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How practicing Ramadan prepared me for Leadership

I think I was around 8 years old when I experienced my first Ramadan fast. Raised Muslim, I had observed my parents practice for years, and was familiar with the mechanics. And so when I became of age, I began fasting on the weekends. All month long came later in my teens. That first weekend, I remember rolling on my living room floor, clutching my stomach, tears in eyes, telling my mother how I was dying. (It was 11 a.m. possibly a whole 4 hours into my fast). She appropriately looked at me, rolled her eyes, and walked away. Leaving me to my own ridiculousness....ahh...good times. This year, I find myself reentering the practice of fasting, after taking a 10 year hiatus. (For the last decade I have either been pregnant or nursing, and so abstained from fasting). As intended, the fast is granting me time and space for meaningful reflection. Including the ways in which the experience has helped my Leadership practice. Here are a few...

Not everything requires intervention Just like my mom watching me writhing on the floor in "pain", and walking away, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. This may sound contradictory to conventional leadership advice which centers 'action'. Don't get me wrong - being action oriented is super important in Leadership...and so is being able to discern when inaction is actually the best course of action. Deciding not to decide, reserving judgement and deferring decisions to others are evidence of ‘Mindful Leadership’. When you are practicing presence, you place importance on the "now", as opposed to future projecting or past remembering. The past can provide helpful data to forecast what MIGHT happen in the future, however when we make decisions based on these factors, we are ignoring what's ACTUALLY happening. Which could include, a new set of circumstances, an opportunity for innovation, or a challenge for ourselves or those we lead, to grow into. When my mom left me to myself, I eventually, learned to self soothe, build body awareness, anticipate my future needs, and build stamina. These were things I could only learn through my experiencing life without intervention. Applied to Leadership, this principle has helped me help others grow, as well as myself by learning to watch how things are actually happening in real time, rather than relying on my own distortions on what I THINK is happening, and trusting that in some cases, things will sort themselves out on their own. With time, hard things become easier. My first leadership appointment probably had a lot more to do with me being a warm body, than my competence (#nonprofitlife). Regardless, I showed up. And what raw talent I had was indeed tested. Responsible for heavier 'stuff & things' like money, resources and people, I often found myself overwhelmed by the sheer scope of it all. I made a habit of double guessing myself - which wasn't hard to do, since leadership comes equipped with a peanut gallery of folks that would bet money on being able to do ANYTHING better than yourself. But rest assured, even that truth becomes easier to accept, with time. And if you're lucky you might even get the chance to teach someone else what you learned so that things might be easier for them when its’ their turn to lead. Know when to break protocol. Islamic faith dictates that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are not expected to fast. Though I should say that some women still do. And that's their choice. And I salute them. I chose to abstain. And even the years in between kids, when I didn't feel up to it, for whatever reason (garden variety parenting exhaustion the typical culprit), I didn't fast. Religious text is the O.G. ‘Policies and Procedures’. Just like the P&P’s of today, they are intended to explain the ‘rules of play’, what to do and how to do it.

But here’s the thing – P&P’s are a living document (my belief), and shouldn’t be static.

In fact they should be contemporary, and consistently evolving to reflect the needs and trends of an organization.

Workplaces that hold P&P’s as a ‘ye ole’ Constitution, run the risk of tone deafness at best, and bias based liability at worst. As a Leader, it’s important to recognize when something intended to be a helpful parameter- doesn’t make sense for the circumstance. This could include performance management policy, benefits policies and even communication strategies.

My choice not to practice fasting for a few child rearing years did not indicate a rejection of my own faith, but rather a conscious and deliberate decision to do what made sense to and for me at that point in time.

The Jist

And now I’ll tell you something that I think you already know.

“Leadership Identity” –what you personally bring to your leadership style (experience of life, culture, earned wisdom), is forged well beyond the moment in which you are called to serve. These unique truths establish your foundation for a number of important Leadership skills, including decision making, resilience, and discernment.

Never discount the ways that life has prepared you for Leadership – they are just as important as any degree, track record, or number of working years under your belt.

Roll Call!!! What are some things that you learned through your experience of life that prepared you for Leadership? I'd love to learn from you! Comment below!

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