Transition from Charismatic Personality-Based Leadership: The End of a Messianic Era – Part 3

This is Part 3 of the Series Transition from Charismatic Personality-Based Leadership: The End of a Messianic Era…

I pray all of you had a wonderful weekend. The rain cleared up here in North Florida, and we’re back to being the Sunshine State.

Over the weekend, I thought about the major categories of subject matter we might discuss. We have flexibility. Your input can affect the subject matter and categories. But for now, I’ve set 8 major categories as follows:

1) Leadership
2) Stewardship & Governance
3) Strategic Planning
4) Shuraa
5) Organization & Structure
6) Fund Raising & Financial Administration
7) Governing Documents
8) References

Posts will be archived under these categories for easy reference. The above categories are also among the most common areas that nonprofits are seeking guidance.

I’ve also decided to publish pieces when necessary, in more than one category at a time to allow us to deal with issues simultaneously. Besides, rarely do leaders have the luxury of dealing with one matter at a time. Publishing in various categories simultaneously might help us deal with issues as they present in real life—not as stand alone concepts but as part of a multi-dimensional leadership and management strategy.

Now that we’ve handled the administrative issues, I now return to our transition discussion with Part 3 continuing from last week.

The discussion we are currently having has bearing at both our national level of identity and local level. Leaders and administrators must be asking the question:

a) Are we building offices of leadership with a greater emphasis on institutionalizing the offices and their responsibilities and authorities or are we building offices around personalities?

b) The question must be asked not only for the Office of the Imam, but for every person leading a concern. Ask, how did the current office holder assume his or her position of leadership?

Compare the leaders and their offices with the PBL vs. ISTL Table (from last week’s post). Organizational leaders should be honest with themselves and their constituents and ask: Are we preparing the organization for perpetual institutional leadership responsibility?

An even more fundamental feature present in every successful organization is a plan for Succession of Leadership. If you don’t have one, you don’t have institutional leadership. You have personality-based leadership. And one of the worse political and operational crises for an organization is to be forced out of personality-based leadership because of unplanned circumstances.

One of the other major characteristics of personality based leadership vs. institutional leadership focuses on acceptance of the current leader’s mortality and for planning purposes, the organization’s immortality or more properly perpetuity. When I say acceptance, I don’t just mean an intellectual acceptance. Yes we all know we must live here. But even in our personal lives, have we gone beyond intellectual acceptance? Have we made administrative preparation and put our affairs in order as we (Muslims) are supposed to do according to Al-Qur’an?

So the acceptance that I am referring to at the organizational level means that the acceptance goes to the next level–a level of action which reflects that the organization knows it must plan ahead for new leadership. The two key components of a succession plan are:

1) Training and development; and
2) Executive Order Assumption of Authority by Office of Leadership

The first component, training and development (together) is a long term “natural” structural component of a successful organization and it relies upon an organizational having a “total learning environment” along with a critical respect for youth development all the way from toddler through college and early adulthood. Successful organizations are incubators of leadership. Such organizations are naturally attuned to rising stars and can help groom new leadership by pairing, at an appropriate age, apprentices with established leaders–from the Office of Imam to all other offices of leadership. If you’re leading an office and you don’t have a person half your age assisting you and learning from you, then you’re already well behind the leadership succession power curve.

The second level of succession preparedness deals with the issue of sudden executive leadership loss. Let’s take for example a hyper scenario where all of your executive leadership is attending a convention or conference and travel together on the same transport and an accident occurs in which all of them are lost. Who’s in charge of your masjid?

Now I have spoken a lot about the Office of Imam as though it were the senior or most significant office of leadership in a masjid. That’s because in most of our organizations, it is likely that governing documents filed with the state may name the Imam as the President for purposes of an organizational filing. In our organizational culture, many still have the Imam as the “chief executive” of the organization. I believe it is time to re-examine this structure in light of 33 years of the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed. Now this is where it would serve our purpose to have a simultaneous posting. So, I have posted another discussion (essay) in Organization and Structure titled: The Case for Expanding Shuraa Practically as a Mercy to the Office of Imam, Other Leadership and the General Body of a Masjid.

We are entering into more complex discussion with the introduction of Organization and Structure while still dealing with succession of leadership. The reason why I want to “merge” these topics now is because truly preparing the organization for succession means not having too broad a span of control on one office holder, namely the Imam. I believe historically, we have given too much span of control to one person. Now I’m not saying such span was not appropriate for the times, but I am saying that as an organization evolves and as knowledge becomes more dispersed throughout the organization, the organization is best served by decentralizing the responsibility and the requisite authority to get tasks accomplished. We have historically placed too much emphasis on a single office of leadership as a result of mainly four (4) factors:

1) Overdependence on personality in lieu of institutional leadership.
2) Cultural and organizational leadership models left over from 1975-85 transition.
3) Other religious (Christian) and socio-ethnic influence.
4) Mis-correlation of the office of imam with the Office of the Prophet.

Now there’s a term we have to define—span of control. Simply put, if you give one person too much span of control over organizational outcomes, people, decisions, etc. then we have overburdened him. We have to have realistic span of controls for an office holder. Now in the beginning of an organization’s life cycle, the span of control will be centralized in one person or just a few persons for many reasons including:

1) Size of the organization.
2) Gross organizational knowledge. Remember, the less primary knowledge dispersed throughout the organization the more dependence on one person.
3) Organizational infancy with a corresponding narrower agenda and operational objectives.

So span of control is a leadership and management term that refers to the extent or scope to which one person is personally responsible for people, resources, tasks and desired outcomes. Now one can have a wide span of control over persons, so long as those persons have a reasonable span of control over their management responsibilities. One person can have a wider span of control over people than over tasks or desired outcomes. I like to make the distinction that one leads people and manages things; that’s what I have been taught and that concept has worked well for me. Thus the span of control will differ greatly when one is functioning as a leader than as a manager. Again, we lead people and we manage things…the difference is in the skill sets required for leadership and management.

Hopefully with my post in Organization and Structure, I can bring up to date a diagram, Exhibit A-1: Masjid Organizational Structure Model, that appears in Appendix I of Genesis. I am grateful many communities have benefitted from the model. I still believe it has its importance. But the day I finished the schematic was the day it became outdated. Well not exactly, but the point I am trying to make is that organizations are just that, organs and organic; they are organs for us as a community and society. Organizations are organic entities composed of people, for the benefit of people or the Creation, and managed by people. Organizations change over time and management structures have to change to continue serving the organization. Organizations are living, breathing, organic things and if you have systems and documents that have aged and you have not reviewed them to see their current applicability or capability to advance the organization into the future, then the leadership has failed in that regard.

I previously mentioned the span of control for the Office of Imam has been too broad for most of us, especially in the 21st century. One of the philosophical constraints in updating and adapting structure and organization for succession of leadership has been our perception of just what the Office of Imam is. While that in depth discussion is for a later topic, I will reiterate what I mentioned recently on American Muslim 360: The Office of Imam in America is just one component of the Office of the Prophet’s (s) leadership. The Office of Imam is not the successor to the Office of the Prophet (s). If we think about it, even the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs were not successors to the Office of the Prophet(s); they were successors to several components of the Office of the Prophet’s leadership. We too often are demanding from our Imams what the early community needed from the Prophet (s). The Office of the Prophet was a multi-dimensional, multi-level leadership involving vast religious, governmental, military, administrative, diplomatic, and a host of other responsibilities. No Imam that I am aware of in American is functioning in his office in that capacity. Furthermore, our perceptions or misperceptions (as followers) are responsible for us too often unfairly laying “guilt trips” on our Imams on a host of issues such as compensation, shuraa, and 24-hour availability.

Now what do you think can happen to an individual whose leading a group of people who thinks he is the only one in the Office of the Prophet’s leadership? Mind you now, in actuality he is in only one of the offices of leadership established and demonstrated in the Prophet’s personal and public life.

In reality, the group intellect together best represents the Office of Prophet Mohammed as a leader. That means every one directly charged and not directly charged with responsibility in a masjid form the office of Muhammed’s (s) leadership. If we apply such understanding combined with the knowledge that each of us has a role to play, then we would have more realistic expectations of what one man is capable of; and that one man would have greater respect for the group intellect and his own limitations and what he himself is capable of. Then the political contract can be more successfully executed between a community and all its leaders.

Again, I invite you to see this week’s post in Organization and Structure. In brief, the discussion is on Shuraa and Structure and I propose we must fundamentally rethink the structural design of our institutions, namely we should begin looking at separating religious duties, obligations, and functions from the day to day and strategic administrative obligations. When I say separate these functions, I don’t mean separate them as in the mosque or masjid from the state or spiritual from the secular; I mean separation in terms of span of control. It’s time to free the office of Imam for bigger tasks. It is also time to allow the institution to grow, to prepare for succession of leadership and a host of other administrative internal and external community obligations. Based on the maturity of your organization, it may be time to replace the system of the Imam as the sole chief executive with a system of an imam and a president of your institution.

Now last week, we asked a question that for us goes to the central issue of our transition from personality-based leadership to institutional leadership and hence has a bearing on the way forward: Can a charismatic, personality-based leadership (and particularly messianic one) really transition supporters, followers, helpers, etc. to “effective” institutional leadership while still alive?

I would really like to hear your answer to this question. I mentioned three individuals last week in the context of answering the question: Washington (as in George), Mandela (as in Nelson), and Arafat (as in Yasser). So I’m going to let my comments go for another week and hope to hear from you.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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About Mukhtar Muhammad

Mukhtar Muhammad is author of the critically acclaimed Genesis of New American Leadership: A Muslim Commentary...the first socio-political and religious commentary on the tenets of effective leadership based on the principles of Islam, the commentary of contemporary religious scholars and American management philosophy. The recipient of numerous academic, professional, and military achievement awards, the former enlisted & commissioned naval officer is the product of a visionary leadership that recognizes the "Muslim American dream" is deeply rooted in the American Dream of not only "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but also "one nation under G-d indivisible with liberty and justice for all." The company vice president, national speaker and management consultant and national non-profit executive director holds bachelors and masters degrees in four business concentrations including systems management, marketing, business management and human resources development and has served at the highest levels of leadership for the American Muslim Community.
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