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Professionalizing Masjid Leadership (Part 1) Separation of Powers

Professionalizing Masjid Leadership (Part 1) Separation of Powers

by Maher Budeir
Board member of Roswell Community Masjid (Atlanta), Consultant in environmental and construction industry

Leadership models vary from one institution to another. In looking at the challenges we face, we find that most of the challenges may be mitigated by instituting the following four principles: 1) Separation of Powers, 2) How We Make Decisions, 3) Accountability, and 4) Transparency. This series will explore each of those principles.

I. Separation of Powers

No, I am not talking about state and religion. I am talking about visionaries vs. action oriented people. The majority of our Masjids are run by “the Board”. In the world of nonprofits the role of the board can vary. But, in general, responsibilities of the board include policy, oversight, and establishing the strategic vision. On the other hand, the administration, executive committee, or operating team is an entity that is responsible for managing programs, executing plans, and running the daily operation of the organization. These two components are essential and complementary, but should be separate with well defined boundaries and responsibilities.

The separation of these two components is not for the sake of creating layered bureaucracy, but for creating an effective and healthy institution. A board holds the trust of the organization, and is the legal entity that is in charge of establishing direction. This requires seasoned, visionary, wise individuals who have the financial skills, legal insight, as well as the Islamic knowledge to develop, facilitate and steward the strategic planning for the community. On the other hand, developing and managing programs requires a completely different set of skills. Those skills needed on the executive committee include project management, human resource management, program development, resource management and community relations. Creating a healthy and balanced organizational dynamics that keeps the checks and balances is crucial. The head of the administration, whether he is an Imam, an operation team leader, or an executive director should be supported and held accountable by the board.

Merging these two entities into one is the most common mistake many Muslim organizations fall into. Mostly, because the board does not realize the importance of dedicating itself to higher level of visionary leadership, and before they know it, they are the ones managing the facility, keeping the books, and running the programs. Quickly, this leads to burn out, and the net result is that very little focus will be directed to long term planning and governance matters.

Boards need to get out of the way of managing institutions and should stay focused on policy and long term planning. Instead of managing they should recruit competent executive team, give them general direction and then let them do their thing. In return, the administration or executive committee needs to be diligent in reporting to the board and working with the board to extract annual plans out of the long term strategy. Both entities need to be connected to the community with clear and distinct sets of roles and responsibilities.

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