Are you shepherding people, or are you managing them?
BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Way of the Shepherd’
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ...”
– John 10:14
A few weeks ago, a dear friend sent me a wonderful book titled “The Way of the Shepherd” by Dr. Kevin Leman and Bill Pentak. Right away, because of my faith and my connection with my beloved “Santiago,” the shepherd from Paolo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” I soared with excitement about this kind gift from my friend, whom I appreciate and admire.
Then, after I read that other part of title, “Seven Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People,” my excitement dwindled a bit. That is, until I read the first chapter, and I not only got hooked, but I have seen a transformation in my personal and professional life after reading this gem of a book.
For me, managing people is a concept and approach not in harmony with my very being. Because of my faith – which is most important in my life and hopefully reflected in my daily thoughts, actions and behaviors – “managing” is not something I have ever aspired to do.
To me, managing always implies a superiority factor and power over others. Power that is often abused. After reading “The Way of The Shepherd,” however, I am convinced that the approach of shepherding vs. managing creates much more value in a workplace or in any relationship.
In “The Way Of the Shepherd,” psychologist Leman and businessman Pentak lay out seven ancient principles on how to lead people mindfully to create the greatest well-being and success for the company, as well as for all the parties involved – both for the so-called “managers” (or hopefully “shepherds”) and the flock they are entrusted to care for and tend.
“Care” and “tend” are the key words. Often, managers focus so much on the status of their position and their power, instead of the very privilege and obligation their position entails.
“To be a successful leader,” the authors write, “you’re going to have to interact with people in much the same way that a shepherd interacts with his sheep.” In other words, to be a great leader, you truly must value the people you lead and have relationships with them based on presence, full engagement and respect. Have relationships with the group, as well as with each individual in that group.
“The Way of the Shepherd” is a story within a story. Pentak, as a young reporter, had the privilege of conducting an exclusive interview with respected corporate leader Theodore McBride, then-CEO of General Technologies. Thus, we learn about Ted as a young man getting his MBA at the University of Texas, Austin, and being mentored by an unforgettable, happy, passionate Dr. Jack Neumann.
The professor has a mission in life. He has found his calling, which is teaching, and therefore lives in awareness that, regardless of his position in life, a purpose-driven life and awareness are essential to success and happiness. Also, we learn that wisdom isn’t something we hold on to, but pass on to someone such as Ted, who demonstrates his “learnable heart.”
The book is divided into the seven chapters representing the seven principles that Neumann shares with his open-minded, eager student. Eager, because despite his tremendous workload, Ted McBride appreciates the gift of finding a great teacher and is willing to give his teacher the time required for the lessons.
The first chapter, “Know the Condition of Your Flock,” focuses on getting to know those you are managing. Be constantly aware of the “status” of your people and of the work they do. Personal issues can impact their performance. So, be familiar, they write, with each person and your entire team. Engage, question and follow through.
The second chapter, and the second principle, is titled “Discover the Shape of Your Sheep.” You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. When you hire someone, “start with a healthy sheep,” so you don’t continue with problems that are already there. Most of all, by knowing the “shape” of each person as to their talents, strengths and weaknesses, you can put them in the most value-creating project benefiting all.
The third chapter, “Help Your Sheep Identify with You,” is all about your relationship with your team. Trust, integrity and authenticity must be modeled by you, the leader. Your sense of mission must be clearly communicated; hence, you inspire others with their own purpose. “Remember that great leadership isn’t just professional, it’s personal,” they write.
Next, in “Make Your Pasture a Safe Place,” Leman and Pentak focus on creating an environment where your workers feel safe and secure. Keeping your team members well-informed, making them and their positions important, weeding out the instigators who are sources of gossip or rumors, and making yourself available and highly visible are paramount to creating a safe work environment.
The fifth chapter/principle, “The Staff of Direction,” is all about vision. Know where you are going and stay out front. Be a protector, yet create clear boundaries. Allow people to be creative and make mistakes. Most of all, “when directing, use persuasion rather than coercion.”
Chapter six is titled “The Rod of Correction.” A shepherd carries a staff and a rod. A staff for guidance and a rod for correction. Protect first. Correct second, when necessary. And inspect regularly to gauge progress and further inspire.
The seventh and final principle and chapter, “The Heart of the Shepherd,” is dedicated to putting your heart fully into the leadership role. Are you just a hireling and a stranger, or are you a true shepherd? By caring for the people who work for you, and taking full responsibility for their well-being, you create a loyal flock dedicated to your leadership and to the mutual purpose. By being a good shepherd to your people, you are demonstrating to them that you are worthy of being followed.
These very principles of “The Way of the Shepherd” represent the basic laws of the universe. Our work environment is changing. Technology is affecting how many of us interact with one another. Yet, our basic humanity remains the same as centuries ago.
We are human beings in relationships with one another, be it a leader and follower, employer and employee, or co-workers and team members.
The workplace is a social system first, because we are social beings. A good leader knows that leadership isn’t just a position. A good leader understands that leadership is a privilege and an honor that come with tremendous responsibility and a price.
For the company to succeed, a great leader must become an engaged shepherd to his “flock,” as mindful of his company’s goals as of every person in this flock.
Human needs remain the same as they were in the age of Moses. “The Way of the Shepherd” invites every leader to ask herself if she chooses to shepherd her team members or just manage them.
“The Way of the Shepherd: Seven Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People”; Copyright 2004 by Kevin Leman and Bill Pentak; Zondervan, HarperCollins Christian Publishing.
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