The Big Oak Table in the Middle

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Guest post by Moazzam Ahmed, Master’s in Organizational Leadership, you can visit his website at TeamsThatDo

Meetings are held to make decisions, create action plans and get things done. But can I show you how you can make your meetings more productive over the long run by re-structuring the seating and the big oak table in the middle?

A table or surface in the middle of participants signifies convergence because it helps you to conclude and write the decisions down. On the other hand, empty space in the middle signifies openness, ideation and connection since the table doesn’t serve as a barrier in between participants. Often, a table in the middle can push the group towards a conclusion even if they are not ready. The effect of this can be jumping into action too soon, not considering other (maybe better?) options or worse not being ready for action.

Before scheduling each meeting, consider the agenda for the meeting. Are there topics that still need brainstorming and ideation? If so, encourage the group to sit in a circle without a table in the middle. If the table can’t be removed consider holding the meeting in a different room, a different section of the meeting room or even outdoors. Watch the participants ease into a discussion rather than jump to conclusions. Notice how the conversation allows for more brainstorming which in turn will open up more options and better understanding of the issue at hand. You will also notice participants relax as they will not need to conclude prematurely.

Here’s a living example: during the planning phase of a regional conference, I noticed that organizers wanted action items so they could go get things done. Over several meetings I watched the group create and take away their to-do lists only to be frustrated because the tasks were too large and silo-ed among the various committees. I suggested we hold the next meeting at an ice cream shop. Once everyone sat down with their ice creams, I removed the table from the middle. Some team members even stood up as they enjoyed their ice cream. The brainstorming that ensued at this meeting was refreshing to be part of. Since we no longer had the urge to make decisions, a couple of team members shared their frustrations with their tasks. This allowed others to share how these large tasks could be broken down into smaller pieces and also shared among committees. This led to much richer and productive to-do lists which in turn helped everyone get started with more confidence.

I suggest mixing and matching your meetings every now and then; hold some meetings without the table, notice how this strengthens the connection of the group and produces better results on your decisions. I would love to hear your experience with this and any comments/questions you may have.

GuestsThe Big Oak Table in the Middle

The Age of the Full-Time Imam is Over, Here’s What the New Era Of Islamic Work Looks Like

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In the corporate arena, there is a new trend emerging – the freelance economy. The hypothesis goes something like this.

The age of joining a company, and slowly progressing upward for 30 years and then retiring is done. This used to be the goal for many people, but it no longer reflects reality for most people. Instead, people are switching companies and careers quicker than ever before. They go through ‘tours of duty’ at one place, then move to another. It’s also not one role. People now have multiple job titles – sometimes at the same time. It’s not uncommon to have your “day job” and also your side hustle or passion project.

Similarly, the age of the full-time Imam seems to be coming to an end. Gone are the days of someone spending the ages of 8 to 18 regularly going to one masjid, and growing under the guidance of one Imam. Instead, we are seeing the rise of a similar freelance economy. Some Imams will spend 3-5 years in one place, and then move to another community (sometimes moving up, sometimes moving laterally).

The freelancing economy is there in the Muslim community now as well. Instead of working full-time in a community, a person will create a full-time income through some mix of income streams such as-

  • An arrangement with one masjid to give 2 khutbahs a month, and a weekly Halaqah
  • An arrangement with another masjid similar to the above
  • Teaching Sunday school
  • Private tutoring
  • Weekend seminars
  • Fundraising
  • Guest speaking / Traveling
  • Family counseling
  • Teaching at an Islamic school
  • Part-time resident scholar or religious director
  • Ramadan (Taraweeh, classes, khatirahs)
  • Chaplaincy
  • Performing weddings
  • Part-time youth director for one community (or more than one)

The reason for this shift is a constant inability of boards and imams to properly mesh as it comes to vision and leadership. And then when they do mesh, it is upturned in a matter of months with new elections. This is something that has been documented extensively on this website and readers are familiar with by now.

The freelance model provides both parties with a layer of security. Boards don’t have to make a commitment to an Imam, and can operate more freely without their oversight (although I would personally make the case that this is usually a very bad idea). Imams are no longer tied down to potentially hostile and unstable work environments, having more freedom and flexibility to move around and try different projects. They’re also able to focus their work on their strengths and not having to take on demands outside their scope, as well as create better work/life balance.

The downside to this model is the community members miss out on the long term stability of a full-time Imam. However, this is a price everyone seems willing to pay.

Let me explain.

In any type of community work, there are always checks and balances. For example, an Imam is accountable to a board. If an Imam is underperforming, then it’s not too difficult for the board to remove the Imam from that position.

What about if a board member goes renegade? In this case, the checks and balances come from the community. The board represents them, and are elected by them. When the community doesn’t hold them accountable, then it results in a lot of the conflicts we see now. In other words, if the community doesn’t care that much, and therefore can’t put enough pressure to retain a good Imam, then it seems to be a moot point whether the community benefits from their long-term presence or not.

Part of this may be due to the fact that the average community member is also “freelancing” their own spiritual development. Instead of having a deep connection and relationship with one local masjid, they’ll often attend different ones regularly. Masjid hopping in Ramadan is not uncommon. Even simple tasks like providing Islamic education for your children can be done online with tutors on Skype. For our own development, we turn to our favorite teachers via online videos, podcasts, and books. So maybe we’re just not that dependent on our local community providing those services anymore.

None of this is to say that one model is necessarily better than the other, but an observation of the direction in which we are trending, and how to deal with that.

For the community member, it means taking charge of your own spiritual development and your family’s development. Chances are, your masjid will no longer be able to fully provide that due to the (well-documented) lack of human resource development and investment.

For the Imams, or students who wish to serve the community full-time later it means learning the landscape. It means developing the skills needed to function in a “freelance economy.” And this is not unique to Islamic work, corporate and professional work is trending the same way. It is important to start identifying the skills needed and close the gap.

Finding a community with infrastructure that will take care of someone is going to be even more rare than the prospect of joining a company today and working there until the year 2046.

Omar UsmanThe Age of the Full-Time Imam is Over, Here’s What the New Era Of Islamic Work Looks Like

Guest Post: Being Intentional

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Guest post by Zuhair Shaath. Zuhair graduated from George Mason University with a B.A in Religious Studies. He is currently completing his Imam and Community Leadership Graduate Certificate from Hartford Seminary. He resides in sunny California where he works as a Programs Manager and Assistant Imam. He has a decades worth of work with youth, and currently helps consult with Youth Directors and programs across the nation.
Greatness doesn’t happen accidentally.

You don’t “accidentally” save $20,000 for hajj.

You don’t “accidentally” have a 4.0 GPA

You don’t “accidentally” become a millionaire.

These are all things you have to intend to do, and follow through with a game plan that can help you accomplish these goals.
The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) didn’t “accidentally” help change the world. It was intentional. When we look at the ways in which God and His Messenger helped accomplish this goal, you’ll see that the game plan involved winning the hearts of the people first and foremost. It wasn’t by mere chance that the themes of early revelation dealt with belief in the Oneness of God, a belief system, a spiritual call to morality and ethical behavior.

This was all critical in paving the road for what was to come next, as the wife of the Prophet, Ayesha stated,

“The first thing that was revealed thereof was a Sura from Al-Mufassal, and in it was mentioned Paradise and the Fire. Then, when the people embraced Islam, the verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘we will never leave alcoholic drinks.’”
In order to prosper as a community, we must do so intentionally.

They say “One is too small a number to achieve greatness” and I wholeheartedly believe that. Your input is not just wanted, but needed. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts on the direction our community is moving towards.

GuestsGuest Post: Being Intentional

Guest Post: Defining Our Community

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Guest post by Zuhair Shaath. Zuhair graduated from George Mason University with a B.A in Religious Studies. He is currently completing his Imam and Community Leadership Graduate Certificate from Hartford Seminary. He resides in sunny California where he works as a Programs Manager and Assistant Imam. He has a decades worth of work with youth, and currently helps consult with Youth Directors and programs across the nation. 

com·mu·ni·ty

noun

  1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
    1. “Rhode Island’s Japanese community.”
  2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
    1. “The sense of community that organized religion can provide.”

When we look through the Muslim world today, we see many nations and states with Muslims flowing through the streets and mosques occupying every street corner. I remember when I went to ḩajj in 2007. We were visiting a local city, and, when the ‘adhān was called, all we had to do to pray in a mosque was walk right across the street. One thing that I noticed, however, was that the mosques were not filled with fliers along the wall. In fact, other than the short talks immediately following the prayer, there were hardly any programs at all. I was stunned.

Growing up, I constantly heard about how the Muslim communities overseas and “back home” were much better and more vibrant than the communities in the West were. Yet, here I was, standing in a mosque that had little to no programming: no potlucks, no youth group, no family nights, no field trips, no weekend school — you get the picture.

The reason I was so disappointed was because western Muslim communities defined the word community differently than those of Muslim majority countries. While communities “back home” fulfilled the first definition posted, our communities in the west have less to do with a physical locale and much more to do with the growth and development of Muslims in the West.

As we continue to develop and grow, we see many Muslim communities in the States begin to develop with both definitions in mind: a Muslim community that serves the needs of the Muslims as well as the general public at large. In doing this, we need to accept and hold on to the fact that Islamic Centers develop a place not just for prayer, but a place for community development to take place in.

They say “One is too small a number to achieve greatness” and I wholeheartedly believe that. Your input is not just wanted, but needed. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts on the direction our community is moving towards.

Omar UsmanGuest Post: Defining Our Community

Webinar Recording: Prophetic Leadership – Leading the Unleadable from the Life of Tufayl bin Amr

This video covers:

  • What leadership is
  • Why it is important and of concern to each and every Muslim
  • How the Prophet (s) increased the leadership capacity of Tufayl bin Amr
  • Leading people who are deemed “unleadable” by others
  • The link between productivity and leadership
  • Creating a legacy for yourself through leadership

This video was made to help give a preview of the type of content that will be covered in The Barakah Effect Seminar on Prophetic Leadership and Productivity taking place in Dallas on April 30, 2016.

Omar UsmanWebinar Recording: Prophetic Leadership – Leading the Unleadable from the Life of Tufayl bin Amr

4 Steps to Put the Ship Back in Leadership

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I always keep coming back to a project I wanted to do at the masjid that I was particularly passionate about. I had a formal proposal ready, I had outlined how it would benefit the community and the masjid. The imam of the masjid was on board and excited. I had dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s so to speak.

The only thing missing was the final stamp of approval from the masjid president so we could fundraise a relatively small amount of money to kickstart it.

Not even 2 minutes into the presentation, the president vetoed it. No explanation given. It was perplexing. No matter how hard we tried, we could not get him to agree. Eventually we ended up waiting an entire year for the elections and a new administration before being able to move forward.

Looking back and assessing, it was clear there were multiple breakdowns. Relationships were not properly established — I assumed the Imam would be enough support. Politics were not taken into account. Competing priorities in regards to funds were not taken into account. And most of all, we were not able to showcase the vision of the project in such a way that the president would buy into it.

All of these shortcomings stem from the leadership law known as the Law of Navigation. The solution? Relentlessly going through the process of muhasabah, acting with hikmah, seeking shura, and executing with ihsān.

John Maxwell identifies Navigation as one of the irrefutable laws of leadership. In essence, it states, “Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”

A leader is not someone who only has a vision, but one that can draw the map for how to get there and inspire people to work together and follow it.

Why are quarterbacks and point guards so integral to their respective teams? They have to move beyond the vision of scoring and make sure the right person gets the ball on each play.

So how do you become a good navigator?

  1. Muhasabah (Reflection)

Begin by taking account of past successes and failures. Successes help us see what we’re capable of. Failures — though we tend to block them out — show us what to avoid going forward.

2. Hikmah (Wisdom)

A good navigator would never set sail directly into a hurricane. Yet, we see it all the time. There’s a false bravado that’s become prevalent now. We want to do whatever we think is right regardless of the environment or conditions.

We might hate that there are organizational politics, but if you don’t understand the landscape, you’ll fail. This doesn’t mean you have to play the politics — just understand them. Things like morale, momentum, and culture matter.

Wisdom means going beyond charting the course. It means understanding the consequence of the course you chart.

Aisha (r) mentioned, “If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks” (Bukharī).

We find the Prophet (s) showing this foresight. He was asked why he wouldn’t rebuild the Ka’bah on the original foundations of Ibrahim (as), and he replied, “Were it not for the fact that your people have recently left disbelief (I would have done so)” (Nasa’ī). In other words, he did not want to rectify one issue by creating a bigger one.

3. Shura (Consultation)

“…whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves” (42:38).

There are numerous examples of the Prophet (s) taking shura from people. One of the most famous is the example Salman al-Farsī giving the suggestion to build a ditch around the city at the Battle of Khandaq.

4. Ihsān (Excellence)

“Balancing optimism and realism, intuition and planning, faith and fact can be very difficult.” — John Maxwell

While difficult, it is precisely this ability that puts a good leader ahead of the pack.

When asked whether a person should take the security measure of tying a camel, or have faith in Allah, the Prophet (s) said to do both — “Tie the camel, and have tawakkul (faith) in Allah.”

Tying the camel means establishing relationships with people. It means creating contingencies. It means getting people on board with your vision.

It means doing everything the best you possibly can within your capacity as a leader, and then having faith in God to deliver the results.

Omar Usman4 Steps to Put the Ship Back in Leadership

Can We Afford to Wait For the Next Crisis?

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By Ibrahim Sherman, President and partner of Balanced Leadership Institute; a consulting firm specializing in supporting Muslim nonprofits in matters of organizational development, leadership, and financial management.

Our community responds to crisis.  After 9/11 we all began to communicate to the media, but since there was no communication plans and programs they soon diminished as the crisis passed.  After the documentary “Unmosqued” came out there was much discussion about including our youth and some token positions were created. Since there was no real strategy to embrace the youth into our organizations – and while we still hear lots of discussion – meaningful, genuine changes have not taken place.

The recent attacks in California combined with the election season has flamed an increase in Islamophobia.  In response we are currently discussing outreach programs.  But these are also likely to be temporary band aids that allow us to go back to our old ways once the urgency has passed. There is crisis coming that will affect all of us and have a much greater impact on our community than any of these that cannot be dealt with using token, time limited, or superficial actions.  I am speaking about the massive wave of change in the culture of the Muslims in America.

Our Muslim children are culturally American.  Some are the African American Muslim who have, and enjoy living within, a fully developed culture. However, the Muslim Children of recent immigrant heritage are in a different position. They are discovering, and defining what it is to be an American Muslim. Their faith is Islam but their culture is American, and that combination is being defined by them and can’t be defined by their immigrant parents. For example, Muslim children of Egyptian heritage raised in the US have more in common with the Muslim children of Pakistani heritage raised in the US, than they do with Egyptians back home; and both will have more in common with non-Muslim children in the US than with Muslims in other countries.

Continuing to be focused on preventing our children from making this shift rather than preparing them for it is positioning our children to choose between their culture and their faith.  There are some positive things happening.  The rise in outreach programs spearheaded by our youth is one. Another is the growing number of Imams who were raised in the US who can help us understand how Islam fits in the American culture and not how to avoid it.  The real point here is that the change is inevitable and it will be massive over the next decade.  Sadly, many of our Islamic organizations have not felt the need to realistically prepare.

Our leadership in many cases is in denial. Organizational change to prepare our institutions to manage this shift requires a much higher level of professionalism and strategic thinking.  Most organizations are failing to see the need for a fundamental change, and are likely to be oblivious to the tsunami that is quickly approaching our communities.

There are many things that we must do, but it begins with professionalizing our organizations.  We must develop welcoming organizations where everyone’s views can be genuinely expressed.  We must be forward thinking and operate in ways in sync with how organizations operate in America.

Further, it is important to begin real changes now.  We can’t expect to make a few reactionary changes as problems arise and everything will be OK.  Substantial and deliberate change must be an immediate goal. Our institutions must be rebuilt to accommodate our children’s needs by developing a welcoming culture and professional programs, not to pacify the home sickness of immigrants by building ornate but hollow structures. The goal needs to be to change the culture of your organization and once you begin to make changes it will take three to five years before it becomes absorbed into how we do things, and is integral in the culture of our organizations. Once we have done this our community will have a vehicle for embracing Islam and being part of the larger community in which we live.

We must start the change now!

GuestsCan We Afford to Wait For the Next Crisis?

How The Most Talented Person In Your Organization Can Be Its Downfall

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The biggest strength and biggest weakness of an Islamic organization is usually the same thing – a talented personality.

This comes in many different shapes and sizes. It’s the person who…

…opens the masjid every day.

…brings snacks to Sunday School.

…fixes the microphone for the khutbah every Friday.

…updates the prayer times on the masjid website.

…puts the announcements on the screen in the lobby.

…is the ‘face of the franchise’ in making dawah.

If you do something for so long, so well, that no one else has to worry about it, then the organization will organize around you.

But wait, how is that a bad thing? 

We dream of having individuals so capable that we can assign them a task and then forget about it. There’s a huge relief in knowing someone capable and dependable is taking care of it.

It’s only a bad thing if we are concerned about the long term health of our organizations.

Here’s how it becomes a vulnerability. When we do something well for a long time, we become indispensable.  No one else worries about it. Sometimes we do things for so long, what we contribute to the organization becomes habitual – i.e. we don’t even consciously notice what we’re doing sometimes.

That also means that if something happens to that person, no one knows what holes will need to be filled.

We throw around words like sadaqah jariyah when fundraising for our masjid construction projects. Donate that extra thousand even if you can’t afford it because you will have a reward that lasts forever. The problem is, we don’t build our human infrastructure with the same sustainability requirements as the concrete slabs and wooden frames.

Identify the pressures, responsibilities, and tasks that you do. Then find a way to share the responsibilities, the decision making, and truly involve others.

When someone is in charge of something, we organize around that person instead of organizing around their role. We might not give the Friday khutbah a second thought because the same person has been in charge of organizing it for a long time. But what if that person is not actually suited for that job? What if they don’t know how to tell a good khateeb from a bad khateeb? In that case, this person becomes a lid on the growth of the organization.

The key then, is to identify the roles. It means identifying the responsibilities, knowledge, and decision making that is required of each role – and truly involve others. Make yourself replaceable.

This is true whether you are at a lower rung, or you are the face of the organization. The personalities who left the greatest legacies in dawah are those who had the ability to multiply. An organization cannot sustain on the basis of one person no matter how talented that one person is.

This doesn’t mean that you stop doing what you’re doing. Not at all. But you cannot lead as if you will be there forever.

When someone refuses to lead and instead clings to their position, this is actually a sign of weakness. What is required is a growth mentality. It means to continue doing the job well, but also looking at how to mentor and groom others. The paradox is, as you do that, you yourself move higher up and become that much more valuable.

 

Omar UsmanHow The Most Talented Person In Your Organization Can Be Its Downfall

5 Ways to Tell If Your Mosque is Successful or Just Growing

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By Maher Budeir, a partner at Balance Leadership Institute, a firm committed to helping nonprofit reach their potential. You can visit their website at masjidboard.com.

The American Muslim Community is making a shift and is generally moving towards professionalizing the operation of our institutions. More and more, I am hearing the right questions being asked about the desire to run things better and to operate masjid finances, facilities and other services better and with more accountability. More and more institutions are hiring specialists to do facility maintenance, office work, in addition to hiring more paid Sunday school teachers, counselors and youth directors. While many have started this transformation, the majority of the mosques in the US are experiencing growth.  Unfortunately growth, by itself, is often mistaken in many institutions to mean success.

The reality is growth in some cases is one of many indicators of success, but in other cases it is not even that. For most mosques growth comes because of the geographic monopoly most mosques naturally have. Meaning the mere fact that people would go to a specific mosque because it is the one mosque that happens to be within 10 minute or 20 minute drive from their home. Most Muslims in the US may not have the option to choose among different mosques based on quality of services. Only in larger metro areas where multiple mosques exist within a reasonable driving distance do parents have a choice to select the higher quality Sunday school or the Friday sermon that normally delivers more relevant and interesting topic. But, the majority of mosque goers do not have much choice. This dynamic allows many mosques to grow in number of participants and worshippers regardless of the quality of services, or the level of success of the organization.

So, if growth is not the sole accurate indicator of success, what is?

1. Does your Masjid have a good connection to the community?

A well run organization is one where activists, volunteers, and participants are comfortable communicating and sometimes disagreeing within civil norms and in a positive atmosphere. Worshippers should know whom to ask what question, and know why things are done in a certain way.

2. Does your Masjid Provide Quality services?

From the relevant Friday sermon, to the interesting Weekend school format and content, all programs and services must be deliberately designed and thoughtfully developed to suit the users and serve the constituents in the best way possible. Services must be delivered with excellence (Ihsaan) and an attitude of service by all service providers. Whether they are volunteers or paid employees, the commitment and superior customer service must stem from the spiritual and moral commitment to serve our Creator.

3. Does your masjid attract users who may otherwise not be active in the Muslim community?

If items 1 and 2 above are done well, this normally leads to growth in the community. Not just growth in numbers, but growth in the wider circle of participants in the Masjid services and activities from those who otherwise do not participate. Well run institutions are likely to attract the casual visitor to become a regular, and the Muslim who is on the fence to become more comfortable in the community, and feel that they belong.

4. Is your Masjid an accepted destination for non-Muslim leaders in the area to seek information about Islam, and to reach out to Muslims?

A successful masjid is one that is well known by the broader community as the place in the area to represent local Muslims. The local government leaders must know your leaders by first name, and leaders in other places of worship must have at least visited the Masjid and made connections with your Masjid leaders. A masjid is part of the larger community and leaders of the larger community should know what happens in their community and what their local Muslims are like. This is easier to achieve in some communities over others, but the Masjid leadership and community must make a genuine effort to give the larger community no excuse to characterize the masjid as an unknown entity.

5. Are your Masjid leaders strong spiritually? Are they representing your community?

The last important sign of a successful Masjid is when the leaders of all aspects are in tune with their personal connection with Allah (SWT), have good overall relationship with His creation. They should not be so overwhelmed with running the Masjid Operations that it consumes their lives and it impacts the balance in the different aspects of their lives.

Lastly, the Masjid leaders must represent the diversity that exists in the community. This means, if you look around during a Friday sermon and see high level of diversity, brothers and sisters of different ethnic background and different age groups, then your Masjid leadership, including the Imam, board members, management team members, and volunteers should have the same level of diversity you see in the community. A diverse leadership team means a broader view, a richer experience, and a welcoming culture.


Developing specific measures to track your Masjid progress is essential. Running our institutions in a reactive manner without measuring progress will keep us in perpetual mediocrity. The above are general guidelines for measuring success. How does your Masjid measure up? How do you plan to bring your institution to measurable success?

Guests5 Ways to Tell If Your Mosque is Successful or Just Growing