Interview with Dr Mohamed Moustafa Mahmoud, Executive Director of Madinah Institute of Leadership and Entrepreneurship (MILE), Knowledge Economic City, Madinah, Saudi Arabia. Details: IAIS Malaysia originated in the thoughts and ideas of its patron, Tun Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi, the Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, on the civilisational renewal of Islam. Based in Kuala Lumpur, IAIS Malaysia is dedicated to rigorous pursuit of objective academic research on Islam and contemporary issues of concern to Malaysia, the ummah and Islam’s engagement with other civilisations. The Islamic revivalist discourse of recent decades has often voiced sectarian, local and partisan concerns and has engaged itself in minor issues such as what people eat and wear, is ideology driven, and hardly addresses issues of good governance and economic development. It also pays scant attention to the broader universal teachings of Islam. Interview Session:
- MILE was born of the recognition that the ummah is currently having a leadership deficit. What constitutes good leadership and how do we recognize this ability in a person?
Leaders are made not born. If you have the desire and willpower, you can become an effective leader. Good leaders develop through a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience. A leader has a vision. Leaders see a problem that needs to be fixed or a goal that needs to be achieved. It may be something that no one else sees or simply something that no one else wants to tackle. Whatever it is, it is the focus of the leader’s attention and they attack it with a single-minded determination. Leaders dream dreams.They refuse to let anyone or anything get in the way of achieving those dreams. They are realistic, but unrelenting. They are polite, but insistent. The constantly and consistently drive forward toward their goal. A good leader has an exemplary character, is enthusiastic about their work or cause and also about their role as leader, is confident, functions in an orderly and purposeful manner in situations of uncertainty, is tolerant of ambiguity, has the skillset to break down goals into manageable steps, is inspirational and understanding of his team’s strengths and weaknesses and finally is committed to excellence. And, I think it is important that I clarify here that leaders are not just managers. While the manager administers, the leader innovates. The manager maintains, the leader develops. The manager relies on systems, the leader relies on people. The manager does things right while the leader does the right thing. An organization with good management, but poor leadership, will preserve the status quo, but may not be able to advance to a higher level of performance. And this is what MILE aims to bring to the Muslim Ummah… Leaders, who will advance, innovate and inspire, not just preserve a status quo.
- In one hadith the Prophet (pbuh) gave us a very broad view of leadership in which each of us is in a sense a leader (the original word is ra‘in, implying something like a shepherd) and will be questioned about our subjects. If we take this broad view, how do we design the knowledge-content of leadership training and education so as to maximize the individual’s leadership potential and empower him with the ability to recognize the right leaders for specific roles?
Leadership in Islam is a trust (amanah). It represents a psychological contract between a leader and his followers that he will try his best to guide them, protect them and to treat them fairly and with justice. As you mentioned, in Islam, every person is the “shepherd” of a flock, and occupies a position of leadership, and here I believe Prophet Muhammad has brought to the light, one more extremely important trait of a leader which is responsibility. Too many leaders get caught up in thinking about power rather than their responsibility to those they lead. I think as Muslims we already have a head-start because we have so many excellent examples of leaders in our history. If we were to combine their traits and the contemporary teachings of leadership, the muslim Ummah would make remarkable strides of success. This is the MILE vision.
- As part of its leadership training program, MILE has placed emphasis on nourishing the specific strengths that the individual already has rather than on rectifying his many shortcomings. How far is this viable strategy in developing all-round leaders rather than leaders with only a limited field of competence?
Well, actually it is important to identify both your strengths and shortcomings in order to become an effective leader. At the end of all our programs we have an executive coaching session where each executive gets a one-on-one with a professional coach with the aim of facilitating learning new behavior for personal growth and professional advancement as well as working on weaknesses. One of the other ways we, at MILE, develop all-round leaders is through providing programs that are not just focused on theory but programs that develop the individual as a whole; mentally, socially, spiritually and physically. To develop the mental area of the leader we provide a wide-range of speakers from top business schools, consulting and training companies, pre-program assessments, case-studies and best-selling books. To develop the spiritual area we have a visit to Islamic sites in Madinah, Islamic values presentations and daily morning Quran sessions. To develop the social area, we provide executive coaching, team building activities, image consulting and networking opportunities. Finally to develop the physical area of leaders we provide dietary advice at the program, daily morning exercises, a medical checkup (sponsored by International Medical Center) and only offer healthy fresh food at event brunches and dinners.
- Being located at the new Knowledge Economic City (KEC) in Madinah, MILE has, it seems, positioned itself as part of the vision to establish the country as the global educational hub. How do you see following Western business models for training executives, to advance Muslim enterprises in a more Islamic direction?
It is important that Muslim enterprises learn and apply concepts from successful Western Business Models without losing their identity. Mirroring or replicating is not a trait of a successful leader. Rather great leaders are ones who can take the best of knowledge from others but also be innovators who can make use of their distinguished skillsets and resources.