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)

Memoir Part 6: Islam, hanan, and Death of Ayman

Islam Yakout Mohamed Mursi

One of the names that I will never forget.  My brother from a different mother.  A dark-skinned Alexandrian boy from Egypt with an amazing sense of humor, as it is common among Egyptians.  Islam had no siblings, and I was his best friend.  His family treated him like I am his brother.  I was one of them.  The kindness and compassion that his parents overflowed with to me were heartwarming .. one of the things which made me who I am today.

Let me talk to you about al-hanan… an Arabic word that translates to a mix of kindness, love, tenderness, kindliness, care, warm-heartedness, and a million other words that cover every bit and piece of those feelings.  It translates as language, but it doesn’t translate as an emotion to the West.  This word is not translatable to English because it is not about language.  Language is there to symbolize something that exists.  The famous Arabic poet, Nizar Qabani expresses his yearning to the hanan in his letter poem Five Letters to My Mother:

I am alone.
The smoke of my cigarette is bored,
and even my seat of me is bored
My sorrows are like flocking birds looking for a grain field in season.
I became acquainted with the women of Europe,
I became acquainted with their tired civilization.
I toured India, and I toured China,
I toured the entire oriental world,
and nowhere I found,
a Lady to comb my golden hair.
A Lady that hides for me in her purse a sugar candy.
A lady that dresses me when I am naked,
and lifts me up when I fall.
Mother: I am that boy who sailed,
and still longes to that sugar candy.
So how come or how can I, Mother,
become a father and never grow up.

From the hanan of my parents, to the overwhelming Charafeddine hanan, rooted deeply in the history of our family from Ahlulbait, the family of the Prophet that has been cloaked with tragedies, and manifested in my Grandmother, to the hanan of the parents of my frirends Islam and Firas, to the hanan of the warm salty beach that carresses the white sand softly, to the hanan of the sounds of Azan jumping playfully on the rocks of the mountains of khrofakhan … to the hanan of the oldmen eyes siting at a cafe bench watching us pass by … we were submerged with Hanan.

I never will forget an incident that happened to me when once I went to buy my Mother something from the supermarket.  While coming back, I decided to take the side streets among the communal popular old houses.  These streets are usually sandy and only lit by the small lamps above the metallic doors.  I got a little scared for it was dark. I started running. While I was running, there was a construction metal piece coming out of the ground that hit my feet. It cut me right between my toes. I was bleeding. I dropped the merchandise from the bag. I collected them gently back into the plastic bag while limping on a bleeding foot.  In that condition, one of the doors nearby opened.  A middle-aged woman came out with thick glasses and Egyptian style hijab.  She  said: “What is wrong ya Mama?”

The word Mama entered my ears and comforted all my nerves. I didn’t need to speak, and she didn’t wait for an answer after seeing what answered her inquiry.  She came to me and looked at my feet, and held my hand and pulled me to her house like a panicking mother.  She was talking to me, but I don’t remember what she said anymore.  But I remember she gave me a glass of water to drink and she was cleaning my foot from sand and blood, applied antibiotic (red medicine we used to call it), and bandaged it.  She offered to call home, but I told her I can just walk home.  I left.  Never saw her again, nor I know her name.  But she gave me another injection of hanan that would last me a lifetime.

The mosque was so close to our house like I mentioned before.  Upon hearing from my teacher that praying in the mosque is 24 times better than praying at home, I started rushing to pray in the mosque everytime I hear the Azan.  I went to the mosque so much and was the youngest person praying in the mosque, that the Imam visited my father to inquire if there were problems at home that I am fleeing from.  My father expressed while laughing that there is nothing wrong at home and that I just loved praying in the mosque.

We learned French and English at the Emirates School in addition to Arabic off course. The French didn’t go well.  The teacher gave up and quit. We stopped learning French, but still learned English, rarely used in the U.A.E. at that time.

One of the teachers was really proactive in the school, and she formed the Scholastic Police.  She got us hats and scarves.  Being the oldest class in the school, and I think I am talking third grade now, we were naturally the Scholastic Police.  We were supposed to patrol the school and ensure that students didn’t go to the back of the school during lunch or recess and that they stay in the field.  She nominated me as the captain of the police since I was very popular among my class and had good grades, but I refused. I wanted to reserve the right to be a bad boy.  Being captian of the police brings too much attention.  She appointed Mohamad, a boy whose father is an Emirati Sheik and his mother is a Filipino.  Mohamad was the richest kid in school and his father was feared for being a deputy minister so no teacher would get Mohamad mad.  Once Mohamad was sick, and we went a field trip to visit his house. It was a huge mansion with unlimited toys. Anyways, soon enough, we were using our positions in the Scholastic Police to allow our friends to go play in the back of the school.  Nobody would listen to Captain Mohamad since he really had no real leadership.  The whole idea backfired on the teacher, and the Principal canceled the Scholastic Police. We kept the hats and scarves.

Wissam and Mohamad in Emirates School
Me with the shorts, and Mohamad, and you can see his Scholastic Police Scarf

I had an Egyptian classmate called Ayman.  Ayman went to buy something from the store with his bike, and a car struck him and he died.  We were too young the understand the concept of death, and it was pretty much my first experience with it.  The school went into mourning. Teachers were crying, and they played Quran in the school for few days.  They were monitoring us to see if any of us are traumatized or deeply affected, but we weren’t.  Nevertheless, we were under so much pressure to be deeply affected!  Sitting in the field listening to Quran while our heads are down, Islam leans towards me and says: “pretend that you are crying”.

I don’t know how to pretend emotions.  It is one of my problems I guess. My face shows what I truly feel.  This has caused me so much trouble in life, but I like it.  Early trouble is better than late trouble. I really don’t feel the tragedy of death, since it is inevitable. What is 100% predictable, cannot be surprising. I have always, and still do feel that way.  The only concern I had was that Ayman borrowed my notebook on his last day of school.  I was thinking it is impossible to get it back then.  I never tried.

We had nothing in Khorfakan but each other, as friends, to keep ourselves busy and entertained.  There was no TV, except one channel that played cartoons for a maximum of one hour a day.  There were no electronic games.  There was not one single swing in the city or slide.  Soccer balls were rare. My father bought me one from Dubai.  There was no theater, no gym, no soccer fields, no arcades, no parks, no toy stores, no children clubs.  There was nothing but the mountains, the ocean, and your friends.  Friends became an integral part of seeing and experiencing life.  This became a deep characteristic of me. I had a hard time shed it away later on in life.

We would climb the mountain or play at the beach. We would bike to each other’s houses. The city was safe. We would just leave our bikes on the street, and they would never be stolen. We never needed chains. “Muslims don’t steal”. That is what we thought. We thought that stealing, adultery, murder, and paganism were things before Islam. There was so much trust.

Next time I will tell you when we played with the bomb till it went off on the beach!




London Day 8: Bye Bye London – Detroit Airport – Reflections

We woke up in this last morning, went to grab coffee and a sandwich from the Italian Fountain Cafe at Hyde Park next to us, and came back to the hotel room to check out and depart.

I am taking the Heathrow express from the Paddington Station, and Walid is taking a bus to Victoria Station, then a bus to Liverpool.

I carried by one polo green duffle bag, while Walid dragged his big bag on wheels, and carried his laptop case on his shoulder, the laptop that never left him during this trip.  We stopped at the entrance of the Paddington station to say goodbye, a moment that is always hard and awkward for me.

I don’t like goodbyes as much as I don’t like showing emotions.  A research by Harvard university that lasted 75 years, concluded that healthy relationships bringing joy is the strongest factor of happiness in someone’s life.  Here is a talk about that:


My relationship with Walid is one of the healthiest relationships I have in my life.  We vibrate at the same frequency, and share mostly the same vision of life and the perception of our relationship to it, to history, and to civilization.  Since we met in 1996, we have shared our love for art, music, religion, food, culture, film, and positive outlook of life.  When he left the U.S. in 2010, I did not know the impact that will leave on me till he was gone.  The loneliness a close friend leaves in your life upon separating is crushing. London was great, but seeing and spending time with Walid was even greater.  I said good bye fast and left so the situation would not turn into an emotional one. I worry that if I break down, 20 years will come out during this break down and it might go uncontrollable. We said good bye, hugged, and departed silently.

London was an amazing city.  In addition to its beautiful streets, roads, buildings, architecture, art, public spaces, parks, rivers, greenery, bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, boutiques, smiling faces, and history, there were two more things that were a big part of the London spirit.  One was tolerance! London has given up on being an English city and decided to be an international metropolis city.  It has given up on its English identity and chosen more a multicultural one.  With a city rooted in history, and so much pride to hold, it takes lots of tolerance and nobility to do such a compromise. I learned from that, and it made me a better person, and it made me appreciate London more.

The second was WWII.  Yes! World War Two, that almost destroyed this city who decided to fight to the last breath. Although I appreciate Paris’s preference to preserve Paris rather than destroy it through a futile fight with the Germans, Britain decided to fight, and there is a heroic beauty to that.  You see it on the walls and streets, on the monuments, and restored buildings.  There is a sense of pride and honor that roams the city in the morning with the fog, and fills the londoners lungs with air of  integrity.

Flying through Delta Airline international was a great experience.  So much convenience, from the refreshments served, to the showings offered, to the comfort of the chairs, to the charging stations at each seat.  There were plenty to do, and the flight is never a bore due to the high level of entertainment offered.

Once we reached the US, we were received with a ridiculously long line for immigration and a woman officer shouting to organize the line.  The line took more than an hour.  The officer was saying that couple airplanes arrived at the same time and created the rush hour.  Really?!  You are in an airport and can not handle two airplanes?!  Maybe instead of 4 immigration officers, you can have 10!  I crossed the entry point smoothly, and was picked up by my friend Yousif at the door.

Coming from London, America feels a little over policed, less tolerant, and with President Trump in the White House, a little unfriendly and dark.  Nevertheless, it is home, and the greatest place to be in terms of financial opportunity, ease of living, and educational opportunities.

I have decided that every April, I will take a Euro trip, with the next one in 2018, will be to Paris.  Till then, I hope that you will consider traveling to London, one of the greatest cities on Earth, and I hope you will find my travel memoir useful in your trip, especially by itinerary map.