The people who hold romantic ideas about domestic sheep – fluffy soft white pacifist creatures, vegetarians, communal, speaking in soft tones of “baaaa…” –have never actually been around sheep. Maybe they saw lambs at a petting zoo for a few minutes.
Real-world shepherds have realistic ideas about sheep.
Sheep are dirty. Their wool acts like a magnet for dirt, twigs, leaves, and poop. They can’t and don’t clean themselves.
Sheep are dumb. They rarely can extricate themselves from awkward situations. They will play follow-the-leader to their demise. They wander off and can’t find their way back. They need to be moved from field to field because they usually can’t find their way to a new food source without help.
Sheep are defenseless. A crow can land on their heads and peck at their eyes. They will bite you if they get mad, but otherwise their teeth and hooves don’t frighten predators. If a predator doesn’t move, the sheep forget it’s there. Sheep can’t swim, so they stay away from moving water.
The Bible describes people as the sheep of God’s pasture. It sounds nice but it is not meant as a compliment.
I’m certain that your organization is not filled with people as dirty, dumb, or defenseless as actual sheep.
Yet shepherding is a good model for leadership:
- The shepherd must be with the sheep. He must be alert to their needs, and put their needs above his own.
- The shepherd is the first forager, mindful of what the sheep need to eat and drink, and guiding them to safe sources.
- Shepherds are more aware of the weather, the time of day, and lay of the land than the sheep.
- The shepherd defends the sheep from predators and enemies – and the sheep from other folds which might be unhealthy competition or spread diseases.
- Yelling is not effective with sheep, but they are remarkably responsive to firmly worded guidance.
- Shepherds work primarily with the leaders in the flock, and leverage their influence.
- Shepherds “eat last and sleep the least.”
- Shepherds will carry weak sheep to help them on their journey. They’ll make sure no sheep are left behind or wander off.
- Shepherds don’t expect affection or praise from the herd.
- Shepherds are mindful of the bigger picture of why we raise sheep.
What can you do today to improve your shepherding?