We all acknowledge that the key to growth is brining in new talent. Masjids need to be turned over to the next generation (even though it seems like the older generation has held on so long we might have to skip one before the turnover occurs). MSA leadership will change every couple of years (if not every year). The successful dawah initiatives are those where there is a steady influx of new help.
If this is how to have a successful future, why do we have such a difficult time letting go? People that have made great sacrifices and put in lots of personal time and effort are the most vested in their projects. I myself have felt this in situations where I had seniority, but still found it difficult to let others take the reigns simply due to the emotional element of not wanting to let go.
A big part of this is identity. When a person is substantially vested in a project, they begin to identify themselves with the project. My name is so-and-so and I’m the founder/president/ceo/manager/shura member of said organization. Once you move on, it becomes harder. It’s like you lose a part of yourself. How will people know I built this masjid if I’m not even on the board? How will people know I started this organization if I’m not doing anything for it anymore? I should at least have a seat on the board, right?
The other part of this is meaning. The vast majority of people who work for Islamic organizations do so in their free time. It is a balance between work, family, leisure, and other activities. For many, their involvement in an organization is a way of fulfilling their personal need to have a religious extra-curricular activity. Some people just have volunteering in their blood, and moving on means creating a spiritual void that will need to be filled.
It is easy for someone to say that these things should not concern us. We do our work for the sake of Allah, and therefore whatever is best for the organization should be how we act. That is only true if you remove the human element from the equation.
To transition our organizational leadership to new talent, we have to understand the proper way of letting go. This is comprised of 3 parts.
One of the biggest fears a leader has is that his or her successor will fall short. Good leaders never function by constantly looking to lengthen their own terms. Instead, they constantly look for and plan how to make themselves replaceable so the organization can outlive them. Transition to the next generation by training them. Be there to help them. That’s the most important part. Too often we instead find an adversarial relationship between one group of leaders and the next. Instead of being the enemy, become the person the new people will come to for advice and direction.
2) Pass on the Vision
One of the positives of moving on is that you can remove yourself from the day to day trench work. It gives you the freedom to step back, breathe, and look at the big picture. Refocus on the initial purpose of the project or organization. This is your chance to make sure the next generation of leaders does not lose sight of it.
3) Celebrate Legacy
The ultimate goal with any Islamic work is to create a legacy that outlasts us. Let whatever work we do be recorded as a sadaqah jariyah. Just as we need to take advantage of refocusing the organization around its purpose, we need to reorient ourselves individually in regards to our own big picture. If I want this work to generate good deeds for me even after I pass away, then I have to make sure that I have put in a system that will allow things to keep running even better once I step back. This focus is something we have to remind ourselves about constantly, but it is the only way to be comfortable with passing the baton forward.
Remember, the dawah is greater than the individual. The MSA is greater than any of the volunteers who established it. The masjid is greater than the ones who built it, funded it, and ran it. We were just given an opportunity to dip our hands into something good – let’s not mess it up for everyone else because we’re too attached to it to let it move forward.