Several years ago, during a work-related training program I attended, the facilitator pointed out that “successful managers/leaders are outstanding in their fields”. It wasn’t until the facilitator wrote on the board what he had verbalized that I fully appreciated what he really meant. He wrote: “Successful leaders/managers are outstanding in their fields”. He separated the word ‘outstanding’ and made the point that a leader is not one who simply leads and calls the shot but a truly successful leader is one who is literally outstanding in the midst of all that is going on.
Those words came to mind last week when Barbados was threatened by tropical storm Dorian and the Prime Minister rolled up her sleeves and ensured that Barbados and everyone on the island were doing their best to prepare for any eventualities. She was literally in the midst of the preparations and out in the field marshaling the ‘troops’ and various agencies. The Prime Minister, upfront and center until the all-clear was given, was the face and voice throughout the passage of Dorian.
Those persons, who for whatever reason, felt that Barbados overacted, exaggerated the threat or panicked when we shouldn’t have, need only look at the widespread, horrendous devastation experienced in The Bahamas to fully appreciate what the possibilities of impact are that any island of this beautiful region can face. It is reassuring, comforting and extremely positive when our leaders, political and otherwise, are there in the midst of whatever is transpiring.
Some people argue that leaders are born not made. I believe everyone has the potential to be a leader in their own right and the reality is not so much about being a great leader but about being a successful shepherd. There is a saying in my faith which comes from the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He is reported to have said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and every one of you is responsible for his flock”. Some translators of this saying choose the word ‘leader’ in place of ‘shepherd’ but many commentators express that ‘shepherd’ best reflects the intent of the statement.
A shepherd undoubtedly gives more than simply being a leader. A successful shepherd will be one who looks out for his/her flock, ensuring at all times their safety, security, health, and wellbeing, mitigating against any impacts, nurturing, protecting, empathizing and doing all in his/her power to provide the best and most conducive environment for growth and development.
Some powerful leaders today and in our history gained fame and notoriety from being leaders due to strengths not of their own doing but because of other factors that propelled them to such power. By lineage, some kings and rulers were made; by military might and power, others were thrust into leadership and by democratic exercises in voting, others have gained power. The truly successful leaders in our times and in our history are those who, having achieved the role, made a lasting, positive impact on those in their charge, not only for their generation but for generations to come.
The book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael H. Hart, first published in 1978, was controversial for some but an eye-opener for many. As the book is described, “Hart’s yardstick is influence: not the greatest people, but the most influential, the people who swayed the destinies of millions of human beings, determined the rise and fall of civilizations, changed the course of history. With incisive biographies, Hart describes their careers and contributions. Explaining his ratings, he presents a new perspective on history, gathering together the vital facts about the world’s greatest religious and political leaders, inventors, writers, philosophers, explorers, artists, and innovators.”
I draw reference to Hart’s book as I write to leadership and influence. We speak highly and at times, are also critical of many of our past leaders. Undoubtedly, the legacy they left behind and whether they left the space they ruled a better place or worse off, are ultimately what matters.
Our Caribbean societies have produced exceptional persons in various fields – people who have come from very humble circumstances to become persons of influence in their communities, countries, the region, and the world. Our region’s ongoing challenge is harnessing the talents of our young people and ensuring that they become game-changers, innovators, leaders in their chosen fields and not mere followers trying to catch up or stay in the game.
Leaders who wield tremendous influence are those who bring their charge along. It is never about what “I” can accomplish. Rather, it is about what “we” can accomplish. I came across a powerful statement that sums up what I am writing about in my column this week: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is taking care of those in your charge.”
Having that shepherd mentality is what a true leader must-have. In fact, it is what every one of us must have as we are all leaders in our own right. It is by our actions that we can influence others, whether we intend to or not. As parents, teachers, priests, managers, politicians, whatever post we hold, job description we carry, a position we are given, we should see ourselves as shepherds of what or who is in our care.
As Hart in his book traversed through history and the figures that impacted human civilization according to his criterion of influence, he concluded (as the book is described) that the Prophet “Muhammad, is designated as the most influential person in human history. The writer’s arguments may challenge and perhaps convince readers, but whether or not they agree with him, his manner of ranking is both informative and entertaining.”
Hart himself writes: “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels. Of humble origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world’s great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive.”
In trying times like ours, we need decisive leadership but we also need caring leadership – a leadership that will listen, draw friends close but draw critics even closer, seek counsel and freely admit mistakes and correct them; a leadership that is fair, fearless and just.
“Leadership is an action, not a position.”
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)