Video and Book Review: The Leadership of Muhammad by Prof. John Adair


Indeed, the Messenger of God is an excellent model for those of you who put your hope in God and the Last Day and remember Him often.  (Al Quran 33:21/22)

Source: Muslim Sunrise: Summer 2019 volume

Written by Prof. John Adair

Reviewed by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

John Adair is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership and leadership development.  Over a million managers worldwide have taken part in the Action Centered Leadership programs he pioneered.

He wrote this wonderful book about the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s contributions to leadership in 2010.  This year he has come out with another book Confucius on Leadership.

His short 127 page book, The Leadership of Muhammad, appears to me, to be a very lucid commentary of the verse, I mentioned as Epigraph and Adair quotes it in the introduction to his book.

In the conclusion of his book, he pays wonderful tribute to the Prophet, by saying, “The Muslim tradition of leadership, if I have understood it, transcends even the three great human traditions of understanding leadership that I have just mentioned.”

He describes a universal or a generic role of a leader.  He says that a universal leader, then, will be a person who exemplifies such distinctively human qualities as goodness, kindness, humaneness and compassion.  He writes in the introduction of the book:

I believe that there is a universal or generic role of leader. Moreover, thanks to one lucky discovery (see Chapter 8), I have come as close as anyone has yet been to defining what that universal or generic role actually is.  When experimentally applied on a large scale to selection and training of leaders the theory has worked consistently, and it has done so for over half a century. That is why I now claim that it is true.

John Adair

Prof. John Adair: UN Chair of Strategic Leadership & World’s first Professor of Leadership Studies

Adair concludes each of the eight chapters with a few key points.  In the end of the first chapter he writes:

• Leader should exemplify or personify the qualities expected, required and admired in their working groups. A leader of soldiers, for example, needs to demonstrate courage, ‘the soldier’s virtue’, as Shakespeare called it.
• Courage is a quality shown by Muhammad at Hunayn: it is that which enables people to meet danger without giving way to fear, to act bravely under stress or to endure in times of adversity.

• Another generic quality of universal leaders is humility. The word comes from the Latin root humus (ground, earth), related to homo (man). When Muhammad spread his cloak, lowered himself and sat on the ground with people at the same level, it was an act of humility. Compare a king sitting high upon a throne above his subjects, who abase themselves before him. As they will tell you in Ghana, ‘Don’t expect to be offered a chair when you visit a place where the chief himself sits on the floor.’

The fifth chapter is titled, Muhammad: ‘The Trustworthy One,’ here, Adair writes:

Why does truth or veracity, honesty and high principle, matter in a leader? The reason is simple. Leaders who are true, and always speak the truth, create trust. And trust is vital in all human relations, professional or private.  You can see why Muhammad insisted upon integrity in those who were chosen to be leaders in the Umma, the growing Muslim community. There was to be no place for any form of bribery or corruption: not that this prohibition was – or is – easy, for man is ‘violent … in his love of wealth’ (Q 100:8).
‘I will stand surety for Paradise if you save yourself from six things: telling untruths, violating promises, dishonouring trust, being unchaste in thought and act, striking the first blow, taking what is bad and unlawful.’ MUHAMMAD

Today, the political leaders do not think twice, before a preemptive strike, which can kill innocent people, when it serves their purpose, as long as they can fog the public perception, with excuses, smoke screens and propaganda.

Aristotle and Cicero prescribed morality for the political leaders, but, then came Machiavelli, with his excessive focus on pragmatism and ends justifying the means.  Niccolò Machiavelli,  (died June 21, 1527, Florence), Italian Renaissance political philosopher and statesman, secretary of the Florentine republic, whose magnum opus, The Prince, arguably the most famous book on politics, brought him a reputation as an atheist and an immoral cynic.  According to Encyclopedia Britannica, The Prince, gave the name Machiavellian to the teaching of worldly success through scheming deceit.[1]

Adair’s presentation of universal or genuine leader is polar opposite to the concept of the “Prince” put forth by Machiavelli, after whom, knowingly or unknowingly, many a recent politicians have fashioned and tailored themselves.  I believe that a universal leader should have no part of the “Prince,” but, should be able to deal with one, when he or she comes across one.

In the eighth chapter he draws parallels between the legendary Muslim general, Saladin and the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.  He writes:

Let me pick out one or two instances where we can see the light of the leadership of Muhammad distantly reflected in Saladin.

Take the Quranic principle of moderation, as in: ‘Make not your hands tied (like a niggard’s) to your neck nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that you become blameworthy and destitute’ (Q 17:29). Aristotle has also located virtue as the middle course between two extremes.  The Romans called it the golden mean. … Saladin, for example, was neither too brave in battle for his own good nor too anxious for his life. He struck just the right balance.

Before a battle Saladin – so a biographer who knew him well tells us – would traverse the whole army from the right wing to the left, creating a sense of unity and urging them to advance and stand firm at the right time. Once the armies engaged he would calmly ride between battle lines of his soldiers, under fire from bolts and arrows, accompanied only by a groom with a spare horse. Notice that he was in the zone of danger, but avoided foolishly throwing away his own life in hand-to-hand fighting. That is not the proper work of a general. By sharing their danger, being among them, he both steadied and calmed them. His very presence was inspiring. Dead generals cannot do that.

During a long truce Saladin conferred with Hubert Walter, Bishop of Salisbury, who happened to be on pilgrimage at the time. Saladin had observed King Richard in action and admired his courage. Richard was 20 years younger than the Saracen commander-in-chief, and he always threw himself into the thick of a battle. Through the bishop Saladin sent Richard some personal advice.  ‘Do not incur danger so unnecessarily’, he urged him.  ‘Don’t be so prodigal with your life!’ Alas, Richard did not listen. Nor were the two generals destined to meet.  Later, at a siege in France, Richard paid the price of not paying heed to a master in the art of generalship. He rushed needlessly into danger once too often and died from his wounds after being struck by an arrow. He was only 42. Saladin’s advice to his young opponent was a kind thought, the sign of a magnanimous character.

John Adair’s work is refreshing as it has redirected the students of political science, sociology and management to the age old morality of the prophets like Muhammad and Confucius, may peace be on both of them.


Mosque of Medina, first built by the Prophet Muhammad in 1 AH

This book is indeed a great break through as it has finally bridged the chasm that had been artificially created over the last several centuries, between the religious teachings of a moral leader and a pragmatic and often misleading leader of a secular world.

Let all political leaders, who fall too easily for pragmatism, take note that they will be judged on the touchstone of the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, if not by history in this world, then at least, surely, in the Hereafter.

For the rest of the story buy the book in, but, before I close, let me share the parting line of Adair’s last chapter, “What one does, one becomes.”



Additional Readings and Movie:

The Message: Mohammed: Messenger of God (A movie)

Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong

Muhammad: the Light for the Dark Ages of Europe!

Movie Lincoln – Directed by Steven Spielberg

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