New Manager

Leadership is a journey concept

D. Murali | Updated on February 06, 2011

The Leadership of Muhammad - John Adair

You can be appointed a commander or manager, but you are not a leader until your appointment is ratified in the hearts and minds of those you lead, recalls John Adair in The Leadership of Muhammad ( He writes that Muhammad perhaps discovered his ‘natural gift for leadership' when leading caravans.

Travelling back in time, the author opens the chapter titled Caravan Leader by narrating that the Quraysh – Muhammad's tribe – were once part of a larger confederation of tribes in the Najd desert known as the Bani Kinana. The Quraysh were in the business of caravans for they were merchants, he informs.

Leading a caravan

To explain how the role of a caravan leader was an exceptionally responsible one, Adair lists the things that needed to be done before a caravan left Mecca, for example – tasks included selecting and hiring a hundred or more camels and camel-drivers, assembling and packing loads, buying provisions and tents, preparing weapons, and securing money for expenses and for the camel-drivers' wages.

In the desert, all accountability for the caravan rested solely on the shoulders of the caravan leader. “He was without any means of communication with the owners once Mecca had receded from sight. Nor was the caravan insured. If any property in his care was damaged or stolen, it was the caravan leader and his kinfolk who were obliged to recompense the owners.”

Every large caravan was headed by a qaid (pronounced ‘akide'), an Arabic word that could be applied to a guide, the leader of a raid on another tribe's camels, or a military commander. Tracing the roots of the word leader to the Anglo-Saxon word ‘laed' that means a road, way, path or course of a ship at sea, and the verb ‘laedan,' which means to go or travel, the author avers that leadership is clearly a journey concept. A leader, literally, is one who leads the way by going first; the one, too, who may cause or make others go on a journey and holds them together in a body so that they do not get out of touch or lose their unity as a body, he elaborates.

Citing an apt quote of Muhammad, that on a journey the leader of a people is their servant, Adair reasons that a true leader serves those whom he or she leads, both as a group – meeting their needs to complete their journey safely and their needs to be maintained as a cohesive whole – and also as a set of individuals, for each individual on a journey may have small needs or problems as the journey proceeds.

Insightful study.

Published on February 06, 2011

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