leadership

Running a Masjid is a Lot Like Bikeshedding

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Bike what? I had an epiphany after understanding bikeshedding. It's very difficult to not get giddy while writing this, because I think I have finally stumbled upon the ultimate answer - why are Masjids always focused on the manifest destiny of construction and expansion at the expense of things that actually matter to the community?

In essence:

Parkinson shows how you can go in to the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.

Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast, so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody else checked all the details before it got this far...

A bike shed on the other hand. Anyone can build one of those over a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV. So no matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is *here*.

In Denmark we call it "setting your fingerprint". It is about personal pride and prestige, it is about being able to point somewhere and say "There! *I* did that." It is a strong trait in politicians, but present in most people given the chance. Just think about footsteps in wet cement (source).

You might want to read that passage one more time before continuing. Let it sink in.

Check out the Wikipedia entry on Parkinson's Law of Triviality if you need more.

Here's how the story plays out (if you really want to have fun, pretend they're talking about a Masjid construction project),

The scene

The chapter is a transcript of a meeting of a finance committee. The participants are about to discuss the last three items on their agenda: the budget for building an atomic reactor, building a bicycle shed for the use of the clerical staff, and finally the refreshments supplied at meetings of the Joint Welfare Committee.

Let’s build an atomic reactor

The treasurer presents the 9th item on their agenda: approve the ten million pounds budget for building an atomic reactor. He distributes the plans and the related documents, and shares the concerns of the consultant engineers who previously stated that the reactor could not be finished before the deadline the sub-contractor signed for that there were details that were overlooked during the planning. The chairman thanks the treasurer for the detailed introduction and asks whether anyone has any questions. The committee has eleven members, and out of these eleven members, four - including the chairman - have no idea what a reactor is. Three don’t know what its purpose is. There are only two persons from the rest, who vaguely know how much it costs to build a reactor. Fortunately, both of them can speak up. So the first member suggests giving the assignment to another sub-contractor - a more reliable one - and involving other consultants.

The chairman thanks him for speaking up, but he says that it is too late to involve others in this project, and a significant amount of money has already been paid for the plans. If the committee decides to re-do the whole planning phase, it will cost a lot. Several members of the committee nod. Finally, the chairman asks the other person - you remember, the one who vaguely knows how much it costs to build a reactor - to speak up.

As it turns out, he is the only one who really knows something about building an atomic reactor, and not just vaguely. He also knows that the actual sub-contractor cannot be trusted, the ten million pounds is very strange, and has no idea how it was actually calculated. But he knows something else: the other members. He knows that it would take him a lot of time and effort to teach them the basics of nuclear physics so that they have a basic understanding of how atomic reactors work and what it takes to build one. So instead of speaking up and making this effort he simply says that he has nothing to add.

Since nobody disagrees, the chairman signs the document and moves to the next item on the agenda. The discussion of the 9th item took almost 3 minutes which doesn’t include the time that was necessary for distributing the documents. They are on schedule.

The bicycle shed

The next item is the budget for building a bicycle shed for the use of the clerical staff. But before the chairman delineates it, some of the members feel bad. They are not sure that they have made a good decision, and they promise themselves that they’ll prove later in the meeting that they are valuable members of the committee. The cost of building the bicycle shed is 350 pounds.

One of the members thinks that the price is too high, and suggests building the roof of shed from asbestos instead of aluminum. The other “roof experts” jump in, and one of them even suggests cancelling the project, because the staff doesn’t deserve a new shed.

The debate continues, because most of the members are able to understand what 350 pounds represents, and almost every one of them has seen a bicycle shed before. The whole debate takes 45 minutes with the prospective result of saving about 50 pounds. Now, everybody is happy, because they feel that they did something important, something that also provided results.

It's about spending a disproportionate amount of time on the things that don't matter versus the things that do. It's about shying away from the things you don't understand, and instead focusing on the things where you can take credit.

People who have no expertise in construction will take on masjid construction projects (and proceed to waste hundreds of thousands of fund-raised dollars unnecessarily) while actual experts are excluded or silenced. Why is it that a doctor will never entertain the medical advice of an engineer, but considers himself or herself an overnight authority on Masjid construction?

Why is the architect for a masjid construction project put through a more rigorous interview process than a potential imam - someone who is going to be spiritually raising the community's children for years to come?

The reality is, most of the time, board members aren't equipped to understand the community's problems. They are put in a position of trust to make decisions for the benefit of the community. This means finding an Imam who can lead them, spiritually nourish them, and help them grow. It means making sure you have a khateeb every single Friday that will deliver a positive and effective message. It means actually involving sisters, youth, and different ethnicities in a meaningful way without feeling threatened. These are the insecurities that caused everyone to debate the bicycle shed.

Hiring a youth director means acknowledging that youth have spiritual issues. It means admitting that your own child might be one of them. It means you have to find someone to entrust the community's youth to for guidance, direction, and mentorship. It means that the masjid might need to learn how to start dealing with drugs, alcohol, pornography addiction, teen pregnancies, physical and emotional abuse, and other such issues.

It's why board members will argue over things like how much to pay the cleaning staff, the budget for inviting a guest speaker, and where new classrooms should go. And it's exactly why while lost in all of that, they'll never pay attention to who is actually giving the Friday khutbah.

The incessant focus on Masjid expansion is a crutch for these types of people. It insulates you from actually dealing with real community issues. It gives you a wall to hide behind when trying to tell the community why you can't provide them qualified spiritual leadership. But most importantly, it gives board members something to point at.

They can point at a masjid while driving by and say, "I built that."

And that is all that it comes down to. All the money, all the elections, all the nasty politics. It's to be able to say in the end - I DID THAT.

Why don't board members attend halaqahs? Because it doesn't let them point at something. Why won't they hire people to help save their kids? Because that's not something you can point to (at least not in the immediate future - i.e. before the next election).

The most telling example though is moon-sighting. Masjid boards want to remove the Ramadan/Eid decision making from the imam, and instead adopt their own "policy" that is in agreement with their peers. Removing the decision making from the imam is the key point here. They simply don't have the knowledge to actually defend their stance, especially not with a scholar (or even a beginner student of knowledge).

Engaging in that conversation at a real level means that you have to get out of your comfort zone. You have to either acknowledge that you lack expertise, or you have to put in more work. Either way, it's like the example in the beginning of the atomic reactor. Figure out a way to make a quick decision and spend your time on something else. Don't worry about what's Islamically correct, or the fact that you're undermining the Islamic scholarship in your community - focus on which hall you want to make Eid in and on which day.

Once you understand this, you understand why communities stagnate. It comes down to one word - fear.

parkinson-e1365382620306Fear creates busy work. Instead of transformative work, work is created to fill time.

People are afraid of making change. They're afraid of putting themselves out there to actually transform the community, much less change the world. If you can't take the risk, if you can't be comfortable with your own shortcomings, then you'll just spend all your time arguing over the color of the bicycle shed. That's what happens when an imam's vision for a community exceeds that of the board. It gets into uncomfortable territory, and the imam is either let go or forced to move on.

Mediocrity is comfortable. Change causes fear.

Discussing handing over the reigns to the next generation takes work, and skill that might not be there. Pretending like it's not a problem to the point that the next generation gets skipped is easy. You can fill that time by coming up with another expansion project and the requisite fundraising for a few more years. And then when it's done, you can point to 3 new classrooms and let everyone know - "I did that."

Overcome this by rising to the challenge. Assess the actual needs of the community and start figuring out ways of addressing them. Don't let fear get in the way. It's ok if it will be unpopular, and it's ok if you're going to lose your position. It's even ok to let someone else take credit when things go well. Acknowledge that you're in a rut and take the uncomfortable steps to break out of it. Put in the time to learn the ins and outs of the tough decisions and stop filling your time with easy.

Anyone can do easy. You really want the reward of serving the community? Then actually serve the community. Let their needs shape your projects and decisions - not your own insecurities and need to feel involved or in control.

 

Bill Clinton: Put the Integrity in Your Effort

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In 1993, Michigan played UNC for the NCAA basketball championship. The famous Fab Five of Michigan was led by Chris Webber, who went on to become the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft. Michigan lost the championship game due, in part, to Chris Webber calling a time-out in the final seconds when his team did not have one, resulting in a technical foul.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QPB9NBUG2g

This incident has followed him throughout his career. Immediately after it happened, Bill Clinton (the president at the time) wrote Chris Webber a letter:

I have been thinking of you a lot since I sat glued to the TV during the championship game. I know that there may be nothing I or anyone else can say to ease the pain and disappointment of what happened. Still, for whatever it's worth, you, and your team, were terrific. And part of playing for high stakes under great pressure is the constant risk of mental error. I know. I have lost two political races and made countless mistakes over the last twenty years. What matters is the intensity, integrity, and courage you bring to the effort. That is certainly what you have done. You can always regret what occurred but don't let it get you down or take away the satisfaction of what you have accomplished. You have a great future. Hang in there.

Sincerely, Bill Clinton

(taken from Grantland)

No matter what line of work you're in, particularly when it comes to Islamic organizations, you will have failures. Some will be more spectacular than others. What differentiates those who bounce back and have spectacular success is that they bring the intensity, integrity, and courage to every aspect of their work. Or in another word, ihsaan [excellence]. 

 

Transparency in Leadership: Musa and Harun

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After returning from the mountain having left Harun (as) in charge for the 40 day period, Musa (as) finds the people worshipping a calf. This was clearly against what he commanded them with before leaving. He immediately turns to the one he left in charge to inquire about what happened. When someone is in a leadership position, their status does not preclude them from accountability and transparency. The questions Musa (as) asks are also important. Despite grabbing Harun's beard, he does not immediately jump to a conclusion. He asks intelligent questions to gauge what happened while giving Harun (as) a chance to respond.

See the explanation from Sh. Yahya Ibrahim below:

http://twitter.com/yahya_ibrahim/status/243297826174545920

http://twitter.com/yahya_ibrahim/status/243299050751942656

http://twitter.com/yahya_ibrahim/status/243299535072423936

 

Winning Franchises: 6 Lessons Muslim Organizations Can Learn from Sports

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Sports franchises mirror masjids and Muslim organizations in a number of ways. They have passionate fan bases (communities). People feel ownership over the franchise (masjid) they support. Franchises are constantly dealing with leadership issues, player development, and financial flexibility - all while maintaining a respectable level of success. When things go wrong, they get blasted out all over social media and everyone has an opinion on what happened and why. People's motives are called into question. Owners are blamed for things such as putting one goal (financial profits) over another, like the development of a championship team. With that in mind here's 6 important lessons that we can learn from sports franchises. 1. Hold onto your best talent.

Superstars may not be able to carry a franchise on their own - it takes a team effort -  but losing one can be devastating. In 1995 the Orlando Magic made the NBA finals with a young team featuring Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. After losing Shaq to the Lakers via free agency, the team was not able to make it to the finals again until 2009 - 15 years later. After losing Lebron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers went from a record of 61-21 and a trip to the conference finals to a record of 19-63 (good for 2nd to last place in the entire league).

Sometimes you might feel your superstars are under-delivering, or not progressing fast enough. The problem is they often don't get enough credit for simply keeping you afloat. You only miss them when they're gone, and you'll miss them dearly. Talented people often have a domino effect. If you get good talent, more will follow. If you lose it, you'll also lose not just the superstars, but the stars who supported them as well.

Always keep the team dynamics in mind. Sometimes an 'A' player may be a cancer and the team will cut him despite his immense talent (see: Owens, Terrell). A team full of 'B' players who inspire each other can be far more successful in these cases.

2. If you don't keep improving, others will pass you by.

Just because you enjoy a run of success doesn't make it okay to become complacent. Once you succeed, everyone else will try to match and beat your standard. If you can't push yourself higher, then others will pass you by. This is why even championship teams have to re-tool and improve.

It's great if your organization puts on a great event, class, seminar, or workshop. To be truly successful, you have to challenge yourself and hold yourself to a higher standard to keep improving. If you don't improve, you will alienate your fan base. In more tangible terms, this means that your attendance will drop, and so will your financial revenues (fundraising).

3. Salary cap.

Salary caps are a funny thing in professional sports. Taking basketball as a general example, the teams all have the same cap. Yet, every year there are teams that are perennial winners and perennial losers. There are teams with reputations for underpaying and not willing to chase after talented players.  And then there are teams that have a reputation for doing anything and everything possible to get the right guys as much money as they possibly can to put themselves in a position to win.

Limited finances are a reality of the world we live in. What most organizations lack are two things: 1) A Budget, 2) Priorities. I recently saw an Islamic position advertised for a director role that required a college degree and more than 3 years of experience, but the advertised salary was barely entry level pay. We can't fool ourselves into thinking that we can continually underpay and still get good talent. To get a person who can perform at the level we need, we must be aware of the market value of those skills, talents, and experience. Once it is identified, it is important to budget accordingly. This might mean making some cuts, and this is where priorities come into play.

Some teams will focus on winning and pay the players the asking price. Some teams will focus on running a profitable team only, even if it means losing. To me, the latter example is the same as an Islamic organization that invests in physical infrastructure before human resources.

Winning teams are able to sometimes spend more because they make up extra money through other means like television deals and advertising. It's not an entirely unrealistic thought to think that once people see a winning product, and see results, that they won't appreciate by way of spending more money out of their own pockets as well. Winning teams sell tickets and merchandise. Winning organizations more easily raise funds.

4. Superstar talent is developed.

Some of the most valuable assets to a sports franchise are its young prospects or draft picks. The reason is because of their potential. They take these young players and develop them.  They invest in them. They have them learn the system so that they can be successful. People like Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers weren't just overnight sensations. For the record, Aaron Rogers was a #24 overall pick, and Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round. This means that coming into it, every single team in the league passed on Brady 5 times. But they took him in, developed him, and he served as a backup for a number of years before finally breaking through.

Our communities are deluded by the YouTube effect. They see a certain dynamic personality online, and feel like they can just go out and hire someone like that. Unfortunately, this means they're left sitting around for years waiting on that one person to show up and save them. That superstar Imam is not walking through your door.

This causes communities to disregard the young talent they actually have at their disposal. They're not patient enough to invest in them. This can be done by sponsoring them to get their Islamic education. It can be done by involving them in the masjid administration. It can be done by having them mentor with the elders and experienced Imams in their locale. It just takes some time and commitment. It pains me to think how many superstars have been lost because no one worked to develop their potential.[pullquote]It pains me to think how many superstars have been lost because no one worked to develop their potential - via @Muslim_SI.[/pullquote]

5. Succession plan and mentorship.

This comes back to having a vision. Teams are constantly developing new personnel. Many popular head coaches (think community leaders) were unknown to the general public. They developed as assistant coaches first, developed a reputation, and then moved up. Some teams will publicly anoint a successor to their coach. The same is true of players. Teams will sometimes go out and sign a veteran player simply for his leadership and mentorship capabilities. They may have been able to get a more talented person instead, but will bring in the veteran for his influence over the chemistry and development of a team.

For difficult positions (quarterback, point guard) a young star is often mentored by an older player. This is how our imam position should be. Young talent should be identified and developed and mentored to grow into the position that the community (team) needs. Moreover, as a community develops younger talent, it is more likely that they will stay loyal to their community rather than bolt and perpetuate the revolving door reputation many places have.

We have to stop looking for quick fixes and dealing with our communities with only short term vision. Many times a board will not look past its own term. Where is the focus on training their successors? This is especially important in MSA's where they are forced to overhaul their key members every couple of years. It is even more important in masjids where the responsibility of the spiritual development of an entire community is at stake. Long term strategies need to be in place along with the legwork necessary to have a plan for sustained long-term growth and success.

6. No one is more important than the game.

The bottom line in sports is winning. And yet, sports teams will cut players who give them the best chance to win for external reasons (see: Haynesworth, Albert). It is a team sport, and once an individual puts himself above that, the entire team will fail.

It doesn't matter how good you are. It doesn't matter how talented you are. It doesn't matter how sincere you are. It doesn't matter how well intentioned you are. It doesn't matter how smart you are. The moment you begin to believe that about yourself is the moment your work stops being about serving and starts being about yourself.

No matter what your level of work or involvement, it is imperative to always keep the higher purpose, the higher goal, the higher reward in mind.

Leadership: The Power of Vulnerability

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When we think of characteristics of a strong leader, they usually orient around qualities like assertiveness, confidence, and talent. How is it then, that vulnerability is so important? Our boards and administrations are seemingly in a race to be the best. But not the right kind of best. How much of this rhetoric sounds familiar (even if it's normally left unstated)?

"When I take over, I'm going to show them..."

"I want to prove I can do this without that person's help"

This leads people down a brazen road where board members who aren't qualified for something stubbornly take control over it. Someone that is not detail oriented, and has never done accounting work before, suddenly wants to manage all the masjid finances. People with no formal religious training want to take away religious authority from their imam (think moon-sighting), and micro-manage what classes or programs will be done for the religious benefit of the community at large. One of the most lamentable examples is when a board member suddenly deems themselves worthy of giving khutbah despite not having training, knowledge, or even basic speaking skills.

This inability to admit - and deal with - one's own weaknesses breeds resentment from those in the community who are more qualified. In the examples above, think about the reaction that someone who is qualified in these areas will feel? Especially when they share in leadership positions. A person may be well experienced in a certain arena, but will be ignored due to some kind of petty politics or a power play.

This resentment erodes unity, and destroys loyalty. This is a perfect storm for nasty politics.

The problem comes back to leadership. Vulnerability is, as Patrick Lencioni says, the most important leadership trait you shun:

Whether we're talking about leadership, teamwork or client service, there is no more powerful attribute than the ability to be genuinely honest about one's weaknesses, mistakes and needs for help. Nothing inspires trust in another human being like vulnerability -- there is just something immensely attractive and inspiring about humility and graciousness.

When a manager can admit that one of his employees has better skills in a given area than he does, or a team member acknowledges that she needs help from a peer, or a consultant admits that he doesn't know the answer to a client's problem, it sends a powerful message about their confidence and trustworthiness. It builds loyalty and commitment more than anything else. That's not to say that competence isn't important; it's just that without honesty and humility, it has limited potential.

And yet, few business people actively strive to grow in vulnerability, wanting instead to project strength and confidence to the people they lead, work with and serve. Ironically, they are limiting their potential for success. That's because it's not the smartest or most competent leaders, teammates and service providers that are the most successful ones. If that were the case, success would be much easier to predict than it is. In reality, the most successful people are those who achieve a required or minimum level of competence, and then enhance that with as much trust-inspiring vulnerability as they can.

For those who are skeptical about the power of vulnerability, it is helpful to apply the concept to matters of social and interpersonal effectiveness. We all know someone who is immensely talented or intelligent but who is too insecure to recognize and acknowledge his limitations. Being around that person is painful, and he ends up having a minimal impact on friends and family in spite of his considerable talents. If you could redesign that person for maximum happiness, success and impact in life, you'd gladly trade off much of his skills for a greater sense of vulnerability. Deep down inside, he would too.

...

Today, we are reminded constantly of the power, and fear, of vulnerability. In business and politics we watch leader after leader defend themselves, deny responsibility for mistakes, and reject offers of assistance seemingly unaware that the long term impact of their defensiveness is a growing distrust among the very people whose support and loyalty they need.

Leaders are not courageous because they spend hours volunteering and trying to do things they can't truly handle. Leaders are courageous when they're able to acknowledge their own shortcomings, give up some control, and ask the right person for help no matter how it makes them feel.

Leading With Lollipop Moments

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6 minute video from TEDx. The basic premise is that leadership does not require money, title, or power - all of us are leaders, and we often do not realize the impact we make on others. We need to not only continue thinking of ourselves as leaders (no matter what our situation or status), but also remember to show gratitude to those who had an impact on us.

We celebrate birthdays where all you have to do is not die for 365 days, and yet we let people who made our lives better walk around without knowing it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE&hd=1

[See also: Insight from a Board Member - Pocket of Excellence]

8 Key Principles for Success

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Richard St. John has spent years of his life interviewing successful people to see what characteristics are common to them. The culmination of his research is succinctly presented in this 3 minute video below. The points may seem like common sense, but reflecting on them - better yet, acting on them - shows how valuable they are. It is also not surprising that these themes are outlined in the Qur'ān. This provides further motivation for us to implement them in our Dawah work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6bbMQXQ180

1. Passion

Even so, there are some who choose to worship others besides God as rivals to Him, loving them with the love due to God, but the believers have greater love for God’ [2:165]

It goes without saying that you cannot successfully accomplish a goal without having the passion inside to reach it.  If you want to be successful at memorizing the Qur'ān, it requires an inner drive to stick with it. If there is no passion, if there is apathy, then this goal will never be reached. Passion is the key ingredient that drives us forward. You have to want to be successful at a particular venture or it will not happen.

2. Work

You who believe, be steadfast, more steadfast than others; be ready; always be mindful of God so that you may prosper [3:200]

No matter how passionate or talented you are, you have to be willing to put in the work to make something happen. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of work to become an expert at something.  In regards to Islamic work it is also necessary to understand that there is glamorous work, and behind-the-scenes dirty work. A true leader, and a truly successful person, does both.

3. Focus

So proclaim openly [connotation of going through something, like to split the desert in two with your trail] what you have been commanded (to say), and ignore the idolaters’ [15:94]

Indeed, Abraham was a [comprehensive] leader, devoutly obedient to Allah , inclining toward truth [ḥanīf], and he was not of those who associate others with Allah . [16:120]

The second ayah indicates Ibrahīm being focused on the characteristic of being ḥanīf. Success requires a laser like focus on the task at hand. Consider the following scenario to understand how a lack of focus can make a program unsuccessful.

What Leads To Success?

There is an organization devoted to teaching Islamic history full time. Their focus is teaching this subject from an academic point of view. Many of their students become drawn to the program and its instructors, and thus begin requesting personal counseling. If the organization allows itself to make that a part of its program, despite the good intention, it will end up detracting from what is the strength of the program to begin with. In the long run they will over extend themselves and be unable to perform either task properly.

In the personal sense, you know that you have limits to what you can accomplish in a certain amount of time. If you want to study Arabic, then this would require focus in the sense that you can no longer devote time and energy to other subjects until you master this one. The lack of focus is what creates the phenomenon of 'jack of all trades, master of none'. Successful people, even those excelling in multiple areas, are usually most recognized for the one thing that initially made them successful.

4. Push

But We shall be sure to guide to Our ways those who strive hard for Our cause: God is with those who do good [29:69]

Every project will hit a wall where it becomes easy to give up. This applies to studies, work, building  a masjid, or any other kind of activity you may think of. You have to push through that wall when it comes. The passion and hard work mentioned above are the key ingredients that enable you to push through the obstacles you encounter.

5. Ideas

And consult them in the matter [3:159]

And whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves [42:38]

Successful people constantly come up with new ideas, new projects, and new and innovative ways of helping  others. They also test the veracity of these ideas from consulting with others, and take others ideas as well. Every great project and success story starts with a simple idea, sometimes even hastily scribbled onto a dinner napkin.

6. Improve

Seek the life to come by means of what God has granted you, but do not neglect your rightful share in this world. Do good to others as God has done good to you [28:77]

Is the reward for excellence (iḥsān) [anything] but excellence (iḥsān)?

This is a constant process. If you want to be successful, you must continue to hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else. Many times an organization or person will be successful, but then drop off. A person may become lazy, and an organization may succumb to weaknesses or competition. Continued success means continually improving even if others may not see a need for it.

7. Serve

[Believers], you are the best community singled out for people: you order what is right, forbid what is wrong, and believe in God. [3:110]

True success means that your aims and objectives also help benefit others as well. This is especially the case with Islamic work. Your success is directly tied to how well you serve your community.

8. Persist

Believers, why, when it is said to you, ‘Go and fight in God’s way,’ do you feel weighed down to the ground? Do you prefer this world to the life to come? How small the enjoyment of this world is, compared with the life to come! [9:38]

This is a combination of the 'push' and 'improve' principles above. It is not enough to keep doing the steps above, but to make sure they are continually repeated no matter how tough. Every time you feel like you have improved yourself or your organization, you have to consistently try to take it to the next level. You also have to persist through any negativity and setbacks that you encounter.

Criticism, Rejection, Adversity, Prejudice

This forms an easy acronym to remember the main obstacles you have to overcome no matter what the endeavor.

Criticism: Every project and goal has its critics. They key is being able to differentiate which criticisms are constructive and which ones are destructive.To overcome the 'criticism hurdle' you have to find a way to cast aside negativity from destructive criticism and subdue your ego enough to benefit from constructive criticism.

Rejection: Even the Prophet (s) faced rejection initially, and from his own family at that. Being rejected by some should be an expectation. Sometimes the rejection will come from peers, and sometimes it will come from those who hold some authority over you. The key is to not let the rejection be the reason you give up.

Adversity: Simply put, nothing good ever comes easy. The adversity can come in different forms. It can be a decrease in the amount of time spent with family, it can be financial, it can be emotional, and sometimes a project that has spiritual goals may present itself as a test on your own spirituality. Overcoming this adversity requires a good dose of wisdom, patience, and persistence.

Prejudice: This is when the negativity is no longer about your project, but about you personally. People will judge you and say things about you that are extremely hurtful, but you must remember that it comes with the territory.

Concluding Parable

Take the example of a masjid building project in America. When it starts out, the members starting it are often criticized for even wanting to build one in the first place. They are told that its unnecessary, and that it is too much work. They may face rejection from the local community who refuses to donate money. In fact, they may even face rejection from other local masjids who refuse to support this project out of fear that it will somehow hinder their own projects.

Those involved will face countless moments of adversity. They may face unexpected obstacles with the local city. They will face adversity within their family due to the amount of time the project takes. They will face adversity when finances run out.

Prejudice is also a big factor. We see it in our times where people protest against a masjid being built. In other places the Muslim community becomes prejudiced and accuses the people starting a masjid of having ulterior motives or a faulty ideology.

A number of projects that fail to overcome these obstacles, and yet others are able to finish out and build successful masjids and community centers. The people involved in these projects are driven by a passion for having their own masjid. They wake up and go to sleep every day thinking about having a place to make their daily prayers and take their children.

They work hard to get the project done. They run around finding architects, engineers, and contractors. Many times they have to immerse themselves in issues they have not dealt with before, and therefore have to put in double the amount of work to catch up.

They focus on the end result. They are not distracted with other projects, nor do they let anything else get in the way. A completed masjid is always the end goal that they use to focus their efforts.

They push through obstacles that come. They consult with one another and look for innovative solutions [ideas] to any issue that arises. They may be halfway through the project when they realize they need to change it around to meet a city regulation, but this does not hinder them. Moreover, they do not settle for simply finishing. Throughout the process they work as hard as they can to make every minute detail of this masjid the best it possibly can. They persist and persevere and let nothing get in their way.

Finally, they remember that this masjid is meant to be a service to the community. It is meant to help bring people closer to Allah, and Allah blesses them with bringing this project to successful fruition.

Leadership Lessons from Surah Al-Ḥujurāt

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Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda shares a couple of essential leadership characteristics for all Muslims in this short 6 minute clip. Video and some essential lessons follow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSZ3ZDDWpzQ

  • Leaders are at the service of their people, not the other way around. True leadership does not come from giving orders out to others, but it comes from serving them. A leader has an open-door policy, and is constantly making himself or herself available.
  • Leadership requires being patient and forgiving with people and not taking things personally. The prophetic example shows us that no matter the inconvenience, a leader is always forbearing and available.
  • Everyone is a leader in some capacity of life. These leadership characteristics can be implemented by all.