Jun 7

Leadership and Islam – Lessons I Learned in Morocco

Stephan Polomski
Stephan Polomski is director human resources, coach and trainer

In April and May I attended a seminar of process oriented psychology on personal vision quest in Marrakech when a bomb exploded in a restaurant on the main square Djemaa El Fna killing 20 people. I was only 200 meters away and heard the blast without truly admitting to myself what happened until I saw the destruction and listened to the silence. We went on with the seminar. One week later Osama Bin Laden was captured and executed in Pakistan.

In that period, I talked to many Moroccans. They expressed fear for their lives and the lives of their families and yearned for peace and harmony. I was not amazed experiencing this kind of idea exchange because what I found in Morocco during my stay was an enormous hospitality, generosity and esteem for me as a European. I was even ashamed how cautious and empathic my interlocutors were communicating with me. And it was the same attitude I already had the chance to experience at home in my company with our Moroccan staff members.

The question aroused what kind of socialization, what kind of education, of values, of guiding principles had been the root of this very behavior honoring the counterpart?

“The question aroused what kind of socialization, what kind of education, of values, of guiding principles had been the root of this very behavior honoring the counterpart?”

One of the central principles I came across and wide spread among the people was the notion of Baraka. Things you accomplish, bargains you close or relationships you establish need Baraka. In my words, it is the way how you do things, that you put commitment into your activities and try to guard the balance and wellbeing of all sides involved. The outcome is happiness and satisfaction – Moroccans may call it blessing – and I said in our seminar that translated into my business language I would call it striving for sustainable win-win-solutions. People were laughing, however there is some truth in it. If you act in awareness of Baraka, you even apply a caring attitude. Both concepts are not so far way from each other.

During the end of my stay in Marrakech I regularly talked to my host of the riad I lived in during dinner. He was a descendent of Moroccan scholars and had many answers on hand as I simply found out, that I do not know almost anything about Islamic culture and lifestyle except the daily news. It came very clear that faith and juridical system are dominated by religion and that religion, the Koran, is what gives structure and direction in daily life. He introduced me to the concept of the five columns of Islam: commitment, prayer, fasting, lovingness, and pilgrimage to Mekka.

When he finished that night, I looked at him, still reflecting and then asking if he permits an audacious conclusion. His tolerance invited me to explore my idea, that, in the end, in successful leadership the requirements structuring business are not really far away from the five columns – and hence, as I did it with the notion of Baraka, I tried to translate the five columns into my business language for my interlocutor pointing out, that it is the attidude, which counts:

  1. In business you need a distinct commitment to the cause you are working for. This is the source of your personal motivation and personal credibility as a leader. You need a personal vision, a personal value system and a strategy, how to achieve this: a personal mission.
  2. Although you have a bunch of meetings every day you rarely meet with yourself alone. As a leader you need self-reflection and an inner and personal alignment of daily routine with your vision, mission and values answering yourself the question am I still on track?
  3. High performance requires not only knowledge and attitude; it requires as well a healthy body system. Fitness and work-life-balance ensure that you stand the challenges of tomorrow.
  4. A distinct stakeholder management and caring attitude for customers, employees, shareholders and – last not least – for society is crucial if your commitment and responsibility go beyond profit. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability are prerequisites of caring companies.
  5. Every leader needs a place to regain resources. These places may be in nature or in your heart or wherever you feel at home. They enable you to pass from leadership to eldership.

Basically, I said to my host, that these were also the things I am teaching in our leadership development program and I came to the conclusion that we were not living in two worlds apart, but in one and striving for similar objectives and using even similar methods.

That night – beholding two cultures under one peaceful roof – the sweet mint tea closing our dinner was especially tasty. The shy and warmhearted maid of the riad, certainly put a lot of Baraka into it.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 at 05:08 and is filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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