7 Lessons in Leadership From the Life of Muhammad Ali

7 Lessons in Leadership From the Life of Muhammad Ali

Whenever a great person passes away, the tremors felt by the world are in proportion to the legacy that that person left behind. In this week’s blog post I reflect on seven lessons in leadership that we can learn from the life of the boxer Muhammad Ali.

  1. Leadership is most valuable during times of crisis

Ali grew up in the ‘Deep South’ of America at a time when black people were still considered inferior human beings to white people. As recently as the 1960s, African Americans were still forced to sit on buses in sections separate to white Americans.

When Ali rose to prominence, the black community in America was suffering from despair, disheartenment and a lack of confidence.

It was in this atmosphere that Ali demonstrated leadership. He realised that wallowing in victimhood restrains a community from growing and moving forward. And so he exhorted his people to do something to change the world around them, rather than sit and cry about it:

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

2. Every great leader in history suffered for their beliefs and were reviled before they were revered.

Change is hated by man because people prefer the status quo. No-one likes change, especially those in power.

Once Ali began to encourage his people to believe in themselves, that they did not have to accept the world for what it was, that they could do something to change their lives, he was considered a threat and punished for his beliefs. He was stripped of his title, fined and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

In the eyes of the law, Ali was a convicted criminal. But this did not prevent billions of people around the world venerating him until and after his death.

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

3. Just like cowardice is contagious, so is bravery

In the Quran, fleeing the battlefield is considered a major sin because of the infectious nature of cowardice. When one person flees the battlefield, he injects seeds of cowardice and fear into the hearts of those around him and causes them to flee too.

But likewise, when one man stands up and takes a brave, principled stance, he encourages others to be brave too.

“To be a great champion, you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend that you are.”

4. Leadership is not just about talking the talk, it is about walking the walk

During my years in prison I saw many people who talked tough out in the world, but crumbled to pieces once inside a prison cell. Some of them even turned into rats. Talk is cheap, but action is costly.

Muhammad Ali did not just openly declare his opposition to going to Vietnam to fight. He declared that he was prepared to go to prison, give up boxing and sacrifice everything that was dear to him, for the sake of holding true to his principles.

And true to his word, he was stripped of his title and could not box for several years.

“I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars… I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

5. The importance of being on the right side of history

Many of the people lining up to venerate Muhammad Ali today were the same people who demonised him when he was disgraced for refusing to go and fight in Vietnam.

As for the few who supported Ali when he was disgraced, they turned out to be on the right side of history. The rest of the American public soon turned against the Vietnam war and the United States brought its troops home.

Nelson Mandela suffered the same fate. The same people who castigated Mandela as a convicted terrorist later lined up to pay tribute to him once the whole world realised that he changed the world for the better.

“The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

6. Publicly accepting your errors of judgement is a sign of strength, not weakness

The strong leader does not run away from his mistakes; he acknowledges them and learns from them. Muhammad Ali first joined the black supremacist sect ‘Nation of Islam’ but once he realised what they were about he publicly disassociated himself from their racist message:

“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”

7. People respect you more when you stick by your principles, than when you live your life to please people

Many people did not like some of the things that Muhammad Ali said, or the way that he said them. But he never once cared what people thought of him. He was proud of his beliefs, his lineage and his heritage. He realised early on in his life that if he was to spend his life trying to please people, he would waste his life.

“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”

Under the witty, fast-talking, charming man was a humble individual who really loved the world and cared about its people. He realised that he was not going to live forever so he spent his days on earth trying to carve a positive legacy that would remain long after he departed.

“Live every day as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right,”he used to say.

And on Friday 3 June 2016 Muhammad Ali was right. May Allah have mercy on him.

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The Black Prince of Islam – X

http://www.biography.com/people/malcolm-x-9396195#synopsis

Early Life

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm was the fourth of eight children born to Louise, a homemaker, and Earl Little, a preacher who was also an active member of the local chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and avid supporter of black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Due to Earl Little’s civil rights activism, the family faced frequent harassment from white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and one of its splinter factions, the Black Legion. In fact, Malcolm X had his first encounter with racism before he was even born.

“When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, ‘a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home,'” Malcolm later remembered. “Brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out.” The harassment continued; when Malcolm X was four years old, local Klan members smashed all of the family’s windows, causing Earl Little to decide to move the family from Omaha to East Lansing, Michigan.

However, the racism the family encountered in East Lansing proved even greater than in Omaha. Shortly after the Littles moved in, in 1929, a racist mob set their house on fire, and the town’s all-white emergency responders refused to do anything. “The white police and firemen came and stood around watching as the house burned to the ground,” Malcolm X later remembered.

Two years later, in 1931, things got much, much worse. Earl Little’s dead body was discovered laid out on the municipal streetcar tracks. Although Malcolm X’s father was very likely murdered by white supremacists, from whom he had received frequent death threats, the police officially ruled his death a suicide, thereby voiding the large life insurance policy he had purchased in order to provide for his family in the event of his death. Malcolm X’s mother never recovered from the shock and grief of her husband’s death. In 1937, she was committed to a mental institution and Malcolm X left home to live with family friends.

 

Troubled Youth
Malcolm X attended West Junior High School, where he was the school’s only black student. He excelled academically and was well liked by his classmates, who elected him class president. However, he later said that he felt that his classmates treated him more like the class pet than a human being. The turning point in Malcolm X’s childhood came in 1939, when his English teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he answered that he wanted to be a lawyer. His teacher responded, “One of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic … you need to think of something you can be … why don’t you plan on carpentry?” Having thus been told in no uncertain terms that there was no point in a black child pursuing education, Malcolm X dropped out of school the following year, at the age of 15.After quitting school, Malcolm X moved to Boston to live with his older half-sister, Ella, about whom he later recalled, “She was the first really proud black woman I had ever seen in my life. She was plainly proud of her very dark skin. This was unheard of among Negroes in those days.” Ella landed Malcolm a job shining shoes at the Roseland Ballroom. However, out on his own on the streets of Boston, Malcolm X became acquainted with the city’s criminal underground, soon turning to selling drugs. He got another job as kitchen help on the Yankee Clipper train between New York and Boston and fell further into a life of drugs and crime. Sporting flamboyant pinstriped zoot suits, he frequented nightclubs and dance halls and turned more fully to crime to finance his lavish lifestyle. This phase of Malcolm X’s life came to a screeching halt in 1946, when he was arrested on charges of larceny and sentenced to ten years in jail.To pass the time during his incarceration, Malcolm X read constantly, devouring books from the prison library in an attempt make up for the years of education he had missed by dropping out of high school. Also while in prison, he was visited by several siblings who had joined to the Nation of Islam, a small sect of black Muslims who embraced the ideology of black nationalism—the idea that in order to secure freedom, justice and equality, black Americans needed to establish their own state entirely separate from white Americans. Malcolm X converted to the Nation of Islam while in prison, and upon his release in 1952 he abandoned his surname “Little,” which he considered a relic of slavery, in favor of the surname “X”—a tribute to the unknown name of his African ancestors.
Nation of Islam

Now a free man, Malcolm X traveled to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked with the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, to expand the movement’s following among black Americans nationwide. Malcolm X became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple No. 11 in Boston, while also founding new temples in Harford and Philadelphia. In 1960, he established a national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, in order to further promote the message of the Nation of Islam.

Articulate, passionate and a naturally gifted and inspirational orator, Malcolm X exhorted blacks to cast off the shackles of racism “by any means necessary,” including violence. “You don’t have a peaceful revolution,” he said. “You don’t have a turn-the-cheek revolution. There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” Such militant proposals—a violent revolution to establish an independent black nation—won Malcolm X large numbers of followers as well as many fierce critics. Due primarily to the efforts of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam grew from a mere 400 members at the time he was released from prison in 1952, to 40,000 members by 1960.

By the early 1960s, Malcolm X had emerged as a leading voice of a radicalized wing of the Civil Rights Movement, presenting an alternative to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a racially integrated society achieved by peaceful means. Dr. King was highly critical of what he viewed as Malcolm X’s destructive demagoguery. “I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice,” King once said.

 

Break with Elijah Muhammad
Philosophical differences with King were one thing; a rupture with Elijah Muhammad proved much more traumatic. In 1963, Malcolm X became deeply disillusioned when he learned that his hero and mentor had violated many of his own teachings, most flagrantly by carrying on many extramarital affairs; Muhammad had, in fact, fathered several children out of wedlock. Malcolm’s feelings of betrayal, combined with Muhammad’s anger over Malcolm’s insensitive comments regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, led Malcolm X to leave the Nation of Islam in 1964.That same year, Malcolm X embarked on an extended trip through North Africa and the Middle East. The journey proved to be both a political and spiritual turning point in his life. He learned to place the American Civil Rights Movement within the context of a global anti-colonial struggle, embracing socialism and pan-Africanism. Malcolm X also made the Hajj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during which he converted to traditional Islam and again changed his name, this time to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.After his epiphany at Mecca, Malcolm X returned to the United States less angry and more optimistic about the prospects for peaceful resolution to America’s race problems. “The true brotherhood I had seen had influenced me to recognize that anger can blind human vision,” he said. “America is the first country … that can actually have a bloodless revolution.” Tragically, just as Malcolm X appeared to be embarking on an ideological transformation with the potential to dramatically alter the course of the Civil Rights Movement, he was assassinated. 
Death and Legacy
On the evening of February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, where Malcolm X was about to deliver a speech, three gunmen rushed the stage and shot him 15 times at point blank range. Malcolm X was pronounced dead on arrival at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital shortly thereafter. He was 39 years old. The three men convicted of the assassination of Malcolm X were all members of the Nation of Islam: Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson.In the immediate aftermath of Malcolm X’s death, commentators largely ignored his recent spiritual and political transformation and criticized him as a violent rabble-rouser. However, Malcolm X’s legacy as a civil rights hero was cemented by the posthumous publication in 1965 of The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. At once a harrowing chronicle of American racism, an unsparing self-criticism and an inspiring spiritual journey, the book, transcribed by the acclaimed author of Roots, instantly recast Malcolm X as one of the great political and spiritual leaders of modern times. Named byTIME magazine one of 10 “required reading” non-fiction books of all-time,The Autobiography of Malcolm X has truly enshrined Malcolm X as a hero to subsequent generations of radicals and activists.Perhaps Malcolm X’s greatest contribution to society was underscoring the value of a truly free populace by demonstrating the great lengths to which human beings will go to secure their freedom. “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression,” he stated. “Because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”
Personal Life

In 1958, Malcolm X married Betty Sanders, a fellow member of the Nation of Islam. The couple had six children together, all daughters: Attallah (b. 1958), Qubilah (b. 1960), Ilyasah (b. 1963), Gamilah (b. 1964) and twins Malaak and Malikah (b. 1965). Sanders later became known as Betty Shabazz, and she became a prominent civil rights and human rights activist in her own right in the aftermath of her husband’s death.

In May 2013, Malcolm X’s grandson, Malcolm Shabazz—son of the civil rights leader’s second daughter with wife Betty Shabazz, Qubilah Shabazz—was beaten to death in Mexico City, near the Plaza Garibaldi. He was 28 years old. According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, police believe Malcolm Shabazz’s death was the result of a “robbery gone wrong.”

QUOTES:
“Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
“America is the first country … that can actually have a bloodless revolution.”
“You don’t have a peaceful revolution. You don’t have a turn-the-cheek revolution. There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.”
“You don’t have a peaceful revolution. You don’t have a turn-the-cheek revolution. There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.”
“If you are not willing to pay the price for freedom, you don’t deserve freedom.”
“While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem.”

THE PILGRIMAGE TO MAKKAH – Malcolm X RH

When he was in Makkah, Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz RH wrote a letter to his loyal assistants in Harlem… from his heart:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.

IMG_9154“I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka’ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat.” “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.”

“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white – but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.” “You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.” “During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.”

“We were truly all the same (brothers) – because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude.”

“I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man – and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their ‘differences’ in colour.” “With racism plaguing America like incurable cancer, the so-called ‘Christian’ white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster – the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.” “Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white.”

“The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth – the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.” “Never have I been so highly honored. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors – honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King – not a Negro.”

“All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.”

Sincerely, Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)

(From the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X with assistance from Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS)

Malcolm X saw and experienced many positive things. Generosity and openheartedness were qualities which were impressed on him by the welcome which he received in many places. He saw brotherhood and the brotherhood of different races and this led him to disclaim racism and to say: “I am not a racist… In the past I permitted myself to be used… to make sweeping indictments of all white people, the entire white race, and these generalizations have caused injuries to some whites who perhaps did not deserve to be hurt. Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as the result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true Sunni Muslim. I must repeat that I am not a racist nor do I subscribe to the tenets of racism. I can state in all sincerity that I wish nothing but freedom, justice and equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”

(The preceding material was excerpted from The Autobiography of Malcolm X quoted in an article written by the Institute for Islamic Education.

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