People Don't Like Their Local Masjid Anymore Because of The iPhone


This article is the 1st in a series about Masjid leadership in the digital age and draws from the book Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. To stay up to date on all new articles published here, please join our email list.

Who is the masjid president? Who is chairman of the board? How many board members? How do we stagger terms? What about a board of trustees, or executive committee? Should we hire an imam? This is what we tend to focus on in our communities.

While these questions may be important, they ignore a much more important one. How does the structure help or hurt the vision and mission of the masjid?

Many communities were established with specific objectives in mind. The physical structure was established as a place to build community through Friday prayer, Sunday school, and other activities. This vision is reflected even in the physical layouts of purpose-built Islamic centers.

The combination of these vital activities and close physical proximity were the ingredients of community building. Through this, people developed an affinity for their "local masjid". The local masjid was the platform through which all community events happened and bonds were built.

Governance structures to protect this model were introduced. Constitutions were carefully crafted to ensure no outside party could come in and take over or disrupt the local community that had been built.

Instead, the iPhone has now done that job. It was a major domino in a series of events that resulted in the socially networked age we live in - with all of its positive and negative consequences.

Over the past few years, we have seen things change dramatically. More specifically, our expectations of what the masjid provides the community have changed.

With this, our religious experiences are no longer connected to the physical community. We can connect ourselves to seemingly any community in the world. If the local masjid is not catering to our needs, we can find viable alternatives online.

At a deeper level, the technology empowered people to be active participants - to have their voices be heard. Prior to this, if there was friction in the local masjid, you had to tough it out and fight it. This is the attitude we see with elders. They lionize the idea of toughing it out and fighting no matter what. This makes sense, because they had no other option.

Now, however, we have options - and new expectations.

If we're free to participate in online communities, why does the local community shut us out?

I'm free to pursue education, activism, or other projects with people I'm digitally connected to. Why am I not able to do the same in the local masjid?

I'm connected now to new causes and issues affecting Muslims around the globe. Why is my local Muslim community oblivious to them?

The intersection of these points is where we see a generational divide. The "irrelevant uncles" versus the "inexperienced youth". The masjid is an ideal and unique forum for multi-generational interaction that essentially gets wasted due to this conflict.

And when conflict happens, people double down and get defensive. For the youth, that means leaving the local community and going to other communities (whether online or offline) where they can freely participate and contribute meaningfully. For the elders, it means doubling down on preserving the institutions they built.

Preservation mode is a death knell. Preservation is not the purpose of a masjid or of building a community. Preservation mode does not allow an organization to adapt and react to the changes happening in society (and it's changing ever more rapidly than before).

Commitment to the local community has been replaced with a commitment to purpose.

This premise creates a completely different set of questions the masjid must focus on than the ones at the top of this post.

How can the masjid create a community in which diverse points of view are expressed without fear of reprisal? What work is the masjid doing to improve society, the community, and the individual lives of congregation members? How does the masjid foster the building of relationships? How does the masjid balance the needs of the local community while still being connected to national and global causes? How can individual congregation members be empowered to contribute meaningfully?

When the focus is on achieving these goals, then the structure can be corrected. What kind of physical space should be designed to enable these outcomes? What is the best governance structure to enable these outcomes?

These things must be changed. When people come to volunteer, but are stuck in a framework of preservation, they are made to feel as if they have no voice. The elders, although saying they welcome change and involvement, are signaling (whether intentionally or not) that they want to continue things the way they are.

Major changes are needed quickly. Preserving the 'way things are' at this stage will render the local masjid completely irrelevant.

The next post in this series will explore strategies communities can use to adapt to this new landscape. Please make sure to subscribe to the email list so you don't miss any updates.

Five Dysfunctions of an Islamic Organization


*For more information on this book, I have also compiled a MASSIVE deep dive on resources around the concepts in this book at This information should benefit anyone involved in Islamic organizations, but it really needs extra attention from those in leadership positions in their communities to start to effect the type of change needed to prevent dysfunction.

The Five Dysfunctions Are

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

These are laid out by Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. While the pertinence to a professional or corporate environment is obvious, these are at the core of the problems faced by masājid and Islamic organizations across the country.

1. Absence of Trust

The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.

Understanding trust means refining our notions of the term. Trust means knowing the others around you have good intentions, and that you don't need to shield yourself around them. It is distinct from reliance, which is “trusting” that a peer will perform a given task reliably. Trust is being able to open up, and show vulnerability while knowing that those vulnerabilities won't be used against you.

What we find with many Islamic organizations is that people's actions are dictated by what others will think about them. Think about the person elected to be the masjid treasurer with no accounting or financial experience whatsoever. This person continues to do this job day in and day out, despite not being able to do it well. Instead, this person is focusing on holding this position for strategic reasons vis-a-vis others within the organization. He is constantly trying to protect himself. If trust existed within the organization, he would be able to display that vulnerability and instead be 100% focused on performing the treasurer duties to the best of his ability.

It is commonplace that the higher ranking members in these organizations are usually the “well-educated” ones (e.g. the “doctor uncle”). One thing we often fail to realize is that these people have been trained their entire lives to be competitive with their peers and constantly outperform them. Personal reputations are at stake. If these instincts cannot be 'turned off' for the betterment of the organization, then a lot of time is invested into managing the fallout. Examples of this include having constant meetings to manage people's behaviors, and seeing a decrease in the willingness of organization members to help one another.

Organizationally, another factor that contributes to a loss of trust is not identifying and utilizing people's skills. How can trust exist in a masjid construction project when a Muslim contractor who has been managing construction projects for a living for over 20 years is sitting around while the organization turns over the masjid construction plans to a pediatrician?

This is the fundamental building block to freeing Islamic organizations of dysfunction, and it is perhaps the hardest because it requires the greatest overhaul in attitude and environment.

Once established however, it can foster constructive conflict.

2. Fear of Conflict

The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive, ideological conflict.

-Important concept to understand: Ideological conflict vs. Personal conflict-

Have you ever met a husband and wife who never had an argument with one another? Have you ever met a parent that never had a disagreement with his or her children? Didn't think so.

Why do we expect that Islamic organizations should operate under some kind of happy-go-lucky utopia? To preserve this naive notion of how things should be, we avoid engaging in any kind of conflict. What ends up happening then is that direct conflict is avoided within the organization, but it is replaced with back-stabbing, personal conflicts, and politics.

You have seen the organization where there may be a body of 7 people. 3 of them meet separately, and 4 of them meet separately. Then they concoct conspiracy theories about how the opposing camp really feels about an issue, and why they are pushing a particular position over another. Then they get riled up, and go out to the community seeking more support for their own side. Next thing you know, it's an all out community conflict with name-calling, people not talking to each other, and the conflict finally erupting at a dinner party at some innocent person's house while the innocent bystanders try to enjoy some chicken biryani.

Muslim organizations simply seem to want to avoid having any healthy conflict (discussion). This is why they all dread meetings that are boring, and where nothing gets done. When organization members trust each other, they can talk freely with one another and debate themerits of different ideas. Sit down and completely hash it out. A certain level of maturity is of course required, so that the debate does not turn personal. The element of trust is what allows people to freely credit or discredit ideas without worrying about hurting someone's feelings (and then later making personal attacks behind their back).

Meetings should be lively and focus on the concepts and ideas being discussed – even if they become emotional. Let people be passionate about why they feel that a certain project is a waste of money, or that the dome of the masjid should be 25 feet in diameter instead of 30 feet, and so on.

This is important because once the merits of an idea have been thoroughly discussed, everyone has had a chance to air their objections or concerns, and people can respond to them. So let the best ideas win. Once that is done, even the people who initially opposed the idea, can support it from an organizational perspective. Contrast this with a board member who unwillingly votes in favor of a certain project, waiting for it to fail, then running around telling the community, “I told you so!”

3. Lack of Commitment

The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions to which they will commit.

Commitment only comes from the step above – once everyone's perspectives and opinions have been heard, they can all buy into the concept knowing that all ideas have been considered. And of course, that discussion cannot take place without step 1 – establishing trust.

According to Lencioni, the two biggest factors hindering commitment are:

  1. Desire for consensus
  2. Need for certainty

It seems many Islamic organizations refuse to move forward even one step without both of those being in place. Finding consensus is a nearly impossible task, and consensus is usually sought out of fear of backlash. It seems leaders are unwilling to make decisions without 100% support in case something goes wrong, they can defend themselves. This is unhealthy for the growth of any organization.

People do not need to agree with a decision in order to support it. As long as their ideas have been properly heard (explained in the step above), then they can rally around the decision – even if they disagree with it.

The need for certainty is closely related to the phenomenon of analysis paralysis. Organizations are unwilling to make a decision until a certain amount of data is available to them – at which point it might be too late. They have an innate need to feel like they have made the correct decision. Often times, a decision will need to be made quickly, and without the benefit of having all of the relevant information available. It is important to decide, and move on. Better to go down swinging then not show up at all. We are blessed with istikhārah and shura. Utilize them. Constantly delaying a decision, or flip-flopping back and forth will not help you make the correct choice, instead it will just kill your credibility.

Symptoms of lack of commitment include: ambiguity about direction and priorities, lack of confidence, fear of failure, and revisiting issues over and over for discussion. Islamic organizations need to clearly define their goals, rally around those common objectives, create an environment of learning from mistakes, and moving forward without regret.

The Prophet (sal-Allahu 'alayhi was-Sallam) said the believer is not bitten from the same holetwice. We cannot demand perfection, but we demand the best effort.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.

Lack of clarity and direction (as explained in the step above) makes it impossible to hold anyone accountable. How can someone be accountable if they do not know what is expected in the first place?

Successful organizations must have an environment in place where people are able to call each other out for not living up to their standards. This should be the case whether positions are paid or unpaid. People are uncomfortable letting others know that their performance may not be up to the expected standards because they fear losing a volunteer, or perhaps even a friendship. Letting these feelings fester though, will only cause those relationships to deteriorate. It is time for Islamic organizations to stop settling, and demand the best – even if it requires some personal discomfort along the way. Doing this will actually develop mutual respect amongst the people working within the organization because they know they are equally being held to the same high standards by one another.

If this accountability is not there, then people begin to simply look out for their own self-interests over and above the interests of the organization.

5. Inattention to Results

The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

Once an organization has clearly defined its goals and objectives, it must focus on meeting them. When an organization loses sight of those results, their attention shifts elsewhere. Lencioni says 'elsewhere' in this case would be team and individual status:

Team Status: For [some], merely being part of the group is enough to keep them satisfied. For them, the achievement of specific results might be desirable, but not necessarily worthy of great sacrifice or inconvenience. As ridiculous and dangerous as this might seem, plenty of teams fall prey to the lure of status. These often include altruistic nonprofit organizations that come to believe that the nobility of their mission is enough to justify their satisfaction … as they often see success in merely being associated with their special organizations.

Individual Status: This refers … [to people focusing] on enhancing their own positions … at the expense of the team.

The collective results must be more important than individual aims and objectives. One important note is the relationship of this dysfunction to the issue of trust (step 1). Individuals getting involved must also cleanse their hearts of any ill intentions such as seeking fame and credit in the community. The eventual breakdown of an entire organization can start from the simplest of individual wants or intentions.

Concluding Thoughts

Lencioni summarized it best:

And so, like a chain with just one link broken, teamwork deteriorates if even a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish.

Another way to understand this model is to take the opposite approach – a positive one – and imagine how members of a truly cohesive team behave:

  1. They trust one another.
  2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
  3. They commit to decisions and plans of action.
  4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
  5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.

Please also see: The 90/10 Rule for Masjids

One Big Reason That Islamic Work is Stressful


There are different kinds of stress when it comes to Islamic work. One kind is good, but exhausting. It is the sheer excitement of working on a project you feel passionate about. It keeps you up at night, it's all you can think about during the day, and all you can focus on is getting it done. That's stressful, but it usually brings about a positive result. There's another kind of stress we deal with that's not quite so happy. It's the type that completely demoralizes you. it is the kind that makes you question why you ever got involved in the first place.

Phil Cooke writes:

Stress happens because our lives are out of sync with what we’re doing for a living. That’s when trade-offs and sacrifices seem the most acute, because our job seems so unmoored from who we are and what we’re born to accomplish with our lives. But when we find that over-arching purpose, the jobs we express that purpose through suddenly have meaning. They don’t seem disconnected from our lives – in fact, we often see our lives reflected through that very work.

That’s why great athletes, entrepreneurs, leaders, artists, and innovators don’t see it as a conflict between “work” and “life,” because it’s all a single expression of someone who has discovered their ultimate purpose.

Islamic work, by definition, involves numerous trade-offs. We sacrifice time that could be spent working, with our families, pursuing hobbies, entertaining ourselves, investing in ourselves, or simply resting.

The negative stress usually results from becoming disconnected with the true purpose of the work.

A volunteer might join an organization that helps provide educational programs. This is a mission they can identify with and are passionate about. But if all their efforts become limited to simply collecting tuitions and chasing payments, they will easily lose sight of the bigger purpose. This is because they no longer see their contribution as actually being directly linked to the initial purpose that attracted them to the organization. Instead of feeling like someone who is facilitating learning for others, they feel like a bill collector. This is where burnout creeps in, and volunteer turnover begins.

Another issue at play here is having a holistic life view when it comes to Islamic work. A person cannot have spent their entire life keeping their children from the masjid, keeping their children from "being religious," staying away from any kind of Islamic class at the masjid - and at the same time serve on the masjid board and take decision making responsibilities for the community's spiritual well-being onto their shoulders. This work they are seeking is diametrically opposed to the reality of their personal life.

This is not only a violation of trust to the community, but it will bring harm to them.

All good efforts will require trade-offs and cause stress. Make sure that you are working for a better purpose for the right reasons. Make sure that what you are working on reflects the rest of your life and the sacrifices will be easier to make.

The One Fail Safe Way Communities Can Hold Leadership Accountable


Sometimes it seems that bad leadership in our communities is like a runaway train. Not only runaway, but runaway on a one way track. Sometimes the problems seem so deep that we lose sleep and begin to weep. There's no way out. We become so jaded that it no longer seems worthwhile to be involved. No matter what I do, no matter what I say, nothing will change.

There may be lots of politics at play and myriad external factors preventing things from getting better. We simply reach the point of giving up.

Many times even a few individuals can be marginalized despite being in the right. The larger problem is that the community at large is apathetic. This creates an environment where the leadership of such a community can do as they please, because the one body that can hold them accountable, the community, will not.

Outside of meetings, and elections, and all the usual things, there is one fail safe way to cause change. Accountability.

As long as community members insist on holding boards and leadership accountable, they will not have a way out. We saw this just this week in the NFL. With the league locking out the referees, the game suffered with replacement refs. The leadership of the league (commissioner and team owners) looked like a group of bullies who could do as they wanted. No one, it seemed, could take them to task.

Eventually it reached a tipping point once enough people raised the issue. This is both the key to change, and the hardest part. The community at large must care enough to hold someone accountable. Bill Simmons explains this concept in the context of what they refer to as the Doorman Rule:

Now that it's settled, wouldn't you say we used our leverage? We complained and ... moaned until the NFL finally sucked it up and did something. The biggest thing we had going in our favor was something Peter Berg once referred to on my podcast as the Doorman Rule. Berg always worried that NBC was going to cancel his Friday Night Lights show, but his biggest asset was the interactions that everyday people had with NBC's higher-ups. As Berg described it (I'm doing this from memory), there was a two-minute stretch from when then-NBC honcho Jeff Zucker left his fancy apartment, rode the elevator, walked out his apartment complex's door and climbed into his limo en route to work. During those two minutes, he might run into three or four people — someone in the elevator and/or the lobby, the doorman, maybe someone outside as he's waiting for the limo to pull up. And at least one of those people might make small talk with him and say, "Hey man, I love Friday Night Lights." For someone like Zucker, those comments would carry a ton of weight because it's really one of his only chances to cross paths with real people. So Berg was saying that, as long as you're a Doorman Show, you always have a chance no matter what your ratings are.

OK, now flip that around — let's say you're Goodell or one of the 32 owners. Imagine it's Tuesday. Do you want to run into anyone during that two-minute walk to the limo? Aren't you dreading the fuming guy in the elevator, or the doorman who's thinly smiling at you while hoping deep down that you get run over by a car? That's the biggest reason this lockout got settled — as soon as the commissioner and these owners were put in the position of dreading interactions with everyday people, this was over. So I'd argue that we DID have leverage, and we used it the old-fashioned way.

Community members must take a vested interest in caring about the outcome. They must be in the ear of the decision makers voicing their opinion. Apply the pressure to make sure the best interests of the community are served.



Winning Franchises: 6 Lessons Muslim Organizations Can Learn from Sports


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


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.

The Secret To Good Decision Making


Every Islamic organization struggles with tough decisions. Should we host a particular event? Invite a particular speaker? Hire a certain person? Buy this land? Rent a facility? The sad thing is that in Islamic work, the secret to good decision isn't really a secret. It's just a lost art. Or rather, an abandoned sunnah.

Chalk this one up to another common sense thing that's not so common. We can't fool ourselves into thinking we are doing religious work when we don't have the wherewithal to actually take the spiritual guidance that actually ensures we make the right choices.

I'd go so far as to say anyone who is in any kind of leadership role is violating the trust of leadership if istikharah is not a standard part of their decision making process.

Should we have a conference? Make istikharah.

Should we hire this person as our imam? Make istikharah.

Should we build our masjid in this location? Make istikharah. 

Not sure if you should dedicate your time volunteering for a particular cause? Make istikharah. 

Should we let a particular person volunteer to do something? Make istikharah. 

If you need more information about what istikharah is, or how to perform it (it is just 2 units of voluntary prayer followed by a short supplication), then check out this video:

Leading Volunteers: Unity and Gossip

It goes without saying that most Islamic organizations suffer from a lack of unity.

There are 3 main causes of disunity within Islamic organizations:

  1. Poor Communication
  2. Gossip (highlighted due to its prevalence in our communities)
  3. Lack of a Shared Purpose [Video: Role of the Masjid]

Communication is an easy indicator of unity. When people don't know what's going on, strife will set in.

The lack of communication creates an environment that nurtures gossip. People are not involved because of a paycheck or something else that ties them down. When they don't feel part of the process, they will talk. Unresolved disagreements also play a role. When leadership is unaware of disagreements, or leadership tries to simply avoid confrontation, then there is a communication breakdown. Gossip then usually becomes the outlet by which people release that pressure and frustration.

This does not mean that frustration is a bad thing - actually, it shows that people care. But there is a line between frustration and gossip. Confrontation can (and should) be dealt with quickly. Wounds can be patched up and people can make up and move forward on a unified front.

Gossip occurs when a negative issue is discussed with someone who cannot help solve the problem. It is, hands down, one of the most destructive things that any organization or community can face. For example, a board member should not be raising complaints about the imam with the masjid treasurer.

Anas related that the Prophet (saw) said, "Do you know what calumny is? .. [It is] conveying the words of some people to others in order to create mischief between them. [Adab al-Mufrad]

Unity can never be achieved when people speak ill of each other. It creates negative feelings in the heart, and an environment of distrust and animosity. When teammates in sports fight with each other, it makes it difficult for them to perform well together on the field. Gossip in an Islamic organization is the same principle, but with much worse consequences.

We should seriously consider implementing decisive consequences for gossip. How quickly would our organizations change if there was immediate termination for gossip? Board member found gossiping about the masjid president? Immediately kicked out.

It's true, you will lose volunteers that are hard to find in the first place - but I would contend that losing a volunteer is better than having a volunteer that spreads something as destructive as gossip.

A team must be cohesive. They must share a purpose, and have the autonomy (and dignity) to do their work. In football, when the ball is snapped, all 11 people on the team know exactly what they need to be doing. Every receiver knows which route to run. Every lineman knows who to block and in which direction. They don't even need to talk to each other, they know what to do. Even when the play breaks down, and something unexpected happens, it does not shake them. A lineman, whose only duty is to block, may suddenly recover a fumble and be in possession of the ball. He has never gotten the ball in a game before, but because the team shares the same purpose (move the ball down the field), he knows to start running the other way. His teammates know that they need to run and block for him.

In the above example, the unexpected happened. Someone ended up being forced into something they're not used to. Did they need to hold a board meeting to figure out what to do? Did they need to call time out and exchange 25 emails to develop  a new policy and procedure for what happens when the lineman is forced to recover a fumble? Did they stop and have a fight and yell at the guy who fumbled the ball?

No. They had a shared vision. They had a shared purpose. Their communication before the game was so good, that they didn't even need to speak. They simply saw what happened, and every individual knew exactly what their response to the situation should be.

That's unity.

Leading Volunteers: How To Treat Them With Dignity


"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." (Bukhārī)

Building loyalty within a team at work, a place where people's livelihoods depend on the job, is already difficult enough. So how about when that team consists of volunteers who are only there out of their own free will?

This, like many other issues, is a leadership issue. Volunteers are reporting to a board or committee. The board and committee are often reporting back to a president or amīr of some sort. Even with small and loose volunteer groups, there is still some level of hierarchy and leaders are responsible for those volunteers 'under' them.

Even if you're not in leadership, these are still important tips to help those who are volunteering - and building loyalty within your community or organization.

The rules for this are simple, and don't require much elaboration.

People are humans. They have dreams, fears, and families. They have jobs, they have responsibilities, and they have life in general to deal with. Stop treating them like units of production. Treat them with dignity by showing them that you care. Know their names, know about their families and their kids. Ask about them (sincerely). If you can't show them that you actually care about them - as a person - then don't expect any loyalty from your volunteers.

When you see someone do something you would expect praise for, then praise your volunteers.

Whoever does not thank people (for their favors) has not thanked Allah (properly). [Ahmad]

When you make a mistake, you would expect people to overlook and pardon you. Do the same with your volunteers. The second you get up and berate or rip a volunteer is the same second that they will make the decision to never come back.

So when it comes time for reprimanding someone for making a mistake, give proper naṣīḥah. It needs to be prompt and private. And it needs to be done with mercy - hoping for rectification and hoping for the best for your brother or sister.

When you know you are competent enough to do a task, you usually hate it when someone micromanages you. Leave your volunteers alone. Let them work.

Above all, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them the way you want to be treated.