7 – Leadership Lessons from being a shepherd of sheep

Interestingly most of the Anbiya (Prophets) of Allah Y were shepherds of sheep. Esa (Jesus) u used the simile of the shepherd when he spoke of himself as the shepherd of men. There is much to be learnt in shepherding sheep. Here are some lessons in leadership that being a shepherd of sheep teaches us.

1.    Responsibility & Accountability: (Hadith: Kullukum rayin wa kullukum mas-oolayn ar raayi-a – All of you are shepherds and all of you will have to answer for those in your care). The shepherd has to report to a higher authority. The shepherd is responsible and can’t blame the sheep for getting lost or hurt. He can’t say, ‘What can I do, my sheep are stupid.’ No matter if the sheep are stupid or clever, the shepherd is responsible.

2.    Patience, Mercy, Compassion: Sheep have some qualities that other animals don’t have. Sheep take their time, they are slow, they run around, get easily distracted. They are weak and need more protection than other animals. They are more susceptible to threats than camels, horses or cattle. They have no concept of unity. They don’t come together to protect their young or the flock. They can’t be punished too harshly because they don’t have the strength to withstand severe punishment. So the shepherd has to be patient, merciful and compassionate with sheep otherwise they die. Camels are arrogant and so you have to meet the arrogance with strength and so the shepherds of camels tend to be tough and rude because that is how they keep camels in control. This is how the profession affects the individual. Doctors can’t write properly, they scribble. Teachers become very scholarly and pedantic. Mechanics have a personality different from farmers who deal with plants and the earth. Engineers, politicians, lawyers, policemen all have different personalities. So the profession is very important to consider so that you choose a profession that suits Islam and does not corrupt your Deen. Sahaba accepted all kinds of political/administrative positions but set the standard for those professions and did not succumb to the common illnesses of politics or administration. The shepherd has to be patient and bear with their people, no matter what they do. Musau was a shepherd for 10 years and so he had a lot of training to lead Bani Israel. So were many other prophets.

3.    Courage: The shepherd protects the flock so he has to be courageous. There are many threats all of which the shepherd must be aware of and know what to do about them. A shepherd has to be prepared to put himself in danger to save his flock because sheep can’t defend themselves, let alone defending the shepherd. Since not all threats are the same, the shepherd has to anticipate threats and be prepared for them. He has to be creative to think of solutions for new emerging threats before they become sources of grief. A flock of sheep is notoriously difficult to keep in control as sheep have a tendency to stray. So the shepherd must be alert all the time and must know his sheep intimately so that he will know when one is missing.

4.    Concern & Compassion: Sheep have to be fed. They won’t go and look for food on their own. If food is not provided, they will simply sit and die. So no matter what the weather conditions may be, the shepherd has to ensure that he takes them to the right grazing ground or has an alternate source of food and water for his sheep. The shepherd has to think of his sheep’s nutrition before he thinks of his own. So concern and compassion for the flock has to be uppermost in his mind. When sheep get sick, it is the shepherd who has to sit up in the night and nurse them. Sheep are delicate and easily injured, so the shepherd has to be compassionate and help them over difficult ground, if necessary carrying them across. How many times have we seen a shepherd carrying a newborn kid on his shoulders, because it is still not strong enough to walk?

5.    Vision: Sheep are close to the ground and so can’t see very far and are not aware of any hidden dangers. The shepherd has a vantage point and so he can see the danger long before the sheep become aware of it and warn the sheep against it. Anbiya foresee the results of deeds which the doers of the deeds don’t see. When a shepherd is herding his flock he is the only one who knows the direction to take and the destination that he wants them to reach. Sheep simply go in the direction he sets even if it is harmful. That is why it is essential for the shepherd to be clear about the direction in the first place and so vision is critical.

6.    Simplicity: A shepherd’s life has to be simple by default. So the shepherd learns austerity and to live without the luxuries. The shepherd has to carry his own possessions as the sheep will not carry them for him so he has to be light and mobile. The shepherd has to be physically tough and must take hardship in his stride. He sleeps early, wakes often in the night to check on his flock and then wakes early as the day breaks and his flock begins to stir. If he sleeps too long the sheep will leave him and go away in all directions.

7.    Closeness to nature: Shepherds naturally live close to the creation of AllahY. In most places, shepherds camp out with their sheep moving from grazing to grazing and don’t return home for months. Often their only companions are their sheep. You have to love solitude and know how to keep yourself engaged to be a good shepherd. There is plenty of time to reflect, no urgency to go from place to place and the opportunity to get to know yourself very well. Among the joys of being close to nature is being able to see the stars, eat and drink natural things, sleep on the ground. To hear the silence. To become comfortable with darkness and not feel threatened. To see the sun rise and set, recognize the signs of AllahY in His creation and so build his own connection with the One to whom he will have to answer one day.

All these are the benefits of herding sheep. Even if we don’t do that literally today, it is important to ask how many of these qualities are within us and what we are doing to develop those that are not.

To every Israeli soldier

Listen and listen well
O! One who could have been our brother
For we are one people, whether you like it or not
You are a Semite, A son of Israeel (Issac)
I am a Semite, A son of Ismaeel (Ishmael)
Our father, the father of both you and I
Is Ibrahim (Abraham)
Or are you one who will even deny his own father?
Listen and listen well
O! One who could have been our brother
We will die on our feet
But we will not live on our knees.
You know how to kill, But we know how to die
Hitler gassed 6 million of you, but he could not kill your spirit
Those who died only made stronger, those who remained alive
Why then did you imagine that if you became Hitlers
The results of your ‘gassing’ would be any different?
Listen and listen well
O! One who could have been our brother
Just as others silently watched you going into the gas chambers
Others silently watch us burying our children, the children that you continue to kill
But we remind ourselves
That the blow that does not break the back, only strengthens you.
O! You who used to be the People of Musa (Moses),
But today you have become people of the Firawn (Pharaoh)
Remember we are the real people of Moses, for we, not you, believe in his message
Remember that when the fight is between Moses and Pharaoh
Moses always wins.
 We say to the silent watchers, the cowards,
We say to those who sit securely in their homes
We are the front line who are holding back the enemy
When we fall, it will be your turn.
Remember O! Arabs
The story of the White Bull (Al Thawr il Abyadh)
Who said to the world when the tiger finally came for him
Listen O! People, I do not die today,
I died when the Black Bull died.
Listen and listen well
O! One who could have been our brother
We did not come into this world to live here forever
Neither did you
One day we will all go from here
Whether we like it or not
What is important my brother, son of Israeel
Sons of a Prophet, O! What have you become today?
What have you allowed them to make you?
Kill us, if that is what you want to do
At least we die at the hands of our own brothers
And not at the hands of strangers
Listen and listen well
O! One who could have been our brother
We laugh as we see your Apache helicopters and F-16 jets fly overhead
We laugh because we can smell your fear
Why else do you need Apaches and F-16s to fight children with rocks?
A battle of honor is between equals
We challenge you, you who have sold your honor
Come to us as equals so that we can show you how to die with honor
We laugh at you because we know, that not in a million years
Will one of you ever have the guts to stand up to one of our children
Without hiding behind an array of weapons that the American tax payer gives you
We laugh at you, because that is what every warrior does
When he faces an army of cowards.
Listen and listen well
O! One who could have been our brother
It is not whether we live or die that is important
It is how we live and how we die
Ask yourself: How would you like to be remembered?
Without respect, despised and accursed through the centuries,
Or blessed, honored, your passing mourned.
Allah is our witness: We lived with honor; begging for no favors
And He is our witness: That today we die with honor, on our feet
Fighting until the last breath leaves our body, even if all we have in our hands are stones
He is the witness over us both
As you kill us and as we die
And to Him is our return
Listen and listen well
O! One who could have been our brother
On that Day, my little baby who you killed last night
Will ask Him for what crime she was murdered
Prepare your answer, O! One who could have been our brother
For you will answer to Him
I swear by His Power: You will answer to Him.

About Life and Living

Methuselah lived 986 years and all they said about him was that he died.
~ Francis Behymer

One of the classic stances of today is to talk about the ‘sanctity of human life’. I put that phrase in inverted commas because if we look about ourselves at all the millions dying due to deprivation or war or oppression, we can see that human life is about the cheapest commodity that we have today. However since hypocrisy is the universal virtue of today, it is only appropriate that we at least talk about the sanctity of human life. Never mind that sanctity really depends not on whether the life is human or not, but on which human it is. Some humans are more expendable than others. When we kill them we call it ‘collateral damage’. But when the killers are killed, it is called ‘murder most foul’. And yet they were both human and they both died.
The question therefore is not about life itself but about its real value. I ask myself, “What is the value of my life?”
In my view my life can be as valuable as I want to make it. It is not how long I live, but how I live which is more important. It is not what I do but the intention behind that action which determines whether that action is worthy of appreciation and emulation or an illustration of something to avoid at all costs.  A life that is lived creating value is a valuable life. One that is lived indulging oneself and one’s desires or worse, creating negative effects is a life wasted. After all animals also live and do whatever pleases them. But they leave no mark of their passing. They live, they reproduce, they die. Most humans do the same, with as much effect on their environment, society and time such that when it is mentioned that they once lived, one is tempted to ask, “So what?”
We only live once. During the course of that life, a large part of it is spent in growing up and growing old. Between the two is a brief period where a window opens. A window of opportunity where we have the chance to make a difference. Whether we are able to take advantage of this window depends on whether we anticipated it and prepared for it. Every one of us has this window in our lives. But some of us, when opportunity knocks, we complain about the noise.
Now, if the value we add to our lives determines how valuable our lives are, then we need to be clear about what the most valuable thing for us to do is.
There are many things that add value to life. But the individual’s decision about what to do depends on two factors:
1.    The talents we have been gifted with
2.    The most important thing that needs to be done at the time we walk the earth
What we do or choose not to do, determines whether we are remembered and how.
“In the final analysis:
It all matters…
Everything that you do or choose not to do,
Communicate brand value and character.”
In my view there is one thing that takes precedence over all else when we look at the things that add value to human life. That is the establishment of justice. It is the rule of law that distinguishes human life from animal existence. It is the practice of the concepts of justice, that none must be discriminated against, that oppression is not legal and that crime attracts punishment which determine the maturity of a civilization. Barbarism is defined as a state where such rules are not apparent in practice, though in some societies they may well be spoken of, even with reverence. When Islam came into the world, these were the issues that attracted the worst opposition from the entrenched establishment because it is the establishment of justice that shakes the foundation of despotic rule. So therefore in my view, the most valuable thing in life is to establish justice.
At all places and in all times, it is the establishment of justice that is the most critical underpinning to all other activity. A mother who brings up her children with a focus on establishing justice creates harmony in the home and brings up good citizens. A teacher who focuses on the establishment of justice in his or her teaching creates a society that is free from discrimination and which encourages merit. A manager who focuses on the establishment of justice creates a work atmosphere that rewards genuine effort and enables employees to find fulfillment in their work. A government that focuses on the establishment of justice ensures that the talents of all citizens are allowed to flower for the benefit of the nation and that strong groups support the weak instead of oppressing them. So the establishment of justice is the single most valuable goal that anyone can work for.
However as I mentioned, establishing justice is not easy. It never was:
“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one
must take a position that is neither safe,
nor politic, nor popular;
But one must take it because it is right.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And that is the key; one must do what is right, no matter what the cost. But then who said it was easy? I only said that it was the most valuable thing to do. Not the easiest.
There is one key ingredient that is needed if one wants to establish justice and that is courage. Nobody is born with courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the willingness to go on. Courage is an acquired virtue. And how is it to be acquired? By practicing it. Courage comes when we take a stand for justice. It is the result of taking a stand for justice. We don’t take the stand because we have courage. We get courage when we decide to take the stand. When we first stand up our knees are weak with fear, our breath is short, our eyes mist over, there are cramps in our bellies and our voice is choked. But when we stand, it is as if a door opens and a cool breeze blows in our face that takes away our fear. We suddenly find steel being inserted into our spinal cord. Our legs become firm and strong, our voice powerful. And all because we decided to take the stand. Because we had faith.
“When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. There will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.”
~ Barbara Winters
A young boy came up to me during a gathering that I was addressing in Chennai at the Crescent School masjid, soon after the Gujarat genocide and asked me, “If I am surrounded by a mob which threatens to kill me unless I say that I am not a Muslim, is it okay if I say that to save my life?”
I said to him, “My son, it is not important whether you die or not, because one day we all die. What is important is how you die. Even more important is how you live. For so shall you be remembered.”

But you know, I was not talking to him at all. I was talking to myself.

In defense of ‘Yet’

As they say, ‘By the Law of Aerodynamics the Bumblebee cannot fly. But Bumblebees don’t know aerodynamics and so they fly.’

I believe that there is a word in the English language and its equivalent in every other language which is a closely guarded secret. It is my aim to blow the whistle on this secret because I believe that the salvation for us as a people depends on it.

The word is – YET.

Why am I making such a song and dance about this simple word?

Let me demonstrate. Write a sentence describing and situation, a state of being or a problem and then add the word YET to it. For example take the Israeli problem in Palestine and say, ‘There is no solution to the Israeli problem in Palestine – YET.’ Take the issue of global warming and say, ‘There is no solution to global warming – YET.’ Or take the problem with your mother in law and say, ‘I have not been able to make my mother in law love me – YET.’

Do you see what happens? The whole perspective changes. There is a BY perspective and an AY perspective – Before YET and After YET. The moment we add YET to the problem, we open the doors to the solution. If there is no solution – period – then there is nothing that I can do or be expected to do. There is no solution and that is all that there is to it. We have to lump it, get used to living with the problem for the rest of our lives and so on. All equally hopeless scenarios. But the moment I add the word YET – the situation becomes dramatically different. YET declares that the quest is not over. Far from it. We are looking for a solution. We will undoubtedly find it. We just haven’t reached it yet but indeed we will. And we are working on that. Now that is another world. And that is a world which is far better than the hopeless, dead world of ‘there is no solution.’

So why don’t we have this as our normal approach; our default setting for problem solving? This is because the creators of the ‘problems’ don’t want us to think in this way. They want us to accept conventional wisdom so that the status quo will never be questioned. The status quo helps them because believe you me, there is always a group that benefits from the misery of others. They don’t want any change or anyone questioning what is going on. But if we learn to question and if we learn to end our sentences in YET we will open a new world where to question will be a virtue.

To question is indeed a virtue. All progress depends on questioning; on not accepting status quo; on not accepting that change is not possible.

When success is the problem

 Design determines results. A train will never fly no matter how powerful the engine because it is not designed to fly. A microlight aircraft flies with an engine smaller than that of most motorcycles.

The problem with schooling is not that it’s failed but that it’s successful. It does what it’s designed to do..create mediocrity and conformity so that we have more and more compliant plodders who will never rock the boat, never question and God forbid, never rebel against injustice. It delivers very effectively what it was designed to deliver – obedient morons. Or to put it more charitably obedient servants for industrialists and the State. That is exactly what our education system does very well. We on the other hand want it to create children who will question, be creative, challenge the status quo, invent new ways to achieve results and generally buck the system positively. That is like expecting a train to fly by revving the engine. Our system is designed to create followers, not leaders. It is designed to create compliance not questioners. That is why we reward obedience and label questioning as disobedience and punish it. For the average teacher the ‘troublesome’ child is the one who asks too many questions in class. But it is only questioning which opens doors to new vistas and find solutions to problems which we don’t even recognize yet.

We all agree that the pace of change is such that quite literally we don’t have a clue about what the world will look like five years down the road. The only thing we can be sure of is that it will look very different. We also agree that the two critical ingredients to success in that world are imagination and divergent thinking of which creativity is the result. Yet we have an education system that destroys these things very effectively, ruthlessly and quickly. If you doubt me ask yourself how many times you have heard the statement, ‘Forget that. You can’t get a job doing that.’ And you are right. He can’t get a job doing that. But perhaps he can create jobs for thousands if you leave him alone with his dreams and not destroy his creativity and divergence. Or maybe he will not even create jobs but will be a happy human being living his life to fulfilment. Now what’s so bad about that? But that terrifies the daylights out of you and so you force him to comply until he succumbs – another one bites the dust.

 If you want your child to be a leader with a chance to do something valuable, to leave a legacy of honor, to change society, to alleviate suffering, help the oppressed, stand up against injustice and be a credit to you, then formal schooling is the first thing you should save him/her from.

Our education system doesn’t need change. It needs a decent burial. Then we need to put in place a system which is focused on developing the natural talents of the child, enabling him/her to leverage them to their greatest benefit and then help them to apply the learning. If you tweak a railway engine it will still not fly. If you want flight there’s nothing in the design of a railway engine that you can learn from. You need to forget railway engine and learn how to design something that’s the opposite of a railway engine. And that’s our problem…we’re trying to create a flying school using engine drivers. It’s not about fancy infrastructure and air conditioned classrooms but about opening minds, re-learning how to teach, writing new books and encouraging questioning, tangential thinking and unbridled imagination.

As a friend of mine who is a teacher put it, ‘We are churning out robots who can neither think for themselves, nor do we equip them to deal with life’s challenges, which is why there is such a high percentage of emotional and physical burn-out at an age when they should be at their creative peak!’ 

The big problem in schools is that the whole atmosphere is soul destroying. Homes are not much different. So most children don’t look up to either their parents or teachers. And the fault is not theirs. Most parents and teachers are only fit to be quietly pushed under the bed when you have polite company. Generally parents today seem to believe that upbringing of children consists of satisfying their physical needs alone. So there is no focus on developing their minds, fulfilling their spiritual needs or teaching them manners and social skills. We program our children to fail when they are faced with life’s challenges and those that still succeed do so despite us, not because of us.

When I am invited to speak to parent-teacher bodies in schools I usually start all such talks by giving them a task and asking one question:

1.    Please think of your role model (someone you know or knew personally)
2.    For how many of you is it a parent or a teacher?

I have never had more than 5% of the audience which had as their role models, parents or teachers. That means that 95% of the population doesn’t look up to parents or teachers – though they are the two roles which have the maximum face time with children.

Then I ask them another question: What do you think your children would say if they were in this room instead of you? Would they be thinking of you? The biggest problem today is a total starvation of role models. And that is the biggest challenge of education.

Today we have confused education with literacy and knowledge with information and stuff the children’s minds with disconnected data which makes no sense and then test them on recall at a specific time and we call that process of regurgitation – exams. That has given birth to the industry of Examination Factories who exist only to teach children how to ‘crack’ exams. Learning is the last item on their agenda, if it is even there at all. All that the child is taught is to cram select information on the basis of questions that have been asked for that exam in the past and the Exam Factory’s analysis of what is likely to be asked in the exam that the child will take. Once he does that successfully his photograph is used as the bait to draw other aspiring fish into the trap of mediocrity. The champ in our system is that poor beast who can stuff himself with random information which he has no clue how to use and faithfully regurgitate it on call. If the poor child recalls that same piece of useless information (E.g. When was the Magna Carta written?) five minutes after the bell, he would have failed the exam. To know the place of birth of Shakespeare is essential to pass our exams – not to write creatively in English. No wonder that many of our successful ‘scholars’ can hardly carry on an intelligent conversation for ten minutes or write a powerful letter to the editor in the papers. Did you ever wonder why all letters to editors are written by old codgers with nothing to do – not by school children whose future is being squandered by adults who couldn’t care less?

Our children spend on an average 15 years in what is called Primary, Secondary and High School and come out of there, completely unable to do anything useful, worthwhile or important in life. The only job they can get with 15 years of schooling is to wait tables for which also they have to be trained onsite. They can’t even do anything their education was supposed to teach them. How many school graduates do you know who wrote a book for example? After all they all learnt languages and passed papers in them for 15 years. And yet that is not enough for them to use that language creatively to express their thoughts. But we find nothing wrong with this. Their parents amazingly don’t think this to be odd at all even though they spent a fortune, which many could ill afford, on this thing they called ‘education’. I won’t even talk about how we squander science, math and humanities. Our society is the most powerful witness to that.

In this whole process I can’t possibly under-emphasize the importance of wise adults in the lives of children that the children can look up to. But where are we going to find them? We don’t need huge numbers of them (not that it would hurt) but we need at least one or two in the life of each child. The problems of drugs, rave parties, teenage pregnancies, alcohol (also a drug though we don’t like to call it that) and so on are really symptoms of the sickness of our society. That these are to be found in our schools is a sign of how deep that sickness has reached. We are very, very sick. We need surgery – not pills. And certainly not placebos.

Problem definition is always easy. Solving it takes a lot of time, pain and investment. And that is usually another story. But somewhere there is a spark, alive and waiting for the chance to flame into a conflagration that will light up the world. 

My Gift To You

The Final Essence – The ‘Can’t do without 7’ list

As I come to the closure of this book, and although I see my life as a work in progress, I would like to encapsulate some of my key learnings thus far. It has been my aim to show in this book that ordinary people can take leadership stances and make a lasting, positive difference in their world. Whether I succeeded or not is for the readers to judge. I continue my journey, ever looking forward to mountains still to climb and valleys still to gaze over. I realize that what I have written here is from an Islamic perspective and some parts may seem strange or foreign to the non-Muslim readers. But I am a Muslim and this is about my life and my experience. So I will speak my language just as the Dalai Lama would speak in terms of the Buddhist perspective or someone else from the perspective of his or her own faith, religion, or philosophy. In all these cases it is for the reader to ask questions, clarify and understand, and after having understood, to accept, or reject. We are all free to do this and to this freedom do I point you.
So what did I learn?
I call it my – Can’t do Without 7 List: The 7 are:
1. Faith
2. Courage
3. Dua
4. Discipline
5. Resilience
6. Companions
7. Desire to Serve
1. You can’t do without Faith:
I have mentioned one of my favorite quotes by Barbara Winters earlier in the book: “When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is to know that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.” I know exactly what she means because my life is full of instances where I was taught how to fly.
When you work with faith in ultimate success you enter into a state of ‘Grace’. I have talked about this state earlier as a place you enter after exerting supreme effort where there is a special quality to the sunshine, a special pleasure in being alive, and the taste of success is sweet.
I have mentioned the example of marathon runners who enter the state of grace, earlier in the book. Take another example from the pages of history, when an outnumbered Mongol army faced the vast army of Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, the Sultan of Khwarezm. The Mongol Tumans (brigades) led by Jochi ( Ghenghis Khan’s eldest son) and the Mongol general Jebe were vastly outnumbered by the Sultan’s army. So they executed a strategic retreat.
They escaped from the battle field and rode into the night, pursued persistently by the Sultan’s army. Both armies rode all night without break after having fought through the day. This ride is probably a global record not only of individual riders but entire armies who covered over 150 miles in 24 hours. One has to appreciate the endurance on both sides that the chase was continued long after any reasonable person would have given up. The sheer ability to master pain, sleep, and hunger is mindboggling, especially in today’s comfort loving culture. These were some very hard warriors, pitted against one another, carrying out the will of their generals. Early next morning the Mongols turned. The Sultan’s archers, dog tired after the hard night’s riding had the sun in their eyes. Nobody expected the Mongols to actually turn to fight. They expected them to get away. But they did the unexpected and turned. The result was the complete annihilation of the Sultan’s army – a victory unprecedented as it was unexpected. I can’t help but presume that Jochi’s and Jebe’s soldiers had entered the state of grace and they continued to fight on. The rest, as they say, is history.
There have been many instances in my life where I would feel midway that I had been crazy to take on the challenge. Having no alternative but to go forward, I would continue. And slowly I would stop feeling the tiredness and become conscious of the greatness of the journey. I would know in my heart that all my effort had been worth it.
Whether the challenge be physical or spiritual, the route to the state of grace is through great effort. This is easy to see in examples of war or martial arts or other physical challenges. It is much more difficult to see in the invisible challenges of the heart and mind. Nonetheless, you cannot reach the state of grace without exerting effort.
2. You can’t do without Courage:
Courage is passion. Courage is the willingness to be confident in that passion and to express it without fear. Passion kindles the fire in the hearts of others who you need in order to succeed. Passion is the light that illuminates the dark road of heartbreaking effort and enables you to keep walking when others want to turn around. Passion is what brings tears to the eyes – tears of great commitment, not weakness. If it can’t make you cry, it can’t make you work. Work without passion is drudgery – with passion, a joy in itself.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to continue. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending. Fear is a sign of intelligence. It shows that you recognize the enormity and danger of the challenge and are not living in a fool’s paradise. Courage is the willingness to face that challenge, to face that fear and look it in the eye and continue on the road to success with your eyes wide open. Courage enables you to set extraordinary goals because only the courageous realize that it is in the nature of the extraordinary goal to inspire extraordinary effort. Nobody rises to low expectations. People rise to high expectations. Courage enables you to set high expectations. Courage comes from knowing your strengths and being able to leverage them. Courage comes from living thoughtfully and building on the life experience of having won other battles in the past and having learnt lessons from them. Courage comes from living intelligently and being able to recognize and use assets strategically and to jettison liabilities.
Courage is the ability to say no – firstly, to yourself. Courage is the ability to take hard decisions knowing that if there is a cancer then it must be cut out. Courage is the ability to take pain; the physical pain of great effort and the far greater emotional pain of betrayal, confusion, and loss of hope.
The story of Genghis Khan’s troops against the Sultan of Khwarezm’s army is a classic illustration of courage on both sides but where in the end the Mongols won because their courage was greater. This courage has nothing to do with the outside world but everything to do with the inside – challenging yourself beyond what you believed possible. It is truly said, ‘Nobody knows the best that he can do.’ For we only know what we have done until now. The best is what we discover when we stand to face the challenges that life throws at us and even more those that we consciously choose. Challenges and difficulties do two things – they test our courage and they increase it. It is only when you stand up to a challenge that you realize that you could overcome it and that is a hugely empowering feeling. Without the challenge you would never have known your ability and now that raises the bar for you in terms of what you can face. So physical toughness is very important and mental toughness even more than that – for tiredness is a state of mind, not body. The body will continue as long as the mind refuses to accept defeat.
Courage is the ability to pick yourself up and climb out of that abyss; while those around you have no idea about the path that you are walking on. Courage is the willingness to open your heart to others and allow it to break because the heart was made to feel and to be broken – not to be protected from all emotion and preserved, unbroken, turned to stone. Courage is to realize that it is the broken heart which is dearest to the One who created the heart. Courage is the ability to take hard decisions and face the pain that comes with them, secure in the belief that what you did was for a greater cause. The killers in life are the excuses that we make for our own laziness, low quality and so on. Hard decisions bring us back on track.
Courage is the willingness to eat less, sleep less, work harder, delay gratification, and continue to work for the great goal that you are pursuing. Finally courage is linked to faith; deeply and inextricably. The courage of the one who lacks faith will break at some point because he will suddenly realize that he is all alone. But the one who has faith knows that he is never alone and that the One who has no limits to His resources likes those who embark on great endeavors and will help them to succeed. So he stays in the race long after others have fallen by the wayside. For the truth is that the race of life is most often won, not by the fastest but by the one who stayed in it long enough.
3. You can’t do without Dua:
Dua is to talk to Allah. This may seem unreal in a world where we are so sunk in materialism that God is unreal. But believe me, I learnt this all through my life, God is real. Allah exists. He listens, sees, and knows. He cares and helps. And when you ask, He gives. The key is to ask knowing that He is real. And that is what Dua is. To turn to Him not only when you are in trouble but when you are happy. To simply have a conversation. To tell Him your story. To ask Him questions. Don’t worry about how He will answer. That is His choice. But I learnt that He does answer and if you keep your heart clean, you will know when He answers. This requires you to build a relationship with Him. Everyone has a relationship with Him willy-nilly because He is our Creator. I am talking about taking that relationship to a higher level of understanding His greatness, of expressing thanks for His bounty, and of recognizing Him in His signs and glorifying His Majesty and Grace. Dua is the essence of worship – it is to talk to Allah who is the only one who is worthy of being worshipped. You can’t do without Dua, believe me.
Dua gives courage because it strengthens the connection between the Creator and you and reminds you that you are not alone and that your Creator wants you to succeed. Like most things of this nature, dua must be experienced for you to taste its sweetness. There is only so much that anyone can explain about its beauty, power, and comfort. After that it needs you to experience it – like a big, warm hug – how do you explain what it feels like to the one who has never been hugged?
4. You can’t do without Discipline:
We must all suffer one of two things; the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
Of these two the pain of discipline is far easier to bear. Discipline is simply to get up and do what must be done without making excuses. Discipline is to realize that excuses don’t change reality. Failure doesn’t change to success because you have a good excuse. Loss doesn’t reverse to gain because you have a good excuse. Excuses change nothing. Discipline is to stop making excuses and do what it takes to succeed. Discipline is to realize that everyone has the same 24 hours and the same choices of what they choose to do with that time. Discipline is to realize that opportunities don’t come; they don’t knock on your doors. They have to be sought out, grasped, and taken advantage of. When did you ever see the deer come in search of the hunter? Opportunities are like deer. They exist for the benefit of the hunter who has the discipline to prepare his trap, wait patiently and then spring to the kill. For all others there is the dust of the road to eat watching the tail of the deer disappearing in the distance.
5. You can’t do without Resilience:
Resilience is the willingness to get up, every time you fall. Not the ability, but the willingness. I say, ‘Not the ability’ because if the willingness is there, the ability will emerge. But without the willingness the ability, even when it is there, remains dormant and you stay down. Resilience comes from the willingness to face the brutal facts without any whitewashing or pretension. To face the truth about yourself no matter how ugly that may look and then to have the willingness to do whatever it takes to change yourself, your actions, your beliefs, your strategy, and your tactics. To change everything except your goal.
Resilience is to combine the willingness to accept the harsh reality of present failure with an unshakable faith in the fact that one day you will win. So you continue to work, firm in the belief that it is only a matter of time and strategy before you succeed. This is very important because in all great endeavors there comes a time when there is darkness all around. When those who started with you with great hope, have become tired and some have fallen by the wayside. Many start to lose faith in you and in your ability to succeed. And to speak the truth you also start to doubt yourself in your heart. The night is cold and dark. It seems that dawn will never come. It is at this time that it is most essential to remain constant, to keep the faith, to keep smiling and positive and never to compromise the goal or reduce the standard. There will be great pressure on you to compromise, to accept a lower standard, to sacrifice your principles. To do that is suicide. To remain constant is the true meaning of resilience and this is not possible without the first two – faith and dua. For only with faith in the Creator and the relationship with Him that enables you to talk to Him, can you retain faith in eventual success when all the signs around you are only pointing to failure. I have seen this many times in my life, that when you withstand the night, you start to see the glow on the horizon which tells you that the sun will rise again. The truth is that the sun always rises. We only have to last out the night. That is resilience which you can’t do without.
6. You can’t do without Companions:
There is a rider on this one – not simply companions but the right companions. This is a deal maker or deal breaker. Our companions can help us to succeed or fail. So it is essential to be able to judge people accurately. There is nobody in the world who can win alone. There never was. There never will be. People who win in any aspect of life are people who know how to build, cherish, maintain, and sever relationships. Please note that I have mentioned also severing relationships. That is because relationships can be positive and negative. With the latter it is essential to sever them, but to do that in a way that is not damaging to the people involved. That is the skill. How can you part as friends?
A very essential skill in having good companions is the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. To agree to disagree; to accept differences, even major ones, but still see areas of agreement where you can collaborate and work together. This is essential because success depends on having people with the right competencies and skills with you – not merely people you like or who like you. Conflict is a sign of commitment but it must be resolved. So the ability to resolve conflicts in a way that strengthens friendship is essential to keeping good companions by your side. People like to work with those who they believe value them and there is nothing that builds credibility more than accepting that you were wrong. Resolving conflicts often is simply about accepting your own mistakes. And it is about helping people keep focused on the ultimate goal in which we all have a common stake.
Good companions are those who push you to greater heights, who don’t accept poor quality, who hide your faults from others but point them out to you with love. Good companions are those who make excuses for you but don’t allow you to make excuses for yourself. Good companions are those who refuse to accept from you anything but the best because they believe that you are capable of achieving it. Good companions are those who share your passion, dream your dream and are willing to do what it takes to make it come true.
Good companions are those who understand and appreciate, not merely tolerate – one another. This is an outcome of good communication and that is a critical skill in building that team of good companions that leads to success. Good communication is not about talking but about being understood and more importantly about being believed. Good communication is built on a platform of trust which is the adhesive that keeps companions together. Trust typically takes long to build and an instant to break. Trust is the result of consistently demonstrating concern and compassion for others, even at your own cost. Trust results in the lowering of defenses between companions and so its betrayal is very damaging. Trust must be protected and cherished, for once lost, it can never be restored. Good companions are those who can be implicitly trusted. So ask yourself, ‘Am I am good companion?’
7. You can’t do without the Desire to Serve
What is the benefit of serving? Think contribution, not entitlement. Entitlement comes with territory. Contribution defines territory. Service is simply good business. To serve one must be aware of what people need, deliver according to need, be concerned with how it is received, provide the support that may be necessary for the recipients to enjoy the service, and make amends if something goes wrong. All these are principles of good business and result in great wealth and influence without tension, fear or aggression. The desire to serve is at the bottom of great quality. It is the foundation of great customer relations, employee satisfaction, social responsibility, and universal goodwill. Those who seek to serve are those who have the maximum power and influence and add value to themselves and others.
Imagine a world where people seek ways to help one another. Imagine a world where people are genuinely concerned for the weak. Imagine a world free from oppression because those who have more seek to give it to those who need it; where surplus wheat is not dumped into the sea to drive up wheat prices, but rather shipped off to places where people are starving. Imagine a world that doesn’t dump billions of dollars’ worth of food into the garbage, but instead looks for those who are hungry. Imagine a world where doctors and pharmaceutical firms seek to heal the sick as cheaply and simply as possible – not make money out of other’s pain.
Imagine a world where teachers are paid more than entertainers. Imagine a world where there are no wars because those who have natural resources and those who have the technology to utilize them, work in fair and just relationships where both parties benefit. Imagine a world where knowledge about what harms the environment immediately results in stopping that harm and nobody needs to be reminded, persuaded or forced to comply with laws to protect the world. Imagine a world where people are concerned about the future and don’t confuse vice for freedom and seek to keep the environment clean from all forms of physical, mental, spiritual and material corruption.
Imagine a world where people feel responsible for each other’s welfare and ask the question, ‘What will my neighbor feel if I say or do this?’ Imagine a world where freedom is exercised with responsibility and is not confused with anarchy. Imagine a world where hurting someone else is considered serious enough for one to ensure it’s never done.
I wish we didn’t need to imagine such a world because we lived in it and it was real to us. I also believe that be that as it may, the opportunity to create such a world exists as long as we live.
So I live by my motto: “I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control.” And that is my gift to you.