The Business Leader as Shepherd

January 20, 2017


The way to business success involves how you treat your employees. Does this mean that you always let them call the shots? No. Does this mean that you let them make your decisions for you? No. Does it mean that you manage only by consensus? No!

     A shepherd knows the balance between love, loyalty, risk, and discipline. A shepherd knows his sheep intimately. A good shepherd knows that sheep need to be cared for, nurtured, disciplined, and treated with respect. As a leader, if you want to shear the wool more than once, treat your people with respect!

   By the way – the best case study for this doesn’t come from the Ivey League business schools. The best example comes from Jesus Christ. He said, “ I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). In this one statement Jesus summed up all that a businessman needs to know about the people who work for him. Few people realize, that in addition to being the Saviour of the world, Jesus had the best human resource advice that any manager could ever need. Let’s look a little further.   [1]  For a deeper understanding of this blog, I recommend that the reader refer to the Gospel of John 10:1-18

A good shepherd (manager) KNOWS HIS SHEEP (employees).

“ He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). A manager is neither a dictator nor a doormat. He has to establish a relationship with his direct reports. He needs to move beyond the immediate business issues and get to know a person’s interests, challenges, and worries. Can the manager solve every problem of every employee? Certainly not. But there has to be common ground. There has to be an understanding. In Palestine, shepherds knew that their sheep were their livelihood. Astounding as it may sound, there are times when a manager needs to reveal himself – by being open, honest, and vulnerable so that his sheep know that he cares.

A good shepherd SERVES HIS SHEEP

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10: 11). This may not go over very big with the egocentric, “me” persona of today’s business elite. Ultimately, however, if the most valuable asset in a company is people, and if they are going to be adequately managed, they need to be served. Positive feedback needs to be advanced without the fear that if it helps to make people more successful, they will suddenly be a positional threat. It means taking responsibility for errors, even when the manager doesn’t know all of the details or couldn’t control the situation completely himself or herself. This is true service.

A good shepherd LEADS HIS SHEEP

“ When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).

No manager should merely be led around by the whims and desires of his people. That isn’t managing. Jesus never advocated abdication. In fact, Jesus advocated leading. It is the responsibility of leaders to lead their people in such a way that it is safe and desirable to follow. Leading is setting a reliable and consistent example. Leading most successfully executed is by example and not by force. There should be no dichotomy between what the manager says and what he does. Follow these ideas, and people will follow you anywhere.

A good shepherd FEEDS HIS SHEEP

“ I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

     Managers need to face the facts. In today’s competitive environment, they can’t just be in business to advance their own careers. Success is built upon the support and nurturing of others who you want to follow you and support you. People need to be fed. What does that mean? It means a kind word of thanks with a job well done within the scope of their job description. It means some extra reward and recognition when they have gone beyond the normal requirement – above and beyond the job description.

     Feeding your sheep also means providing constructive advice and criticism. We as managers may not always realize it, but the reality is that people respond favourably to mature and informed advice, which is rendered in a fair and productive way. Notice I stress constructive advice: not nagging, not domination, and not impatience. Sound advice is the key.

A good shepherd EMPOWERS HIS SHEEP

     The Greek verb poimaino (John 21:16) means to shepherd the flock. True leadership is a blend of humble sensitivity and direction and successful companies have managers that know the fine line between the two. Books and chapters have been written on leadership. Fundamental to understanding leadership, is the knowledge that no matter what we might think as managers, issues confront us with our employees. I once had a boss who put it this way – “any employee issue is a split responsibility – 50% the responsibility of the employee and 50% the responsibility of the manager.” That sums things up pretty well for me. Managing your employees can be dispensed with love, concern, and rock-hard focus. It’s only a question of how fairly you dispense the responsibility.

A good shepherd GUARDS HIS SHEEP

     “… and I lay down my life for my sheep.” (John 10: 15b)

     There are times, and I would say they are frequent in today’s business environment, when a manager needs to fully and completely support the actions of his employees. Don’t misunderstand me – I am not advocating supporting or reinforcing incompetence. I am, on the other hand, saying that sometimes it’s more important to support your direct report than it is to cow-tow to your superior. Business is an ego environment. It may be far too easy to take the path of least resistance. But there are times when you need to overtly show that you support your subordinates against hierarchical power - guard and protect. Business will be successful with more of this.

     Business is a driver of society. It can be aggressive, yet rewarding. It can also be domineering and lack compassion. Jesus had much to say about business in an indirect way. One thing, however, is not the least bit indirect – Jesus had much to say about how we should shepherd and nurture people. When you think of it, no business will be any business at all if people are not engaged in what the business is all about. Get them on side, and your business will move mountains.

 [1] For a deeper understanding of this blog, I recommend that the reader refer to the Gospel of John 10:1-18

Copyright © 2017 Rev. Michael F. Dell, Footpath Leadership, All rights reserved.