November 6, 2012

Have you learned the lessons to best lead your sheep?

Sheep are not dumb as much as they are defenseless. Though sheep are not the most intelligent creatures, much of their behavior can be attributed to the fact that they simply cannot defend themselves. From the outside, a lot of sheep’s behavior looks silly, but sheep don’t have sharp teeth or pointy claws. The sound they make, “baaa,” isn’t the least bit scary. While it is easy to assess their behavior as dumb, often it is a matter of being defenseless.

1. Who leads? What is the difference between a sheepherder and a shepherd? Have you ever seen a sheepherder directing sheep? He is usually at the rear of the flock, slouched down on his horse, sound asleep. Meanwhile doing the work are half a dozen small dogs yapping and barking at the heels of the sheep. This is a sheepherder.

A shepherd was asked if he led the sheep or if he followed them. He said, “It all depends. If it’s someplace they’ve been before, the sheep lead and I follow. If it’s someplace new, I lead and they follow me.” Wise leaders know this and set the example and then let others lead. When that happens, new leaders gain the confidence they need to apply those same skills.

Remember that a leader without followers is just someone taking a walk.

2. What is the number one goal of a shepherd? It is to ensure the well being and productivity of the sheep in their care. It is not about the continued employment of the herder. Safe sheep = safe job.

3. Go out after the lost sheep and stay out until it is found. A successful shepherd or leader is willing to leave the comfort and security of the job to actually “go after that which is lost, until he finds it”. Sometimes leaders don’t know what is lost until we get out in the field and see for ourselves. In management courses, we call this managing by walking around and giving support to the team. Look at the popularity of the Undercover Boss on television. Look what they learn about their own companies.

Can workers get “lost” in companies today? You bet. The successful shepherd finds out, goes out, stays out, and brings back the lost sheep.

4. How do you handle employees who make mistakes? When a sheepherder finds a lost sheep, he may send it back to the flock with a swift kick and angry words, unmindful of why it was lost, what injuries it may have suffered as a result, and the difficulties it might have in rejoining the flock after being separated for a period of time. The shepherd treats the sheep very differently. Successful leaders find out why followers have been lost, what problems they presently face, and then helps the person make the difficult journey back from separation to belonging.

5. Finding and training good ranch dogs produces rare gems. You'll be hard pressed to find a piece of equipment or hire human help that is ready to go at the tip of a hat, knows how to move sheep better than you, can be fueled by kibble and rarely complains about the work.

A good sheep dog is indispensable to a shepherd!

  • He will challenge a sheep that gets out of line. Never bites, keeps strays!
  • He puts the goats in their place.
  • Wolves are afraid of an experienced sheep dog. Knows their scent!
  • They never come "between" the Shepherd and sheep!
  • They never "guard" the sheep "from" the Shepherd.
  • They have close contact with Shepherd, know his hand signals.
  • They are more loyal to the Shepherd that the sheep.

Where are your sheep dogs? How do you find, train and manage good team leaders and supervisors who help guide your flock onto better performance and productivity. Our lessons go into action.

Come back soon to read final post in this leadership series: A good example for leading sheep.

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