In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy
Imaam Ibnul Qayyim (rahimahullaah) said:
It is the difference between [exalting the command of Allaah and sincerity to Him] and [love of exalting oneself and hastening towards fulfilling pleasures]. Indeed the one who is sincere to Allaah and exalts Him loves that his Lord is obeyed and not disobeyed; (loves that) His Word should be uppermost; (loves that) all affairs of the religion should be established sincerely for His sake; and (loves that) the slaves should obey His commands and keep away from what He has forbidden. He is sincere in his servitude to Allaah and sincere to Allaah’s creation in calling them to the path of Allaah.
So he loves to be (an upright) leader in the religion; rather he asks his Lord to make him from the leaders of the righteous people who are followed, just as he is a follower of the righteous. Therefore, if this slave (i.e. this person) who calls to Allaah loves that he is considered dignified in the eyes (of the people), revered and beloved in their hearts and one followed amongst them, so that he is trusted by them and they follow the example of the Messenger through him, then this (desire of his) does not harm him; rather he is praised for it. That is because the caller to Allaah loves that Allaah is obeyed and singled out in worship. He loves to be a means of aiding (the people) towards (obedience and singling Allaah out in worship). And because of this (when) Allaah mentioned those chosen slaves of His- whom He praised in His revelation and will grant the best of reward on the day they meet Him- He mentioned them with the best of their deeds and characteristics, and then stated (about them):
وَٱلَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا هَبۡ لَنَا مِنۡ أَزۡوَٲجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّـٰتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعۡيُنٍ۬ وَٱجۡعَلۡنَا لِلۡمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا
”And those who say: “Our Lord! Bestow on us from our wives and our offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and make us leaders for the Muttaqun” (pious) 25:74
So they ask Allaah to grant them the comfort of the eye by making their wives and offspring obedient to Allaah, and to grant them happiness in their hearts by way of being followed by the righteous upon obedience to Allaah and servitude to Him. That is because a trustworthy leader in the religion co-operates with (others) upon obedience (to Allaah), and that is to call them to (sound) leadership in the religion, whose foundation is patience and certainty, as Allaah (The Most High) said:
وَجَعَلۡنَا مِنۡہُمۡ أَٮِٕمَّةً۬ يَہۡدُونَ بِأَمۡرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُواْۖ وَڪَانُواْ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ
”And We made from among them (Children of Israel), leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.).” [32:24]
So their supplication (Soorah Furqaan Ayah 74) to Allaah that He makes them leaders of the righteous people, is a supplication that Allaah guides them; grants them success; bless them with beneficial sciences and righteous actions–outwardly and inwardly–without which (sound) leadership in the religion cannot be achieved.
This is different from (merely) seeking leadership, for indeed its seekers hasten to obtain it in order to achieve their goals, (such as) exaltedness in the earth; servitude of the hearts to them; inclination towards them; aiding them in all their goals, whilst they are exalted above them and conquered. This pursuit of leadership brings about corruption-which none can enumerate except Allaah- such as rebellion, envy, transgression, enmity, oppression, trials, being ardent in defending oneself at the expense of violating the rights of Allaah, exalting those despised by Allaah and belittling those honoured by Allaah…..
[Abridged and slightly paraphrased. For further details, see Ar-Rooh page: 487-489]