An Interview with Me About Leadership in 2007

From an interview conducted in 2007 by Amer Haidar.

I have interviewed a non-traditional leader in my community; his name is Wissam Charafeddine, currently chairman of IRSHAD, a non-profit religious organization. He has dedicated the last ten years of his life to non-profit voluntary work that benefits the youth in the Metro Detroit Muslim community and was the co-founder of the Muslim Scouts of Michigan. Wissam is a talented and bright young man with an MSEE from UofM. He has elected a path that benefits others under his leadership rather than solely himself. I chose to interview him because I believed that the answers to the interview questions would bring non-traditional insights compared to the typical business-minded perspective. The interview went as follows:

1. How would you define effective leadership?

From my modest experience, I find the most important aspect of effective leadership is
for the leader to demonstrate to the team the effect of the discipline and values on
him/herself, and to translate a high level of confidence in the system into action and
an attitude that shines positivism and enthusiasm around him/her.

2. Do you think leadership develops with experience? Explain.

Definitely, leadership cannot be acquired by academia or reading alone, since leadership
has its “gut” feelings and spontaneous moods. Leadership is all lab work. Not only does
it form out of experience and trial and error, it also teaches that this is the way to form
effective leadership. The person who never steps up for challenges and responsibility is a
person who will never do a mistake!

3. Are there one or two experiences you look back on as having been especially valuable in helping develop your own leadership? Please briefly describe them.

One of the fields we involved in leadership and team development is Boy Scouts. We demonstrated to scouts through our ranks in leadership how respect and obedience are due to the leader by showing the highest level of respect and obedience to our Scoutmaster and trainers. Being in a position where I am led gave me the ability to understand the emotions and expectations of the members of a team that I shall lead.

Another incidence that was drawn in my memory is when the scoutmaster reacted to a  scout who has attempted to ax a tree by putting all his attention into healing the tree rather than punishing the scout. This engraved a great lesson in all of the scouts and leaders watching the scoutmaster sticking branches and leaves into the wound of the tree and rapping it softly with ropes in order for that wound to heal. The scout who wounded the tree felt the guilt and learned the lesson without a word being said to him. In my field of business, I always see employees working harder for employers who participate in the most tedious of jobs, like cleaning the workplace or ensuring customer satisfaction.

4. What made these experiences so valuable?

They were so valuable because they were dynamic. They were action demonstrated at a
critical time where feelings and thoughts are involved. Then a sudden understanding
comes through that is difficult to acquire through reading, studying, or hearing such

5. Have your own views of leadership changed over time? Explain how.

Definitely, and to the extreme where I sometimes feel that all my thoughts are renewed
every few years. One very important aspect of successful leadership is to develop
"coachability" in the team, you are leading, and how can you have that if you yourself are not “coachable”. And part of being "coachable" is to lay down your guards and allow a
possibility of abandoning conventional methods or traditional believes if truth comes

6. Do you think leadership in your arena (e.g., sports, business) is much different from or involves different pressures than leadership in other areas? Explain.

There are common aspects but details differ. Focusing on the Mission Statement is one
example of good leadership. You always measure things to the mission statement and
see how much they flow together. Of course in business that would be a financial
success oriented mission statement, while in non-profit it would be education success for

Also, some attitudes are different from one arena to another. A Sports coach is expected
to be showing off, aggressive and appraising of his team, while a Scout leader is expected
to be merciful, modest and analyzing of his team.

7. Do you ever reflect, after the fact, about how effective your behavior was in a particular situation? Is this ever a source of new or different insights? Please share your insights.

Yes, reflecting about previous actions and decisions are crucial. Understanding mistakes
happened is very important for a new start. You would never have ridden a new car if it
wasn’t for an understanding that your old car is no longer serving your needs. Imagine if
you disbelieve in the non-functionality of your old car, what kind of trouble you would
have with your commute?!

Time will bring results which are the final judge. Sometimes, the effort is the purpose,
but other times, the effort is only done for a goal, and if the goal is not achieved, the
effort was almost wasted. You have to differentiate between the two.
Trust results and statistics more than you trust yourself and your belief. If you believe
that you will win the lotto, that doesn’t change the fact that you have a chance out of 6
million or something to win it. “Statistics Rule” is an important fact that we have to keep
in our consideration.

A source of new insights is finding people with deep or wide experience who can share it
with you, whether alive or in books. Sometimes a few words can save you a long hustle.
Listening is important and realizing that people have different ways of seeing something and that something cannot be seen in its reality with your view alone.

8. What do you feel is the single most important attribute for a leader to possess?

I think the most important attribute for success is to be consistent and never give up.
Failure is a sign of people who are successful! Ya, it is! People who become successful
are people who try numerously and fail numerously. We all know the story of Edison
where the 100th bulb is the one that worked. Imagine he has quit before then?!
And a leader should have that quality. A leader should never give up on his/her team and
should never give up for a few followers.
But I would say for the most important attribute for a leader to possess is to understand
that his duty is to unite the minds, hearts, and effort of his/her team and that takes a lot of patience and humbleness. It is not about you or your special skills; it is about
coordinating others and bringing the power and energy of others to achieve their goals.

9. Is there any advice you would give people early in their careers about leadership?

If you choose to be a leader, your success is only your followers’ or team’s success.

To achieve your success, you have to make every individual in your team successful. You
will eat the least, work the hardest, and worry the most, but at the end, it will be you who
inspired and you who conducted, and the music of that orchestra only became beautiful
because of your hands.

In summary, I have learned a few good points about leadership:

  • One should lead by example (applying the principles to one’s self)
  • Leadership is mostly “lab work” (experimental, trial and error)
  • Set an example by following your chain of command
  • Teaching without having to say a word (Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, PBUT, once said to the followers “preach Islam without using your tongues” – a translation but it means through your behavior and not your speeches)
  • Develop a “coachability” mindset in the team
  • Regardless of the mission statement and the field of leadership, good leaders stay the course
  • Trust results more than beliefs
  • Be open to others’ point of views
  • Consistency, perseverance, and encouragement are nominees for the most important attribute a leader should possess.
  • A leader is successful as much as his/her team or followers are ( a good example was the orchestra that performs a good musical through the maestro’s leadership)

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