The Prophet as a Team Leader

Ismail Noor

The function of a team is to create a higher performance. It has been well proven that soundly-structured teams produce admirable results. Teams have been around since the beginning of civilisation's history. The building of the Great Wall, the charge of the light brigade, and the first outer spacce expedition to the moon were the outcomes of superior teamwork. No one person could have done it alone, alothough it is possible of course for one person to create such an imapct on others that history is shaped. Thus in the course of history we see great people like Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Mother Teressa, Confucius, Columbus, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Ghandi, and Napolean grace the annals of human achievements by leading others to accomplish.

 The greatest of all leaders of men is the Prophet Muhammad who is ranked by a western academic as the most influential person in history. The issue of team leadership is significant to the Islamic ummah, or the usrah (family). In the Islamic context, a team comprises three or more people manageably getting together for an altruistic purpose. Thus when a group of people get together with a motive to do something worthwhile, they should appoint from among themselves a qiadah (leader) to provide the guidance and counsel so that the team does not go astray. Of course, the one selected to be the leader should be the most competent of the lot to get the job done or the mission accomplished. In the study of the Prophet's sunnah, team leadership was an important criterion in mission attainment.

 A team comprises a group of purposeful people working together in an extraordinary way, trusting one another, complementing each other's strengths, and compensating each other's limitations. A team embraces collective superordinate goals that are larger than any of the individual goals, and together they produce superior results.

 Effective, high performance teams continously work together in attaining their mission, one at a time. A team, therefore, cannot simply be a random get-together of individuals with no specific agenda. It must have a purpose. It must be focused. Members of the team must develop shared values in action.

 In the Prophet's seerah, such teams are collectively called 'tanzim haraki'.

 The term tanzim refers to a disciplined, organised, coordinated and interpersonally connected team of people who together set to achieve a common predetermined goal. They are led by a qiadah (leader), who is responsible for managing their well-being while striving  to realise their mutually shared objectives. In doing so, the members who are regulated by the tanzim are bound by a code of conduct and set of rules or regulations that define their rights and obligations to get the job done. It is obligatory on the part of both the leader and followers to abide by the code and specific guidelines.

 The word haraki implies a movement of people in a joint action. In modern development, we often hear of the 'saemaul undong' movement of South Korea, which evokes peoples at all levels. In contemporary South Africa, the government has embarked on a synergistic campaign they call Masakhane (Nguni: Let us build together!), which conveys the spirit of the people's attempts to create a concerted movement to build a nation from apartheid to democracy evoking a deep sense of community belonging and pride.

 Every single member of the team is accountable for the due performance so that collectively they are able to synergie and accomplish the mission. It is important for each member to understand his function and role in the team by contributing a specific knowledge/skill and performing in a defined manner. Everyone in the team is help responsible for the success of the team as a whole, and this requires that each member must be continually alert and responsive to the collective needs. As in the saying: 'A chain is only as strong as its weakest link'.

 In order for the team to be effective, a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis has to be done to assess the team's individual and collective capabilities. What needs to be avoided is the prevalence of one too many 'champions' who may be good individually but perform miserably as a team. So-called champions will have to be moulded into 'team players' either bt positive conditioning or training.

 The Prophet of Islam had carefully chosen the membership of his tanzim haraki Islami, from the ranks of those who subscribed to the Oneness of Allah, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as the final Messenger. Out of these he chose the leaders, who then assumed the roles of military commanders, governors, judges, proselytisers, tax collectors, administrators and others.

 Archimese, the most famous mathematician and inventor of ancient Greece in the 3rd century BC said, "Give me a lever long enough... and single-handedly I can move the world".

 Prophet Muhammad had the Quran as the lever to greatness, and with the revealed knowledge, he played the role of 'designer team leader'. As the designer leader, he created such a profound and sweeping influence. Over the relatively short duration of 23 years since prophethood, he inspired and grand-designed an empire sprawling territorially from North Africa into Spain, Syria, Iran, INdia, Southeast Asia and into Far Eastern China - an empire that was rich in culture, theology, science, administration, and commerce.

 Throughout history, leaders who play the designer role do not conscientoously seek to hog the limelight. They prefer to work quietly, conscientiously, and dedicatedly to achieve their superordinate vision of greatness. Those who practice this style of leadership truly find deep satisfaction in empowering others who in turn feel superbly motivated being a part of an organisation producing the kind of results they are really proud of.

 In todays realpolitik modern world, the leader as designer role is much neglected. Many modern team leaders, whether they be at unit, departmet, organisation, national, international or even global levels, fall prey to their syahawah (desires) and crave for fame, control, and even self-centeredness on the pretext of being action-orientated. The ancient Chinese philosopher of around 500 BC, Lao-tzu, was quoted as having said: "A bad leader is he who people despise. The good leader is he who the people praise. The great leader is he who the people (the followers) say: 'he made it look as if we did it ourselves!'". Such is the magnanimous challenge facing team leadership.

 It should be a fact of life that any sound person can perform the role of a leader, one that is either de jure (one who has the legal right to lead/manage) in form or de factor (unofficially or situationally positioned to lead) in practice.

 A team should have an identity to stand up to and be recognised.
 Identity refers to a state of being certain about oneself regarding purpose, philosophy, character, and reason for existence (raison d'etre). The tam;s identity reflects its distinguishing character and is oftem emblazoned with a coat-of-arms, the unfurling of a flag, the displaying of a banner, the presentation of a logo, or the wearing of a badge. Sometimes a slogan is chanted to echo the team's clarion call. In the Battle of Badr, and in his subsequent ghazawah (campaigns), the Prophet held his own banner to lead his warriors into battle.

 A team that is devoid of a stated ientity is said to be saddled with an identity crisis.

 When the Prophet migrated with his lotal companion, Abu Bakr as-Sadiq to Medinah in the year 622 AD, he proposed to the believers that the new Islamic city-state should assume a political identity. This suggestion was openly recieved by both the Muhajiroon and the Ansar. The political structure would prevent the continuance of internal strife before the onset of Islam. It would further strengthen the city-state's integrity from possible esternal threats and attacks. After articulating his plan, the Prophet moulded his proposal into the first written State Constitution (Al-Dustur).

 Among the landmark changes the Prophet initiated were:

  1. The abolishment of slavery and class distinction.
    The Prophet had enfranchised his slave, Zaid ibn Harithah. By this act alone, it conveyed to society that slavery was not tolerated. Withing the city-state of Medinah, there was no distinction between the ruler and the ruled. There were to be no barriers of class, colour, or descent. The Prophet decreed, "The noblest in the sight of God Almighty is the one who is most virtous among men". The new Islamic state was a haven for all, male or female, and everyone belonged to One God, subject to His revealed laws. The master-slave relationship, as traditionally practised, was condemned. Islam took its roots in Madinah, and some rabbis and Jewish scholars even became Muslim.
  2. Injunctions to prayer, zakat, fasting and quality of life
    With the establishment of the political and administrative entity came several authoratative divine orders from God Almighty for the holistic well-being of the community. The call for daily prayers, facing the Kabah, was adhered to. Other dutiful obligations which the believers must fulfill included fasting to attain wellness of mind, body and soul. The zakat was offered by those who could afford as a welfare due to seek purification of one's earnings:

    "The likeness of those who expend their wealth in the way of Allah is as the likeness of a grain of corn that sprouts seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains. So Allah multiplies where He wills. Allah is the All-Embracing, the All-Knowing" [Surah al-Baqarah (2): 261]
     Wine and gambling which used to dominate life in medinah and which caused tumultous scenes, were now prohibited:

     "O you who believe, liquor and gambling, idols and raffles, are only some filthy work of Satan; avoid them so thatyou may prosper. Satan only wants to stir up enmity and jealousy among you by means of liquor and gambling, and to hinder you from remembering God and from praying. So will you refrain?" [Surah al-Maidah (5): 90-91]

     The Prophet and his core team of followers not only spent time formalising the ritual side of Islam. Verses were judiciously revealed for the guidance of the believers, such as matters pertaining to economic activities, social codes of behaviour, and parameters for their political well being.
  3. Brotherhood (mu'akkah)
     The Messenger of Allah forged inter-communcal unity by establishing a brotherhood between the Muhajiroon and the Ansar. They were obliged to sincerely help one another. The Ansar were so eager to form the brotherhood that they had to queue up to allocate their shares to the immigrant brothers. The Ansar gave the Muhajiroon authority over their homes, furniture, land, and animal stock and preferred their bretherns over themselves in any way. This selfless, altruistic gesture emulated the Prophet's own way of living.

     An Ansar would say to a Muhajiroon, "Have whichever half of my property you want" and the Muhajir would say, "May Allah bless you and your family and your property! But show me the marketplace and we will maintain ourselves by working for our living". The Muhajiroon, being traditionally traders, had to adjust themselves to the new agricultural environment of their counterparts in order to co-exist. The Prophet exhorted them, "Fraternise in the cause of Allah, for you are brothers!"

     In fact, in the context of modern management, the system of 'mu'akkah' is akin to what is today known as 'mentoring'.

     While mu'akkah' is much more concentrated, mentoring involves the skills of coaching, counselling, and role modelling. These three functions in mentoring were already the infused into the way of life of relationships in Madinah between the Ansar and their Muhajirun brothers in faith. The aim was to foster closeness in relationships, transfer agricultural and trading skills between each other, and become role models in adhering to the faith of Islam by following the prophet's leadership by example.

 The Prophet of Islam exercised 'team balance' in getting the best out of his companions. As the Prophet of Allah he was the de jure leader. But he recognised that his companions could also individually play the role of de facto leaders since he took pains to study the individual strengths and weaknesses of each of them. He enabled them to contribute to the leadership role as and when the specific situation demanded. Thus he was ready to acknowledge the skills and expertise of each of his companions, calling upon them to help him out in a sipplementary role when needed.

 Madinah fast became a dynamic hub of activity embracing the Islamic sharia. Muhammad was revered not only as a Prophet but also as the political and administrative leader of the newly structured city-state. He even made a covenant with the traditionally hostile Jewish population, granting them freedom to practice their religion, allowing them to keep their property and wealth.

 The Prophet is acknowledge as an exemplary team leader who knew how to get the best out of his principal lieutenants by understanding the true value of the the human resource factor.

 Among his many companions were leaders of varied personalities and competencies. By being constantly mindful of their differing qualities and strengths, he was able to galvanise their efforts towards the attainment of shared superordinate goals. The ability to forge cohesive and results-orientated team with a deep sense of mission is only possible if one is able to exercise team balance to attain predetermined outcomes. The prophet's own competencies are highlighted thruogh his execution of some 23 military cmapaigns, the building of a city-state at Medinah, as well as the establishment of diplomatic relations with dominant foreign powers.

 Effective team-working stems form people contemplating, rather than rivalling each other or merely co-existing alongside one another. It involves understanding the key objectives, creating a shared sense of mission or purpose, being alert, and braving the odds.

 This will set out the tenets of team synergy thruogh the process of mutual consultation - cross comparing it to some of the modern precepts of team efficiency.

 This module will analyse the composition of the Prophet's lead team (the Majlis Syura) and rationalise its effectiveness through understanding the functional and persinality roles. This module will then go on to discuss the modern concept of team balance by analysing a project team's efficiency.

 It has been said that, "The essence of a team is that its members form a cooperative and coordinating association through a division of tasks that best reflects the contribution that each can make towards the common objectives" This necessitates at the outsett that the common objectives are well communicated and understood, thus creating a sense of mission, purpose or goal.

 The governance of the city-state of Medinah was at the hands of the Majlis Syura, or the Consultative Council. The leading members of this team included:
 (Name: Personal Strength/Character : Designation)

  1. Abu Bakr (raa): Cool, composed, self posessed with robust common sense. Prophets close friend. He was a close confidante and the first caliph.
  2. Umar (raa): Strong-willed, explosive, short-tempered, and sentimental, but had immense common sense. Remarkable capacity to own up to his rash decisions. teoman and second caliph.
  3. Uthman (raa): Unassuming, returing, forgiving, forbearing, and large-hearted. Wealthy businessman of the Umayyad clan of the Quraish. Hjgh in esteem. Generously donated to the cause, principled. The Prophets personal envoy to Makkah, and third caliph.
  4. Ali (raa): Man of letters, gentlemanly, independent minded. very close to the Prophets family, corageous. Fourth caliph, and moved the capital to Kufah.
  5. Zaid (raa): Intelligent, with the ability to read and write, learned and competant. Recorded the Quran. The Prophet's official scribe.
  6. Abd Rahman Awf(raa): Excellent physique and features, stood by the prophet through thick and thin. Trusted and respected by all. Of very high integrity. Secerely wounded at the battle of uhud. One of Umar's trusted luitenants. Presided Committee of Six.
  7. Salman (raa): Persian born, originally a Christian, brought and freed from slavery by the Prophet. Sincere paragon of piety, wisdom and learning and a denizen of the house of the Prophet. made governor of Kufah by caliph Umar.
  8. Ubayy (raa): Regarded as front-ranked jurist in the early days of Islam: Scribe for recording the Quran

 The mode of team leadership we can look at as a comparative analysis is based upon the mnemonic acronym BEST, as elucidated by an authority in this field, Dr Meredith Belbin:

  • Balance the team:
    the leader must ensure that the team is either balanced, or that the imbalances are well understood and compensated for. In the Prophet's Majlis Syura, the team composition is well balanced as each of them executes a specific function and plays a definitive role
  • Exploit the diversity:
    the members of the team are different, perhaps requiring different strokes. It is a key task of the leader to ensure that everyone is made to contribute (nobody is dysfunctional) and that all the diverse skills and attributes are brough to bear. The Prophet knew how to exploit the diverse strengths of each one of his team members and created an effective leadership succession framework.
  • Share the goal:
    the leader must make sure that everyone understands and agress exactly what it is that the team is trying to achieve together. This also involves giving feedback so that members truly understand where they are in terms of attaining the goal. For every manor campaign, the Prophet ensured that each key member of his team knew in advance what was in store in tersm of strategy, objectives and attainment standards.
  • Trust the team:
    the leader cannot and must not do it all alone, for no man is an islan. Indeed the leaders contribution should be to concentrate on making the team work together. the leader must trust the team and act as a mention to get on with the job at hand and allow them to requisite freedom they need to get the mission well executed. The Prophet assigned specific roles to each of his companions whenever they were assigned important tasks within the framework of the tanzim haraki (team efficiency)

 May Allah have mercy and guide us all, ameen.

 [Ismail Noor, Prophet Muhammad's Leadership The Paragon of Excellence Alruistic Management: A Cross Application to Modern Management and Leadership Practise, pp 51-58]

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