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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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The statements of effective leaders should not only be convincing, but moving and inspiring as well. These leaders usually combine eloquence and skillful use of words with passion and sentimental expression throughout their message and thus touch the hearts of their audience and inspire their imagination. The inspiration emanating from effective leaders does not come merely from the tone of their message, but also from its content as well. Their message is challenging, inspires people to exert themselves, and calls upon them to strive towards higher grounds. In their attempt to motivate their followers to undertake the proposed mission, effective leaders manage to address the latter’s various interests and concerns and to inspire people with different motives and needs. A good example of such a technique can be found in the speech delivered by Khalid bin al Walid to his army before a decisive battle with the Sasanides.

Realizing that people are motivated by both spiritual and material needs, he impressed upon his soldiers that their triumph over the enemies could not onIy be a pathway to attaining the pleasure of God by fulfilling their obligations towards Him, but one that could bring great improvements in their material conditions:

Do you not see that food is as plenty [here] as the soil; by Allah if we did not have to fight for meeting the requirements of jihad and for calling to the way of Allah, but only for acquiring livelihood, sound judgment dictates that we should strive to take these territories over, and to leave hunger to whoever chose to sit still.''[12]

Communication should not, however, be limited to public speeches, and leaders should not rely exclusively on writing memoranda and issuing directives, for such a situation would produce an impersonal and one-sided communication. Public talks and written instructions are not conducive to creating a close and personal interaction between leaders and followers, since these forms of communication make it possible for leaders to ignore or remain unaware of the views of their subordinates and incorporate them into their plans and decisions and makes it impossible for them to respond to their grievances and concerns. It is incumbent on leaders, therefore, to mingle with followers, subordinates, and those who stand on the receiving end of the organization's services.

While communication skills and the leader's ability to put forth a powerful and moving message is very crucial for motivating followers, their mobilization cannot be achieved merely by oratorical skills. Leaders must present an example of exemplary behavior to their followers. They must uphold their vision through their actions and maintain unwavering commitment to the principles and values they promote. A superior who asks his subordinates to sacrifice time or money while exempting himself cannot lay any claim to leadership.

Nothing could be more damaging to an organization than to prevent an adequate flow of information or to suppress discussion and the exchange of ideas and views. Without an honest and open discussion and exchange of views between leaders and followers within the organization, many of the positions taken and the views developed would be based on rumor and speculation, and an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust would take over. To develop trust, leaders must keep their followers informed about the nature of the decisions made and the reasons for making them. Whenever possible, followers should be consulted on important issues and encouraged to participate in the analysis, formulation, implementation, and evaluation of important policies. Al Muradi enumerates four reasons for a leader to engage subordinates in decisions:

First, the inadequacy of the knowledge available to the one seeking counsel for making a decision. Second, his fear of committing mistakes in assessing (the situation) even when he is not lacking (in knowledge). Third, the possibility that despite his intelligence and skills, the (emotions of) love and hate could prevent him from making the right decision. .  . And fourth, when the person consulted is partner or supporter in an action, his engagement in decision would encourage him to render his utmost effort and support, because the action reflects his choice. [emphasis mine][13]

As al Muradi points out, the commitment of the group members of their organization's objectives and goals can be enhanced greatly when decisions reflect their consensus. For this reason, the group's overall unity and harmony should be post-discursive—i.e. a harmony obtained through discussion and exchange of views with the intent of achieving consensus.

Only consensual harmony should be sought, because it is harmony based on a shared vision and strong commitment. Pre-discursive harmony resulting from a suppression of discussion and questioning may ensure short-term peace within the group but would lead inevitably either to stagnation, as the decisions made by the leadership are deprived of the insight of others and as initiative would be suppressed, or to sudden disintegration when the level of discontent reaches the level of crisis.

Leaders must encourage two-way communication, which ensures a steady flow of information from top to bottom, and listen to their followers' views, ideas, and complaints. To do this, they should not rely on public speaking and discussion alone, but should utilize one-on-one communication with followers at all organizational levels. An effective leader has to be easygoing and possess a healthy sense of humility so as to have a genuine desire to listen to others' views. In addition, he/she should have a sense of humor in order to overcome the barrier of distance and hierarchy. To have genuine communication, it is not enough for the leader to have an occasional discussion with those who stand on the receiving end of the line of command. Rather, he/she must be able to break the ice and convey a sense of genuine interest in the people and, through the right attitude and gestures, stimulate a sense of security and togetherness so that the climate is set for an honest and candid expression of opinions.


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