Transition from Charismatic Personality Based Leadership: The End of a Messianic Era – Part 1
“Strive in the Way of Allah as you ought to strive with sincerity and under discipline…” Al-Qur’an 22:78
[This is Part 1 of a four-part series on charismatic, personality-based leadership vis-a-vis institutional leadership.]
I was in Atlanta over the Memorial Day Weekend (May 2012) and had the pleasure of visiting with family and friends. I also had a chance to visit briefly with friends at the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam including Imams Mansoor and Suleiman and several more members of the Community there. I always have a wonderful time when I visit Atlanta and I thank the believers there for always being warm and welcoming. To my family and other friends in Metro Atlanta, thanks for a wonderful visit. I pray all of you also had a relaxing and enjoyable holiday weekend.
This week, I wanted to jump right in with our discussion on a matter I consider very important in characterizing a couple of categories of leadership. I thought about starting this week’s discussion with a definition of leadership. But I think it’s more useful to discuss what this thing called leadership is by talking about it in a specific context, rather than giving a definition that may be more academic in nature and not really connected to the people it serves–well, there’s a sort of definition there; that is leadership is a servant to the people. But there are obviously different types of leadership besides just good and bad.
Since the loss of our leader, Imam W. Deen Mohammed (R) in 2008, we have been forced to envision the future without his personal presence. In this regard, I want to thank Imam Faheem Shuaibe for his document “Understanding The Way Forward In The Community of Imam W. D. Mohammed” and his accompanying commentary to help us envision the future.
Without doubt, one of the Imam’s primary leadership goals was to help us evolve from an initially critical and fundamental, yet immature charismatic or personality-based leadership to an institutional leadership based on a system (of government and respect for the group intellect). For ease of discussion, we’re going to use the term personality-based leadership or PBL to include the term charismatic leadership. And we’ll use ISTL for institutional leadership.
Note some of the “general” characteristics of PBL and ISTL
|PBL (Personality Based Leadership)||ISTL (Institutional Leadership)|
|*Vested in a single individual.||*Vested in a system of leadership.|
|*Assigned by a single source.||*Selected by a group electoral or documented selection process.|
|*Possesses specific knowledge/ability not held by others.||*Individual not seen as irreplaceable.|
|*Often related to the prior leader.||*Typically unrelated by blood to past leader.|
|*Of relatively short duration (normal life span).||*Perpetual representational leadership.|
|*Indefinite term of office.||*Definite term of office/ratification scheduled.|
|*Usually passes away in office.||*Death less consequential.|
|*Death causes a major, fundamental reassessment of organization; potential cause of conflict/disagreement.||*Succession usually marked by smoothly ordered transition.|
|*Leadership role seen as “Messianic.”||*Leadership role seen as administrative.|
|*Less emphasis on constitutional governance (rules, policies, standards loosely defined and in continual flux).||*Constitutional governance ingrained (documented standards).|
Now there are some exceptions or hybrids of PBL & ISTL, most notably seen in instances of tribal and clan leadership, family dynasties and kingdoms. Yet even hybrids evolve into a system of leadership that albeit remains confined within a certain lineage. And of course, there are situations in which a particularly gifted leader can influence or imprint institutional leadership with his or her personality. In fact, it is expected over a period of time that an ISTL system of leadership should be positively influenced by the successive personalities of the most effective leaders who have been at the helm of an organization. I also submit that from time to time, a charismatic leader emerges, at least in terms of social movements, to evolve the institution and as it were, reconnect the “institution” back to the very first charismatic leader. That’s not an original idea from me.
I can’t think of a more charismatic, personality-based leadership than the Last Prophet Muhammed (s) sent to all humanity; today his leadership is institutionalized. Yet in fact, the very nature of Prophethood is founded upon personality leadership. One of the biggest mistakes that some religious scholars and non-scholars make is to assume that the level of personality-based leadership inherent in the Plane of the Prophets is meant to remain as a governing model…just with another personality assuming the office of leadership. Hence, we get the misguided notion from some of a super Caliph over one world ummah.
The very nature of personality-based leadership is centralization and the nature of institutional leadership is decentralization. Like our Imam said, “G-d made Prophet Muhammed (SAW) as a light to all the world and in him is the excellent model. As Believers, we are supposed to be witnesses with our behavior…the Prophet is not here in one body, but in one billion minds and each of us should have the Prophet in our hearts.” (GONAL, p. 99). Hence personality-based leadership is destined to be institutionalized in the group intellect.
–To be continued.
Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.
Sincerely & respectfully,
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