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Written by Louay Safi   
Oct 09, 2005 at 05:36 AM
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Visionary Leadership*
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A well-developed and articulated vision statement: a) brings constancy to the leader’s directives and stability to the organization; b) inspires and motivates members by relating their well-being and salvation to the organization’s mission and activities; c) eliminates confusion and misunderstanding and facilitates cooperation among group members and between leaders and followers; and d) reduces any conflict that might result from the absence of common commitments and values among organization members.

In addition to providing direction to the group, the articulated vision serves as a frame of reference for problem-solving activities. Solving problems, a crucial aspect of leadership, is not simply a matter of reacting spontaneously to challenges and events in a piecemeal fashion. Rather, problems must be dealt with on the basis of an overall vision that allows the group to provide appropriate responses, whereby problems are neither exaggerated nor underestimated, and whereby the actions undertaken do not complicate the overall task but ease difficulties and facilitate progress towards the ultimate goal.

Leaders must, therefore, be conceptualists and “people of ideas.” This is true regardless of whether the particular nature of the organization’s task is military, business, political, or otherwise. Good military leaders have always been outstanding strategists, capable of surprising their enemies with new movements and maneuvers. Similarly, good business leaders are usually distinguished entrepreneurs who bring new ideas and methods of doing things to their organizations. Likewise, effective political leaders are those who generate new ideas to overcome persistent problems.

In order for leaders to direct the activities of subordinates, they should have adequate expertise and knowledge of the organization's task as well as a sound understanding of the environment in which they operate. It is true that leaders can always call on the expertise of advisers and assistants, but their ability to utilize the advice received hinges on their capacity to compare and evaluate the opinions provided by their assistants. To do this successfully, leaders must be well grounded in the task of their organizations and well informed about the internal and external work atmosphere. It would be impossible to judge the value of the advice received if they are completely dependent on the knowledge of others.

Being competent in the types of activities pursued by the organization does not mean that the leader should be submerged in technical and detailed decisions. While mid-level leaders are expected to provide technical guidance to their subordinates, high-ranking leaders should concentrate on strategic planning and fix their eyes on long-range goals. Top leaders should ensure that details are given adequate attention by their subordinates while avoiding getting distracted by involving themselves in detailed decisions.

Leaders' responsibilities do not end at planning and making decisions, for they also have to implement plans and execute decisions. The latter requires a deep conviction in one's mission and a great deal of resolve to pursue it despite all difficulties. The profundity of a leader's conviction is often revealed in the firmness displayed in the face of opposition and resistance to his/her plans. It was Abu Bakr's strong belief that his mission was to reinforce and sustain the political order established by the Prophet that gave him the strength to stand firmly behind his decision to fight the apostates. While his firmness was seen by many of his contemporaries as unnecessary, we can see today with hindsight how crucial this firmness was for the future of the rising Islamic movement.

One final aspect of the leader's role as a source of direction to be emphasized

relates to their qualities of courage and taking risks, for one important dimension of effective leadership is that true leaders always strive to promote and improve prevailing conditions and are not afraid to challenge the status quo. This explains why leaders are most needed in times of crisis and turbulence, when the impetus for change is quite great. In ordinary times when societal institutions are functional, society can continue to function even in the absence of strong leadership, for many of the emerging problems can be solved by established procedures and rules. But as institutions begin to experience dysfunction, strong leadership becomes indispensable.

Communication

The second task of leaders is to communicate their vision to others in ways designed to generate the strong commitment needed to serve as a support to achieve the desired goals. In mobilizing the resources needed to achieve the organization’s goals, the first responsibility leaders have is to persuade the organization’s members to commit themselves to the proposed vision.

Persuasion should take place on different levels and through various mechanisms. For this reason, leaders should be good public speakers who can speak with zeal and clarity and convey their message to different groups of people via language that can be understood easily by a variety of audiences. Muhammad ibn al Hasan al Muradi (d. 489 A.H.) emphasized in his al Isharah fi Tudbir al ‘Imarah, which was written at the request of the Murabitun leader Yahya bin ‘Umar, the importance of the leader gearing the language to be used to the audience’s intellectual level. Instructing Yahya on the manner of effective communication, he wrote:

Your speech should be clear, intelligible, and succinct to the people of stature, elaborate to simple-minded people, and in between to the moderate. Every uttered word should have some utility and should contain some benefit. [Further,] your voice should neither be loud nor faint, but moderate in expressing the successive letters. You should [also] avoid both vulgar terms which are overused by commoners, as well as unfamiliar jargon which is distasteful even to the educated.[11]


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