The basics of leadership

In an increasingly complicated and pressurised working environment it’s important to have robust leadership in place. There are a multitude of leadership styles that you can engage with, however, AlBaraa H. Taibah, author of The Modern Shepherd, asks, ‘Do we need to go back to basics to learn the real art of leadership?’

A good leader can transform an organisation or a team – taking it to new heights. To become an effective and successful leader requires a complex skillset – from being authoritative and decisive to having the ability to listen and persuade, but more importantly you need the emotional intelligent competencies. It’s often said that people are born leaders, but leadership can be learnt. From MBAs to leadership courses, management training initiatives and leadership theory books, there is a whole host of options out there to improve your leadership skills.

Back to basics

But do we need to drop the acronyms and complex theories and go back to basics? This is exactly what I did during my own MBA course when I switched Boston for the Saharan desert and the ultimate leadership challenge: herding 164 stubborn sheep through its deadly sand dunes. I wanted to find out what I’d learn from stepping outside the modern-day, high-tech classroom and into an ancient way of life – unchanged for thousands of years. What could I learn from one of the oldest and most basic leadership roles on the planet?

A few years later, when I became the principal of a school of 2,000 pupils and managed a staff of 150 teachers, it was my desert experience that I drew from in order to lead, not my MBA. I believe we need to start prioritising experience and basic human skills over complex theory. Here’s what I learned:

Skill one: empathy

Put yourself in your team’s shoes – what would you want from a leader? In my very first minute with the flock, I tried asserting my authority out loud: ‘Hello, I am your leader.’ The response? They turned their backs to me.

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Each day I offered food and water, opened gates to let them pass, cleaned up their left overs. Slowly, they allowed me to get close to them. I realised it was only when I served them, repeatedly, that they began to accept me.

I needed to bring value to them and meet their needs for them to begin to look to me as their leader. What can you bring to your team?

Skill two: self-awareness

I was totally isolated from the modern world. No internet, no shelter, no company. Only silence and scorching temperatures.

The desert is a place where you do not have the option to choose the way you live. You just live the way it is.

To successfully adapt to change and lead your team through change requires a calm, clear head. This can only be achieved by building full awareness of your thoughts and emotions and how they are impacting your choices.

Skill three: trust and respect

In the desert I needed the sheep to follow me, willingly and with confidence, so I could lead them to food and water – otherwise they would die.

It was only with time and continuous commitment that they started to trust me. Trust is essential to leadership. Without it, it is only a matter of time until the relationship collapses. Do we trust the boss who assumes he or she alone has the solution for everything, who treats people like machines or who thinks only of profit margin? Of course not. We trust the boss who trusts us and treats us with respect.

In classrooms, we can not teach values, empathy, self-awareness, and other competencies that are key in a leader. The world has changed, and learning has to change from theories to practice.


The Modern Shepherd: Leadership Secrets and Life Wisdom I Learned while Shepherding by AlBaraa H. Taibah is out now, priced at £4.99.

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