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What makes a leader to remain a leader?

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

A common way to answer the question “What makes a leader to remain a leader?” requires the identification of leadership qualities that make an individual a leader.

Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

A substantial number of evidential and opined literature lists those leadership qualities that can be achieved, if not inherited, through training and experience.

The purpose of this article is to identify two very fundamental aspects of a leadership venture, the loss of which might cause a leader to suffer the loss of the mandate for leadership.

A leader holds certain authority or power to execute or lead his/her manifesto. Without any power, a “leader” is a puppet. Ironically, the same power can make an individual lose leadership qualities. Simply because power corrupts.

Abraham Lincoln once famously said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” However, power does not corrupt all equally.

Historically, many influential leaders were well known to abuse their power to satisfy their greed for fame, and wealth, or to become more powerful.

Fundamentally, greed leads any man to lose integrity – the ability to remain honest and adhere to moral and ethical principles and values. In other words, the ability to keep one’s greed under control depends on the level of his/her integrity.

In short, power makes a man greedy and eventually loses integrity. On the other hand, Integrity helps one to control greed hence any abuse of power.

In other words, a leader with integrity leads a humble life, in turn, that brings him/her closer to followers and companions.

Nevertheless, having the right leadership qualities with integrity does not guarantee a group of followers and companions for a leader. Simply because followers do not wander behind a leader i.e., pursue aimlessly. Followers want their leader to serve their purpose.

Therefore, with the right leadership qualities, an individual becomes a leader only when he/she is able to garner the right group of followers.

The qualities that made Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), Mother Teresa (1910-1997), and Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) a leader, are not the same. And those are different than the qualities that made Winston Churchill (1874-1965) or Bill Gates (1955-) a leader. Each of them has their own group of followers.

Ironically, a leader may fail to receive ardent support from his/her followers not necessarily because of losing leadership qualities but because of the shift in the followers’ whims and needs.

Therefore, managing followers would be challenging for a leader as followers tend to use their subjective ethical and moral standards. The task is more challenging when followers within the boundary of the shared worldview, envisage different social norms.

For example, integrity is of less concern as a leadership quality, if the followers develop least or no concern about integrity. This can be exemplified by the leadership of Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him), the last and final messenger of Islam. He was rejected by all inhabitants of Makkah immediately after he was bestowed with the messenger hood at the age of 40.

Ironically, the people of Makkah revered him for all his trustworthiness and truthfulness and called him al-amin for 40 years. The same people brutally rejected him only because he started preaching the Oneness of Allah almighty.

On the other hand, when he migrated to Medina he had the right group of followers who were ready to accept the Oneness of Allah almighty.

Even today when Prophet Mohammad was followed by millions of Muslims as their leader, many consider him a barbaric, illiterate, and prejudiced person. Albeit he was ranked number one in the top of the hundred greatest leaders in history of mankind by Michael Hart.

Noticeably, one can make two important observations about the story of the leadership of Prophet Mohammad. Firstly, he was not declared the leader of mankind before he reached the age of 40, which indicates a man needs time to prepare himself to become a leader. Secondly, the same people who depended on his wisdom and guidance for their affairs did not hesitate to reject him only for one difference in their worldview.

Leadership does not only depend on the leadership quality of an individual, it also depends on of whom and when one would become a leader.

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at tarique@um.edu.my

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