During the biblical times, the oft-used portrayal of a shepherd and his sheep was an illustration that could help people identify themselves in their cultural and social context. Over the years, people have come to understand what shepherding is all about. Good shepherding is regarding feeding the lambs and the sheep, bringing them to pleasant meadows for pastures and water, grooming and clipping them, delivering new lambs, controlling them to stay together, return wandering lambs and sheep to the herd, protecting them and leading them safely into their stables at night. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd and that we are all under the care of shepherds and. As leaders, we need to follow what the Good Shepherd does for his sheep. Psalm 23, (King James Version) says,
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
The Good Shepherd as Inspiration and as an Ideal
Smart leaders can understand much from the Good Shepherd and learn lessons on tending their flocks. Most sheepherders “herd” sheep, driving them from behind. The talent to lead sheep separates the true shepherd from the false shepherd.
At the end of the day, true shepherds bring their sheep to a safe place, a sheepfold, made of high walls with thorns on top to prevent predators from attacking the flock during the night. When predators penetrate the sheepfold and start attacking the sheep, the shepherd steps into the action and risks his life for the welfare of the sheep. The false shepherd, on the other hand, values his personal safety and welfare above that of the flock; and even though he might try to help, he never gives his all; as a matter of fact, in the face of danger, he may run away, perhaps saying to himself, “It is an endurable loss. I have done all I can without suffering damage myself. These things happen. Isn’t there a line item for this damage to inventory?”
We realize from true shepherds that leadership is not just a job; it is a calling. Leaders have “flocks” for which they must care, just as in the parable of the Good Shepherd. Leaders are entrusted with the stewardship of influencing, teaching, guiding, and guarding. Only three other callings in life present as much promise for influence—being a parent, being a teacher, and being a team coach.
The Responsibilities of a Good Shepherd
We invite you to reflect on your leadership. Here are three success factors:
- Be clear on your values and purpose. In today’s world of work, it is easy to become lost in all the noise, uncertainty, and things coming at us at all times and lose sight of what is important. As leaders, we must remember the only thing that matters is the well-being of the enterprise and people with whom we have been entrusted. Good shepherds are clear on their purpose and true to that purpose—the protection, care, and well-being of their sheep.
- Lead rather than herd. The shepherd walks ahead of the flock and leads them. The shepherd names each sheep and calls each by name. The sheep distinguish the shepherd’s voice, trust him, and follow only him. Herding is about pushing people in a direction without giving them choice. People follow sincere leaders because they want to follow, believing them to be worthy of their loyalty and trust. Leaders are responsible for the well-being of the company and its employees.
- Place the welfare of the flock ahead of personal safety and comfort. The true shepherd feeds his flock and ensures its strength. The false shepherd feeds himself first and gets fat off the sheep. True shepherds know that caring for employees is the only way to win long-term faithfulness and build company strength.
Today, we see leaders who play the corporate game for short-term financial gain or who are merely passing through on their ascent to somewhere else. These leaders possess little loyalty to the company or its employees. They are false leaders who when placed in a situation that threatens their lives or reputations will save themselves and flee for personal safety. We are starved for leaders who are willing to feed their flock and defend the company and its employees from intense predators and competitors.
Emulate the Good Shepherd in your Leadership Style
Here are six reflective questions for a self-quiz to assess if you are emulating the Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, in your practice of leadership. Try answering these questions to identify your strengths and opportunities for growth.
- “Do I know my purpose as a leader?”
- “Will I “go to the wall” for these people and this company?”
- “Do I nurture an environment in which people want to help each other succeed?”
- “How have I defended my company and my team this month?”
- “How well do I know my employees?”
- “Do they willingly follow me with full hearts and complete trust?”
In your leadership practice, model the actions of the Good Shepherd. Lead from the front rather than push from behind.