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The Prophet's
Leadership Qualities

Cover Story


Leadership is an important topic in management studies. One of the many approaches towards understanding leadership is the “trait theory”. This theory assumes that certain traits or characteristics will tend to lead to effective leadership. Some view these “leadership characteristics” as innate, and accordingly label some people as “born leaders” due to their psychological makeup. Let us apply this theory on the Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be with him) who undoubtedly was the greatest leader of all time.


The 'trait theory' suggests the following qualities associated with leadership:

A) Guiding others through modeling: Providing a role model and thorough willingness to serve others first. Thus a positive role model carries out a role demonstrating values, ways of thinking and acting, which are considered good in that role for others to emulate. The Prophet (peace to him) was an embodiment of the Qur'anic tenet “why say ye that which ye do not”. There are many incidents in the life of the Prophet which personify this quality. One of which occurred during the Battle of the Trench (Al Khandaq).  It so happened that on the advice of one of the companions of the Prophet it was decided that a huge trench be dug up around the city of Medina to protect itself from a frontal attack by the enemy. Each Companion was allocated a certain length to cover. The Prophet did not remain an onlooker and merely supervise the operation. He himself took up spade and shovel and was in the thick of day to day work. When some of the Companions came to him for assistance, they could observe that he too had tied stones to his stomach like them to reduce the intensity of hunger as food and other resources were running scarce.

B) Talent and technical / specific skill at some task at hand: Although this quality may apply and be understood more easily with relation to leadership in business or sports, etc., one may appreciate it even in the context of the Prophet (peace to him). One singular talent which the Prophet displayed in ample measure was to remain firm and patient in the face of mounting adversity. His entire life stands testimony to the Qur'anic precept “those who say “Our Lord is Allah” and further stand straight and steadfast”. Once, the Prophet visited the city of Taif to preach the message of Islam. He was ill-treated and some mischievous people even set up hooligans after him, who pelted him with stones, so much so that his shoes were soaked with blood. God sent his angels to destroy the people of Taif. In spite of receiving such horrendous treatment the Holy Prophet (peace to him) still appealed for mercy and their forgiveness. Such clemency and patience has no parallel in human history.

C) Initiative and drive: After the Prophet (peace to him) migrated to Medina he immediately convened a general meeting of the population both Muslim and non-Muslim and formulated a written constitution that banned internecine feuds and called for mutual cooperation in the face of external aggression. This initiative paved the way for internal consolidation and the much required impetus to tackle external dangers and threats.

D) Charismatic insp-iration - attractiveness to others and the ability to leverage this esteem to motivate others. The Prophet (peace to him) was immensely loved by his Companions so much so that they were ready to sacrifice their very lives at his command. They would always gather around him and try to learn whatever they could. A man once asked the Prophet: “When will the Hour (i.e. the Day of Resurrection) be established, O Allah's Apostle?” The Prophet said, “What have you prepared for it?” The man said, “I haven't prepared for it much of prayers or fast or alms, but I love Allah and His Apostle.” The Prophet said, “You will be with those whom you love.”

E) Preoccupation with a role - dedication that consumes much of leaders' life - service to a cause. The entire life of the Prophet (peace to him) was dedicated towards fulfilling the Prophetic mission. He wanted to establish the religion of Truth and convey the message of God to his people. This preoccupation and sense of responsibility can be seen in his address during the Farewell Pilgrimage when he asked his Companions what they felt about him. They all replied in one voice: “We bear witness that you have conveyed the message and discharged your ministry”. The Prophet then raised his forefinger three times towards the sky saying “O Lord Bear witness”

F) A clear sense of purpose – having clear goals, focus and commitment. This is exemplified in the reply that the Prophet (peace to him) gave when his uncle Abu Talib came to him on behalf of the unbelieving Quraish clan requesting a compromise or dilution of his message. The Prophet's reply: “If they place the sun in my right hand and moon in the left, even then I won't change an iota of what God has charged me to preach.”

G) Results-orientation- directing every action towards a mission - prioritizing activities to spend time where results most accrue. Thus propagation in the initial stages (during the Makkan stage) was confined to mere verbal preaching and there was no retaliation whatsoever in the face of the worst kind of physical persecution and verbal provocation.

H) Cooperation-work well with others. The personal disposition and personality of the Prophet (peace to him) was loving, caring and forgiving. He extended his cooperation to one and all. Before the advent of Islam the Prophet was part of a confederation in Makkah that was made to suppress violence, injustice and vindicating the rights of the weak and destitute. It was called Al-Fudoul confederacy. The Prophet once remarked: “I witnessed a confederacy in the house of Abdullah bin Jada'an. It was more appealing to me than herds of cattle. Even now in the period of Islam I would respond positively to attend such a meeting if I were invited.”

I) Ability to encourage and nurture those that report to them - delegate in such a way as people will grow. There are many instances of the Prophet (peace to him) encouraging and blessing his Companions to motivate them. Allah's Apostle once remarked: “Every nation has an extremely trustworthy man, and the trustworthy man of this nation is Abu 'Ubaida bin Al-Jarrah.”

J) Being optimistic – pessimists are rarely winners. The optimism and confidence of the Prophet (peace to him) can be gauged by the famous incident of Hijrah (Migration).The Quraish in hot pursuit of the Prophet had almost caught up even as he lay hidden in the cave of Thaur along with his Companion Abu Bakr. Narrated Abu Bakr: I was with the Prophet in the Cave. When I raised my head, I saw the feet of the people. I said, “O Allah's Apostle! If some of them should look down, they will see us.” The Prophet said, “O Abu Bakr, be quiet! (For we are) two and Allah is the Third of us.”

The leadership qualities that the Prophet possessed should be studied in greater detail by all those interested. We are bound to reap rich rewards.

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