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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Leadership: Is Competence or Character More Important?

After a dinner at a friend’s residence, while sipping traditional green tea, an interesting discussion got initiated among almost dozen friends on leadership crises faced by Pakistan soon after passing away of its founding father Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Our discussion was primarily triggered due to societal frustration on consistent let down by successive leaders that rose to the zenith of power in Pakistan, but almost all of them failed to deliver as per the wishes of the people. Some of the friends attributed it to the prevalent atmosphere, some called it lack of enabling environment for due upbringing based on adequate grooming for development of leadership qualities and skills; and few considered it natural consequences of rampant corruption, poverty, selfish motives, and resort to munafqat (hypocrisy) instead of truly following practical side of Islamic teachings by all and sundry.

Quite naturally, most of the desired leadership qualities like honesty and integrity, ability to inspire others, commitment and passion, good communication skills, quality higher education, decision-making capabilities, accountability, delegation and empowerment, creativity and innovation, moral and physical courage, self sacrifice, foresight, vision and competence came under discussion with most factors found missing in people who jumped to the power corridors in Pakistan by hook or by crook. Consequently, barring a few exceptions, all of them amassed disproportionate wealth by giving rise to nepotism, sycophancy, and unbridled corruption, while viciously holding self interests above national or public interests.

The conversation finally focused on one moot question i.e. “is competence more important for a leader or his character?” Simple answer could have been ‘inseparable combination of both’; however, since most of my friends considered ‘competence’ preffered over ‘character’, calling character as someone’s personal affair under ‘no angel on earth’ sort of arguments, a relatively minor group including me felt constrained to give opposite views in favour of ‘character’ in comparison to mere ‘competence’.

Our arguments in favour of preference for character commenced with our religious teachings that put premium on “Taqwa” (personal character) for selection of a leader or Imam. It may be appropriate to clarify the difference between a leader and a ruler at this stage. While the two are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. A leader has certain inherent qualities quite independent of any office he may hold. These include both qualities of personal character (taqwa) and the ability to motivate others towards the realisation of specific goals or objectives. Inherent in this is also the assumption that his leadership is accepted by the people; he has not imposed himself by physical force or other coercive means. In Holy Quran, Allah Almighty says: “And We made them leaders, guiding by Our command; and We inspired them to do good works, and to observe the prayer, and to give out charity. They were devoted servants to Us” (Quran, 21:73). Being a Muslim we all are leaders in some aspects as mentioned by Holy Prophet (SAW) in one of His hadith in these words: “All of you are shepherds, and each of you will be asked concerning his flock” (Bukhari). Leadership is about teamwork as no one can alone accomplish anything without followers and for sure Allah’s help. And the important one is that effective leaders are those who are servant leaders. Good leaders are good followers, humble, piety, truthful, simple and they realize that success only comes from Allah (SWT). A friend commented that rulers are imposed on people as per character of the masses and reflect them, as mentioned with words to that effect in Holy Quran. Another friend added, “Jaisi perja, waisay Raja” (Hindi proverb), even reverse is true.

A quick scan of Pakistan’s political history proves the point that those rulers who were considered brilliant, highly qualified from enviable international institutes, very well read and technocrats etc are today held responsible for making mega blunders like ‘Indus water treaty’, failed land, agriculture, education, madrassah and economic reforms, making it a loan dependent state and even for loss of half of our country……all owing to their character failings rather than their professional weaknesses or lack of competence. In any case, highly competent technocrats are available all over the world to any sincere and honest leader of a country. The discussion could go on and on; however, some positives nods from the other group was an indication that an impact has been made to some extent.

It is a wakeup call for people of Pakistan to keep above mentioned arguments in mind while voting for their representatives in the forthcoming July 2018 elections, if we desire to be led to our cherished goal of secure and economically well heeled country with high sense of self respect and pride.

Brig ® Saleem Qamar Butt is experienced in military/ intelligence diplomacy, strategic analysis and forecast. (

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