember ever being ridiculed at school or elsewhere during your childhood?

Whether the reason for it was your dress, style of talking, or lack of expertise in a certain field or at a particular skill, ridicule by others never feels good.

In fact, it feels absolutely awful.

The thing about being young is, and this I speak from experience, that one tends to take the mockery, criticism and derision of rivals, envious peers, and openly hostile antagonists (whom the modern literati terms “haters”) too quickly to heart, thinking their harsh words about you to be true.

It is at this point, viz. when a child or young adult has their appearance, dreams, efforts, hard work, or abilities mocked and jeered at by others, that the role of the compassionate and sympathetic older mentor, leader, teacher, trainer or parent comes in, to play a crucial ‘rescue’ part: revitalizing the dejected youth’s plunging self-esteem and saving them from giving up on their dreams.

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It is when any youngster is at an all-time low level of disheartenment that an older mentor’s reassurance and sympathetic encouragement saves the day for them, helping them get back up on their feet and believe in themselves again.

The stories of the Prophets of Allah that occur in the Quran impart to us invaluable lessons related to effective leadership, especially regarding their attitude and behavior during the trying and difficult times in their lives, when the going got really tough for these Prophets and for the scattering of their mostly economically weak and young followers.

The story of Prophet Nuh (peace be upon him) is just one such lesson-imparting example. What stands out about his particular story of resilience in face of difficulties is that he preached to his nation for 950 years, but only a small number of them became believers.

When the time for their salvation approached, Allah ordered him to start building an ark or boat, which would save them from the drowning that was destined for their transgressive nation.

Allah is the Source of All Innovative Solutions

then guides them to create something that will bring benefit to countless peoples

The first lesson in entrepreneurship and leadership that we can glean from this, is that it is Allah who places ground-breaking new ideas and creative thoughts for building solutions for mankind into the minds of some individuals, and then guides them to create something that will bring benefit to countless peoples and the other nations of the world, even after the inventors themselves are long dead and gone.

Any invention that was created in the history of humankind, therefore, was the result of an idea that Allah placed in the minds of a select few individuals, henceforth guiding them further, through trial and error, to pursue the actualization of that idea via their natural creative streak and sheer, persistent hard work, in order to build something that would bring incessant benefit to the world, e.g. the telephone, the first wheel, the first airplane, and the Internet.

Leadership Lessons from the Quran 2Just as Allah was the one who guided Prophet Nuh to build the Ark via His inspiration, so was He the One Who guided others among mankind to create or build other innovative objects and inventions.

This is a very important lesson to keep in mind whenever one of us desires to bring about change in the world; to leave behind a legacy of incessant benefit to mankind: that it is only Allah Who can inspire any one of us to become such a pioneer of change.

Because truly, there is no source of benefit except Allah.

Creating a Solution Needs Teamwork

it takes teamwork and a collaborative, step-by-step group effort to bring it to fruition

The second significant leadership lesson that we can derive from the story of how Prophet Nuh built the ark with his small team of supportive followers, is that no matter how great an idea for an innovative solution, it cannot be accomplished alone: it takes teamwork and a collaborative, step-by-step group effort to bring it to fruition.

The ark that Prophet Nuh and his followers were building comprised of three levels or floors, and was approximately 30 cubits in height, 80 cubits in length, and 50 cubits in breadth. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)

There was no way that he could have built such a huge wooden structure alone. Yet, anyone who has started a company or launched a startup will vouch for the fact that it is not easy to hire, train, motivate and manage a group of people to accomplish a company’s goals.

It takes extraordinary patience and managerial skills, not to mention compassion and empathy, to manage, train and inspire a dedicated workforce to accomplish the company’s goals and get the job done optimally, within the designated time period.

As I mentioned above, despite da’wah efforts spanning more than 9 centuries, Prophet Nuh had but just a small number of righteous believers on his side who then helped him build the massive ark:

{….but only a few believed with him.} (11:40)

Even though Prophet Nuh knew that Allah was with him, dedicatedly working towards a difficult goal with just a small band of young workers can still be daunting, especially if that small group is constantly being antagonized by the powerful chiefs of a society (more on that below).

So what is the next valuable leadership lesson that we can thus learn from Prophet Nuh?

To never underestimate the power and prowess of a small group, startup or company, especially if its vision and goals are divinely inspired and endorsed.

To continue working together with unrelenting dedication and persistence, in face of all odds, until the help of Allah comes at its decreed time.

To never give up!

Ignore Naysayers to Keep on Working

I find it amazing that Prophet Nuh actually responded to their mockery!

Perhaps the most difficult part of Prophet Nuh’s work of building the ark once the construction work had commenced, was dealing with the derisive remarks, taunts and mockery of the powerful and wealthy chieftains of his nation, whenever they passed by him and his small party, and saw them working with wood and other raw materials.

{Forthwith he (starts) constructing the Ark. Every time the chiefs of his people passed by him, they ridiculed him. He said: “If you ridicule us now, we (in our turn) can look down on you with ridicule likewise!”} (11:38)

{But soon will you know who it is on whom will descend a penalty that will cover them with shame,- on whom will be unleashed a penalty (that is) lasting.} (11:39)

I find it amazing that Prophet Nuh actually responded to their mockery! This is because, many a time in the modern-day corporate and business world, when a young professional with lofty dreams of achieving great success becomes the target of antagonistic behavior by the higher-ups at his or her workplace, he is usually advised to ignore the jibes of these toxic coworkers until it fizzles out and goes away on its own.

However, despite the economically and socially weaker status of Prophet Nuh and his followers, he chose to respond to the taunts of the wealthier chieftains regarding his team’s construction work, with not just a dire threat to them of a forthcoming humiliating punishment, but also with the threat that he too, along with his group, would ridicule them one day, just the way they were ridiculing him.

The next leadership lesson that we can derive, therefore, from Prophet Nuh’s inspiring story, is that it takes immense inner courage and strength to stand up to one’s bullies and antagonists, all the while continuing one’s hard work in pursuit of one’s dreams.

Bullies are everywhere, and as I mentioned at the start of this article, it is more often the younger lot amongst us who get quickly disillusioned by the taunts, verbal ridicule and derisive behavior of their rivals and enemies – whether at school, college, their office, or even within their so-called “friends” clique.

Never let the scorn and mockery of your antagonists and “haters” let you stop the positive and good work that you are doing in the pursuit of your lofty goals.

Your success is the best “revenge” to their hate!

End Result: Deliverance and Salvation

Though it takes its time coming, the promised reward of patience, hard work and sincerity to Allah’s cause are always sweet and long-lasting.

The initial phase of any startup or project is shaky, rickety, slow to gain momentum, and wrought with challenges. The key is to keep going without giving up.

It is also true that where there is potential for success, there is hate and antagonism.

No one feels threatened or intimidated by someone or a group that shows no sign of succeeding down the road.

It is just the ones with true potential for trail-blazing success that attract the naysayers and critics.

So if your critics mock you, you should actually take it as a compliment: you are now a force to reckon with!