“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
On the 7th of November 2015, I’d embraced my fear and hosted Safinah’s first ever Leadership Conference, themed ‘Before You Take The Lead’.A half-day course held at The Joyden Hall (Bugis+), it was a sold-out event attended by many youth leaders and knowledge-seekers, and needless to say, was helmed by experienced changemakers in the community.
The speakers were Ustaz Zahid Zin (BAPA Relief), Shariff Raffi (Terato Tech), Nona Kirana (ERA Realty) and Ustaz Mizi Wahid (Safinah Institute).
I had the immense honour and pleasure to introduce these notable individuals to the participants, and to summarise their key points at the end of each section – which places me in an ideal position to take down notes and then share it here. The last time I did a similar sharing was for Safinah Talk 24: 3 Habits for Excellence.
I’d walked away from the conference with a heavy head with all the insights shared, and had to take some time to really reflect and put them together. I finally have. alhamdulillah! So from the viewpoint of a host/pseudo-participant, here are 7 lessons I’d learnt from the Leadership Conference.
1. Respect the moments and the experiences that you are going through
Whatever we are going through right now – both blessing and harship – is for our benefit and holds many lessons. Allah is constantly trying to teach and prepare us, and the only way we can learn is to be patient, seek the lessons that are within, and to think good of Allah.
On the authority of Abu Yahya Suhaib bin Sinan (May Allah be pleased with him) it is related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
“How amazing is the affair of the believer. There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” [Sahih Muslim]
Ustaz Zahid shared a particularly powerful insight on how the Prophet (peace be upon him) was prepared for his role from the very beginning of his life. We usually pay attention to his life post-prophethood, and marvel at his beautiful character and wisdom henceforth, without taking much thought about how he became that way.
Right from the loss of his parents at an extremely young age, to his engagement in gatherings with the tribe leaders by virtue of his grandfather, to his time as a shepherd, to his work as a trader, to his marriage to Saiyidina Khadijah, the Prophet’s character, principles, and wisdom were shaped to make him the best of and mercy to Mankind. Allah spent 40 years preparing him; he wasn’t thrown into prophethood unprepared.
Which goes to say that:
a) we are always prepared to face whatever God has presented to us, for verily He doesn’t burden us beyond what we can bear, and
b) we are being taught many other lessons along the way as well.
But how are we ever going to understand the lessons if we do not think?
2. Take the time to reflect and learn.
The best of learners are those who honour their time alone to think and contemplate on their lives. Take time at the beginning and end of each day to pause and look back at what have happened – both the struggles and high points. It’s only through an active consideration of these incidents that we are able to deconstruct and take the lessons each has to offer. Reflection allows us to gain wisdom, and grounds us to the temporary and consequential nature of many things. It also helps us to connect the dots and often leads to many Aha! moments.
I personally agree with this, and have really seen the impact this habit has on my thought process. I make it a point to always have a journal with me to write my reflections, or if I feel particularly tired, I journal using my phone. There are several journalling apps that can be downloaded – find one that fits you!
3. Be proactive in your daily life.
It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of comfort and get complacent with our day-to-day affairs. We think we’re doing okay, and we try to silence the nagging voice at the back of our heads that keep telling us we can do more.
We need to go out and hustle. Fulfil our duties, and then go ahead and do more. We often think that inspiration is something that needs to come by before any magic can happen (and I fall into this trap as well) without realising that inspiration often comes knocking when we’re out working. If there’s something you want to do, and something you want to achieve – go get up and do it.
The Prophet’s life was filled with duties – as leader, husband, father, negotiator and many others. And he had time for all his duties, plus more.
Also, there are times when we are busy gathering as much knowledge as we can – we go to classes, courses, workshops – and we don’t actually do anything about it. Knowledge that is not acted upon means nothing.
4. Trust the process and take failure as feedback.
We often keep our sight fixated on the finished and polished product, without really being interested to know or go through the hard work to get there. But we need to realise, and here I quote Ustaz Mizi, that there is a ‘necessary struggle to the top’.
For anything to bear fruits, its foundation needs to be respected and given due diligence. Understand that there is a process to everything, and structure and stability are two things necessary for anything to be able to take flight. There might be high and tough prices to pay to get these – failure could be imminent and costly. But for every time you fail, you’d know that that’s one thing you shouldn’t be doing again in the future. Always do your best, and when you fail and know better, always do better.
“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling
5. To change the day, you need to stand in the night.
Needless to say, our relationship with our Creator is one that is of superior significance but one that is so often neglected. The strongest leaders is essentially one that has the strongest relationship with his Creator.
We just need to look at some of His names to begin to even try to understand how pivotal His role is in our success: Al-Wahhab (The Giver of All), Ar-Razzaq (The Sustainer), Al-Mu’izz (The Bestower of Honours), Ash-Shakur (The Rewarder of Thankfulness) amongst many others.
Once we are done with the duties for the day, then rest and wake in the middle of the night to report back to Him. Get up to pray in the dark when all are asleep and see how your path will be lit and your life begins to shine.
I know this may be difficult, but the important thing is to start, even in tiny steps. Tahajjud time is on even 15 mins before Fajr, so if you are a heavy sleeper, perhaps you could try waking up at least 20 minutes before fajr and offer tahajjud.
Narrated Abu Huraira (Radiallahu anhu): Allah’s Apostle (Peace be upon him) said:
“Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down on the nearest Heaven to us when the last third of the night remains, saying: “Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?”
Give, and you shall receive. Give, and Allah will give you more.
Giving charity brings barakah to our wealth but it could benefit our time and personal matters. It heals and softens the heart, and it spreads compassion all around. Charity doesn’t even need to be in the form of money – it could be in the form of a good deed, giving aid to others who are in need, or even lifting others when they are down.
I personally found this to be closest to my heart – give of yourself, even when you feel like you have nothing, for He will complete you in ways more than you can possibly imagine.
And last but certainly not the least:
7. Surround yourself with positive energy.
Never underestimate the importance of a strong and supportive support network. Be it family, friends, or colleagues – choose your tribe well.
The Prophet (salla Allaahu ‘alayhy wa sallam) best described the similitude of the good and bad companions when he said:
“The example of a good companion and a bad companion is like that of the seller of musk, and the one who blows the blacksmith’s bellows (respectively). So as for the seller of musk then either he will grant you some, or you buy some from him, or at least you enjoy a pleasant smell from him. As for the one who blows the blacksmith’s bellows then either he will burn your clothes or you will get an offensive smell from him.”
[Sahih Bukhari & Muslim]
These are the people who will be feeding you with your most constant supply of thoughts, energy, affirmation and feedback. These are the people you trust to always have your back.
It took me a while to get mine, but I did. I hope you’ll find your tribe as well.
I’d started this post with a powerful quote on self-development that was pretty much the theme for the conference, and it cannot be any more apt. Before we can help others, we truly need to look within and build ourselves up first. We cannot lead well from a position of ineptitude.
To you who may be seeking to lead, I hope you’ll find the courage and wisdom to work on yourself first, and then have the strength to lead others well.
Thank you Liyana and Safinah Institute for entrusting me with the responsibility of being the host for the conference! I hope I did justice to the many beautiful lessons shared on that day.
I hope this post has been of benefit to you reading this! Feel free to share this – you never know whose soul it might help. 🙂