Finance & Banking


I have had the privilege of working and meeting so
many leaders in Islamic finance over the course
of my work, who are all inspiring and motivating. In
my capacity as the editor of ISFIRE magazine, I have
interviewed more than 20 leaders who are movers
and shakers in the global Islamic finance industry.
My interactions with other leaders in Islamic finance
around the world through my various capacities
as the CEO of Cambridge IFA and Programme
Director of Cambridge Islamic Finance Leadership
Programme (Cambridge-IFLP) have exposed me
to various leadership traits and how each of them contributes to the success of an organisation. Here
I shall be sharing some of the leadership traits that
successful Islamic finance leaders have in common.

I have observed that the very best leaders marry
the “head” and the “heart.” What does this mean?
Simply being tough-minded on standards but at the
same time tender-hearted with people. Creating
such a balance is no easy task but one worthy
of your best efforts! As Nelson Mandela once
said, “A good head and a good heart are always
a formidable combination.” In this ever changing economic landscape, leading with the head and
heart is critical to leaders as they need to motivate
people to respond to changing circumstances and
goals. When it comes to making changes, often
people don’t resist change itself but the fear of
the unknown that comes with these changes.
Hence, they become defensive! Leaders who
have successfully transformed their organisations
understand these too well. They know that for
change to happen, they must not only lead it but
also willing to take action to cause action.

An example of a leader who have efficaciously
transformed his organisation, both on operational
indicators as well as culture and overall
performance is the former President and CEO of
Agrobank, Dato’ Wan Mohd Fadzmi Wan Othman.
He had successfully led the transformation of
Agrobank into a full-fledged Islamic bank within
a short span of time. In his own words Dato’
Wan Mohd Fadzmi acknowledged that “the
journey for the transformation was gruelling,
involving major and significant change in mind set,
processes and redoing all documentations.” With
any transformation exercise; changing the status
quo of long ingrained cultures of inefficiency,
bureaucracy and complacency is inherently a
challenge. This requires leaders to be steadfast and
willing to make difficult and unpopular decisions to
create deep and lasting changes for the long-term
benefit of the organisation. And Dato’ Wan Mohd
Fadzmi stepped up to the challenge with boldness
and humility. Even after leaving the bank, he is still
well respected and spoken-of highly by his former
colleagues and employees.

When speaking at a panel discussion on building
talent for the Islamic financial services industry in
Kazakhstan, I was asked by a non-Muslim if it was
possible for him to build a successful career in the
Islamic finance industry. My answer was simple
and direct. Yes! But only if you are authentic to
Islamic finance, i.e., genuine and true to developing
Islamic finance. This also holds true to Muslims.
Being authentic here means being passionate and
committed to developing Islamic finance with an
unswerving belief and conviction that the Islamic
system is a strong and viable financial alternative.
This pure and steep belief rings true for all leaders
I have encountered and is reflected in their
dedication to the development of Islamic finance.
They not only talk about it but they are able to
translate this belief into actions and behaviours.
Their commitment is unwavering! Because of their
authenticity towards Islamic finance, they inspire
others with their energy and vision. Iqbal Khan, the CEO of Fajr Capital, is one such person. As our most
prominent speaker at Cambridge-IFLP, he never
fails to inspire the delegates (and myself) with his
own story and the steps taken to achieve success,
and being resilient in pursuing his dream. You can
hear his passion for Islamic finance in his voice and
what he says. Being a long-time advocate of Islamic
finance, Iqbal Khan continues to play a prominent
role in developing and promoting Islamic finance on a global scale.

Another authentic trait that successful leaders
have is being their true self – being genuine and
real. They are authentic to who they are and how
they behave. They don’t try to be one thing in the
office and another thing elsewhere. In other words,
what you see is what you get! Authentic leaders
are also self-aware and self-actualised individuals
who are aware of their strengths, limitations and
emotions. The concept of authentic leadership
was first introduced by Bill George, a professor of
management practice at Harvard Business School,
in his 2003 book “Authentic Leadership” and was
developed further in his later book “True North”.
Since then authentic leadership has become the gold
standard of leadership. Why is being an authentic
leader an important leadership trait? According to
Bill George, when leaders are dedicated stewards
and lead in an authentic manner, they build longlasting organisations that do great good for people
and make a giant difference in the world. What
differentiates authentic leaders from inauthentic
ones is that the former has full understanding of
the purpose of leadership, they lead with very
consistent values, build long-term connected
relationships and have the personal self-discipline
to deliver extraordinary results from their teams.

At this point you may be asking, “What if the real
me isn’t the most effective way of leading? If I act
the way an effective leader should act and produce
great results, I don’t see anything wrong with this.”
There are at least two things that are wrong with
this statement. Firstly, even if your leadership
produces great results, people working for you or
with you will eventually feel uncomfortable working
with someone who they know is mere acting and
not genuine in their actions and behaviour. This
eventually leads to mistrust! Secondly, in trying to
be someone you are not, you will end up failing
miserably and will consistently feel stressed. Over
time, your words and body language will reveal your
true self and people will become more and more
reluctant to trust you as a leader. In a nutshell, you
won’t be able to lead effectively if people perceive
you as disingenuous.


Many leaders I have met and interacted with believe
leadership is more of an art than a science. Dr
Adnan Chilwan, Group CEO of Dubai Islamic Bank,
puts it eloquently when asked whether leadership
to him is an art or science during the leadership
interview conducted at the 2nd Cambridge-IFLP.
According to him, “Leadership is a cultivated art
that requires complexes experiences to groom.”
He argued that since there are a lot of human
elements in leading people, more relevance should
be given to EQ rather than IQ. In my opinion,
management is a science but leadership is an art.
This distinction was first made by Field Marshal
Willian Slim, one of Britain’s great military leaders
of the last century, who wrote, “Leadership is of
the spirit compounded of personality and vision;
its practice is an art. Management is of the mind,
more a matter of accurate calculation, of statistics,
of methods, time tables, and routine; its practice
is a science. Managers are necessary; leaders are
essential.” Indeed he was well ahead of his time
as this passage was written in 1957. Studies have
provided empirical evidence that although it’s
important to become an expert in the mechanics
of the business (hard skills), this is simply not
enough. Those managers who can add soft skills
to these hard skills are more likely to have engaged
employees who would go the extra mile. Dr Adnan
Chilwan hit the nail on the head when he said, “You
are not successful as a leader if you are not able to
ignite the passion amongst your team.”

Being selected for a leadership position doesn’t
automatically make you a great leader. Leadership
programmes can inject fresh energy into your
career and get you ready for the next level of
leadership. But what makes Cambridge-FLP unique
is its approach to leadership. Aimed at preparing
the next generation of leaders, the programme
provides delegates with excellent mentoring
opportunities, rigorous leadership training from
renowned leaders as well as industry-specific case
studies in Islamic finance. Designed and structured
by Cambridge IFA, the programme is delivered by some of the most influential leaders in Islamic
banking and finance. Amongst them include Iqbal
Khan (CEO of Fajr Capital), Dr Adnan Chilwan
(Group CEO of Dubai Islamic Bank), Rafe Haneef
(CEO of CIMB Islamic Bank), Stella Cox (Managing
Director of DDCAP), Dato’ Izani Ghani (Executive
Director of Khazanah Nasional Berhad) and Dr.
Hamed Merah (former Secretary General of AAOIFI).

We believe that leadership can best be understood
by studying and closely observing the leaders
themselves. Hence, the programme has been
designed to allow delegates to benefit from the
presence of a number of mentors who are leading
personalities in the global Islamic financial services
industry. Thus, the pedagogical methodology
applied to the programme gives priority to real-time
leadership perspectives, implicitly assuming that
leadership is more like an art rather than a science.
Leadership workshops, along with interactive
social activities and leadership activities,allow
the delegates to seek mentorships and develop
relationships with these leaders as delegates will be
able to interact with them formally and informally.

There is something about being at the University
of Cambridge that make one feels intelligent and
very philosophical. Besides its many historical
buildings, the university is also known for a
number of social activities that are a must on the
“to do” list when one is visiting the University of
Cambridge. This includes punting on the River
Cam and enjoying one of Shakespeare’s famous
plays during the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival
held annually every summer. Delegates of the
programme are able to enjoy these activities as
part of the programme agenda lined up during the
programme course. It doesn’t end there. Delegates
also have the opportunity to enjoy the British
summer weather while at the same time hone
their leadership skills during the Cambridge-IFLP
Treasure Hunt activity organised on the college grounds.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button