Women Leadership: Lessons From The Quran
While surfing the internet for materials on women leadership, I came across an interesting statement by Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, who was then the World YWCA Secretary-General. It was part of her speech which she delivered on 13 July 2006.
According to Dr. Kanyoro,
Domination as a leadership style is becoming less and less popular. There is a
new growing appreciation of … those trait that women use to keep families
together and to organize volunteers to unite and make change in the
shared life of communities. These newly admired leadership qualities of
shared leadership and nurturance and doing good for others are today not only
sought after but also indeed needed to make a difference in the world…
In other words, the characteristics or quality of leadership that women use in the informal contexts such as managing their families, or community, have their own distinctive role in a formal setting. In fact, such a style of leadership—shared leadership, nurturance and doing good for others—is needed to make this world a better place.
Indeed, this is good news for women for two reasons. Firstly, the fact that their feminine characteristics are assets to becoming good leaders should boost their self-esteem. Secondly, this will encourage more employers or heads of department to appoint more women as leaders for their leadership qualities which can help organisations to achieve their goals.
Feminine characteristics and their impact on leadership remind me of two stories in the Quran. The first is about the Queen Ant and her workers while the second is about Queen Balqis and her government officials. Both are mentioned in the Quran in Surah An-Naml in their encounters with Prophet Sulaiman.
In the first story, the Queen Ant, upon knowing that Prophet Sulaiman and his hosts would pass through the valley of the ants, instructed her workers to go into their dwellings so that they would not be stomped by the coming troop, unintentionally. This is mentioned in verse 18 of the surah which means, “At length, when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: ‘O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) without knowing it.’”
The Queen Ant gave the instruction in order to protect her workers. Such an inclination to protect those under her care can be attributed to the motherly nature of a woman who always cares for the safety of her family members. In fact, the Queen Ant put her workers’ safety first, over their productivity.
In the second story, Queen Balqis—the Queen of Sheba—received a letter from Prophet Sulaiman inviting her to worship Allah. After reading it, she consulted her government officials to discuss their course of action. What happened in the meeting is recorded in the same Surah An-Naml, verses 29–35.
The government officials suggested that they fight Prophet Sulaiman. This is evident in verse 33 which means, “They said: ‘We are endued with strength, and given to vehement war: but the command is with thee; so consider what thou wilt command. ‘“
Yet, Queen Balqis dismissed the idea of going to war and decided to deal with it in a peaceful manner. This is evident in the next two verses which mean, “‘Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its meanest thus do they behave. But I am going to send him a present, and (wait) to see with what (answer) return (my) ambassadors.’”
Ultimately, Queen Balqis chose peace, instead of war for the sake of her people. Using her wisdom and feminine instinct, she prioritised peace, security and the well-being of the people, over war which will only bring disaster to both sides.
Indeed, the two stories reinforce the statement made by Dr. Kanyoro quoted earlier. Feminine instincts and qualities that are proven effective in the family and community context, such as shared leadership, nurturance and doing good for others, have their own distinctive role in formal leadership. Therefore, such traits should be seen as assets rather than liabilities for women to become good leaders, side by side, the men.