September 4, 2012

How are you leading your sheep?

Recently, a leadership speech about shepherds and sheep got me to thinking about how the care of sheep and the leadership of workplace teams might have much in common. Since the Bible is filled with stories of lost sheep and shepherds, many of us have heard a lot about raising sheep.

So Farmer Carl did some “field” research about the raising of sheep and what management lessons we might learn. It was a lot.

One of my great mentors told me years ago that in business, many companies were just like sheep. They always follow someone else. Sometimes it’s good for business. A St. Louis shoe company insisted that all of their mall stores be built adjacent to the entrance to our Saks Fifth Avenue stores. They found that this made for good business for them.

But for most leaders, we need to strike out on our own. What I found in my research is that we can change from being a stumbling sheepherder into a super shepherd, from being an average leader into a great one. We can learn a lot from the flocks.

Leader or sheep? Across the United States and around the world, that’s the question that many boards of directors and shareholders are asking about their former superstar CEO’s that have now fallen to the bottom of the pedestal.

The line between leader and sheep is a fine one. One of the biggest lessons from the credit crisis is that there are a lot of bad CEOs out there. Leaders of some of the largest, most powerful companies in the world – leaders like Jeff Immelt of General Electric and Fred Goodwin of the Royal Bank of Scotland – were awarded “CEO of the Year” before the crisis, only to be put on lists of the worst CEOs of all-time after the crisis.

In comparing leaders to sheep, we see some commonalities. Both leaders and sheep have readily discernible traits. Leaders anticipate change and prepare for it proactively; sheep are reactive and panic in the face of a crisis. Leaders surround themselves with great people; sheep surround themselves with weaker members of their flock.

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