Shepherd or Sheepherder?

What is your Leadership Style: Are you a Shepherd or a Sheepherder?

Think about this question for a moment. Are you a shepherd or a sheepherder? Many people might think that these two are the same; however, they are definitely not.

A shepherd is one who tends to the sheep; who leads from the front; who draws the sheep to himself. A sheepherder is someone who drives sheep; who herds from the back of the flock. These are two very different styles of managing sheep and two very different leadership styles of managing people.

Shepherding has been around for thousands of years and considered the Eastern way of taking care of sheep. The shepherd leads his flock in the direction they need to go. The sheep look to the shepherd as their leader. As the one who will take care of them and who always has their best interest in mind. The sheep feel protected, cared for, and know that the shepherd is always watching out for them.AJGM48-1680x1050

The western style of managing sheep is somewhat newer (hundreds of years). It involves driving the sheep, similar to a cattle drive. By driving from the back of the flock, this allows the sheepherder to handle many times more sheep than a shepherd would be able to do from the front of the flock. By driving sheep this way, the sheepherders know that there is going to be an attrition rate that they have to take into account – sometimes as high as 30% of the flock. If you consider some of the massive sheep ranches in Australia or even in the US, you begin to understand why they may drive thousands of sheep at a time. They need to start with this many because they know they are going to lose a significant number.

1917212_origThe shepherds from the Eastern parts of the world manage much fewer sheep. Their flocks are in the hundreds. Everyone in their flock is extremely important to them. They are all valuable and they don’t want to lose a single one.

The following is a story, which explains the difference between driven and led. Joe Batten is one of the grand old men of public speaking and a member of the national Speaker’s Association Hall of Fame. He wrote the best seller “Tough-minded Leadership”.  Some years ago, Joe was meeting with a group of 35 corporate CEO’s for a daylong seminar. Early in the presentation he asked how many were leaders in their company. Every hand in the room went up.

Joe smiled and said, “I’ll ask you the same question after I share this true story with you.”

“In the Middle East there are two countries separated only by a common border, which each have large sheep and mutton industries.  The cultures of the two countries are radically different, and they are hostile to each other. In fact, they have fought wars with each other and they are fighting as we speak.

In one country, the shepherds walk behind their flocks.

In the other country, the shepherds walk in front of their flocks.

In the country where the shepherds walk behind their flock, the quality of the mutton and the wool is poor, and it is not a profitable industry.  In the country where the shepherds walk in front of their flocks, the quality of the mutton and wool is excellent and the profitability is high.

In the flocks where the shepherds walk behind and drives and pushes, and corrects, and is always in charge, the young sheep grow up afraid to stray from the flock for fear of being rapped up-side the head by the shepherd’s staff, or having the dogs sent out to round them up.  They have no opportunity to explore for the better grass and water, or to play with other young lambs.  They simply become obedient, passive and apathetic.  By the time they are grown, they have lost all initiative. They are not really healthy.

In the country where the shepherds walk in front of their flocks, the young lambs have plenty of opportunity to stray, play, experiment, and then catch up to the flock. Instead of feeling overly controlled, compressed, repressed, depressed and suppressed, they feel free, empowered, enhanced, and stretched. They eat more, sleep better and grow up large and healthy.  They are truly led.

Joe Batten then asked the assembled executives once more, “How many of you truly lead in your company?” Not a hand was raised!

This story drives home the importance of leading from the front and by example.

Lt. Colonel Hal Moore, who led one of the first fighting forces into battle in Vietnam and co-authored the book “We were Soldiers”, which was later made into a movie, told this to his men before they left for their first encounter with the enemy: “I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me, God.” This was a leader who not only led from the front but cared for each and every one of his men.

In John 10:11,14 it says:

“I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

ecfc9d2cd1e6353911818bf772e99fc8I always thought that I was a good leader. I realized a few years ago that I was wrong. I had the leadership style of a sheepherder. Whether at home or on the job, my style was to bark orders, give directions, and drive people. I drove people in order to get the job done. To achieve the end results that I was looking for. This had the effect that is a common result of sheepherding. There was a certain degree of attrition, and it drove a wedge between some very important and valuable relationships. I had to learn to move to the front and to lead by example. To give the people I was trying to lead the respect, dignity, and the compassion that they deserved.

Changing my leadership style after so many years has not been an easy task. It is not easy to change anything that we have done a certain way for the majority of our lives. However, sometimes change is called for. Change is needed for growth. Change is required for healing and redemption.

In Jeremiah 23:1, it says:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”

The explanation for this verse in the NIV Bible is that, “leaders are held responsible for those entrusted to their care. Remember that you are accountable to God for those you influence and lead.”

We all have the ability to lead, and in fact are all called to lead in some form or fashion at different times in our lives. It may be as the stay at home parent raising our children, or at our place of work. It may be that we are called to lead in one of our social circles, or in some capacity at our church. Whatever the situation, and whenever you happen to be called to lead, think for a moment about what it means to be a good shepherd, and then what it looks like to be a sheepherder, and then go out and lead your people well.

Isaiah 40:11 – “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.”

God bless,

John Close-Up (498x700)

John Early
The Shoe Shine Guy

3 thoughts on “Shepherd or Sheepherder?

  1. Thanks John – this was perfectly timed. I just finished reading “The Servant” by James C. Hunter and it too talks about leadership styles. Your article and that book are very closely related. If you haven’t read the book, I strongly recommend it. I enjoy your articles and am eagerly anticipating your book to be released. I’ve already got it on pre-order.

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