Have you ever been in a situation, where you agreed to do something for no other reason but simply because you could not say ‘no’? So you agreed to do something, because you did not have emotional courage to refuse doing something or opposing something. But once you were in that position, because you did not agree to it with conviction and happiness, you ended up back-biting that person and thus burning away your good deeds!
This has happened to a lot of us. Imagine situations like someone telling you that they want to come over, and you end up saying ‘yes’, although that time was very inconvenient to you. Recall the day, when someone called you on your cell and you could not say upright that you were busy, and ended up lying and cooking up a story. Remember, when someone asked you for a money loan, and you did not want to give it, but ended up giving it, and doing so much Gheebat of that person that all the reward Allah (swt) had promised you, when you give loan to someone, was wasted away.
The situation becomes even graver, when you are in a leadership position. As a leader, you are not just responsible for yourself, but also the household, the Jamaat or the organization you are a leader of. Situations like telling a colleague at work, who is also a friend, that he cannot be given a certain project or raise. Telling your children, as a parent, that a certain thing is not allowed. Or as a worker in Deen, telling a subordinate that even though you appreciate their suggestion for a different strategy of Dawah, it cannot be implemented.
Sometimes people in leadership positions over-commit and bite off more than they can chew, without considering their time limits. They say ‘yes’ to everyone and end up not respecting their commitments. This, again, adds to one’s sins. The challenge is in learning to understand your boundaries, so that you don’t get burnt out and, more importantly, so that you can honour the commitments you’ve already made to serve as a leader.
Sooner or later, a time comes in your life, when you realize that life is more than a popularity contest. You may be a people-pleaser, but you must be an effective leader. As leaders, and that is the central role of the Muslim Ummah as a whole, at times we have to say ‘no’ at the risk of getting on the wrong side of people, simply because we must uphold Adl and justice at all times.
Since a leader needs to be firm yet humble, we are ordered to have consultations before deciding a matter. But while the opinions and suggestions of others should be taken into account, it is not a must to act upon them. Allah, the Most Exalted, says in His Glorious Book: “And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah’s) Forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs. Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah, certainly, Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).” (Al-Imran 3:159)
See an example of this from the Sunnah of our beloved Rasoolallah (sa). When the Masjid-e-Nabawi was completed, the need arose for regular Jamaah. Rasoolallah (sa) asked the Sahabas to formulate some method of getting the Muslims together for Salah. The Ashab-as-Suffah volunteered to round up the Muslims for Salah, but this was time consuming and not effective. Other suggestions that came forth were: the beating of drums; the ringing of the bell like the Christians; the light of fire like the Zoroastrians; blowing of the horn like the Jews. Rasoolallah (sa) rejected all these suggestions and Bilal Ibn Rabah (rta) was asked to call out Assalaatu-Jaamiah for the time being.
In the second year of Hijrat, when the numbers in the Muslim rank were increasing, the need was felt for a more effective manner, in which to call the Muslims for prayer. One day, Abdullah Ibn Zaid (rta) in his dream heard an angel instructing him on the wordings of the Adhan (the call to prayer). He related his exp
erience to Rasoolallah (sa), who in turn asked Bilal Ibn Rabah (rta) to learn the words and call the Adhan. When Hazrat Umar (rta) heard the Adhan, he rushed up to Rasoolallah (sa) and reported that he had also heard the same Adhan in his dream. Thus, Bilal (rta) became the first Muadhin (caller to prayer) in Islam.
This is a classic example of how Rasoolallah (sa) used Hikmah (wisdom) in substituting the suggestion of one companion with that of others, without humiliating or jeering at anyone.
If you are a leader, people will not be offended by your rejecting their opinion, if an overall climate of trust and sincerity is present in the team. Also, the trust of the subordinates in their leader depends on the general Ikhlaq and relationship of the leader with them. The unbiased and impartial behaviour of a leader makes this easier.
Wise ones have said that out of Amr bil Maroof wa Nahi anil Munkir (enjoining good and forbidding evil) it is the latter that is tougher, because it involves negating the other person’s opinion.
When Abu Bakr (rta) was chosen as the Khalifah, and Usamah (rta) was awaiting orders from him, a group from the Ansar suggested that the expedition should be postponed until a later time. They sent Umar (rta) to talk to Abu Bakr (rta) to ask him to appoint a commander who is older than Usamah (rta). But as soon as he heard what Umar (rta) had to say, Abu Bakr (rta) got up, took him by his beard and said: “May your mother lose you, o Ibn Al-Khattab! Rasoolallah (sa) has appointed him and you want me to take him down? By Allah, I will never do it!” Gentle as Abu Bakr (rta) was by nature, he said ‘no’ as a leader, when it was needed.
Learning to say ‘no’ is a very powerful tool. Saying ‘no’ to certain engagements, people and choices, which take away from your goals to succeed, is very important. Think of ‘no’ as a friend protecting you from wasting time and energy. Be firm – not defensive or overly apologetic – and polite. This gives the signal that you are sympathetic, but will not easily change your mind, if pressured. If you decide to tell the person you’ll get back to them, be matter-of-fact and not too promising. If you lead people to believe you’ll likely say ‘yes’ later, they’ll be more disappointed with a later ‘no’.
The delicate balance is learning to say ‘no’ in a non-offensive, polite manner, while keeping the reigns of your good Ikhlaq in your hand and not degrading or hurting anyone.