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The Sheepherders and the Shepherds

Which one are you when it comes to running your business?

While hiking with a youth group in the high plains of Wyoming this past summer, we ran into a group of ranchers who were moving a large herd of sheep into another range for grazing. The several hundred sheep, all running about in a rather chaotic manner, were being pushed forward by five sheepherders on horses and four dogs.

As we watched, several in our group commented about the number of sheep that seemed to be heading in no particular direction at all. The sheepherders and the dogs had to work continuously to keep the herd moving more or less in the correct direction.

Contrast my Wyoming experience to that of a friend of mine who visited Jerusalem a few years ago. He noted that many sheep graze daily in the fields surrounding the city. These sheep, however, are managed by shepherds, not sheepherders. In the early morning hours when the shepherds move their sheep out into the fields, they call them out by name and lead them. Likewise, in the evening when they move the sheep into the protective fold (a fenced off area) for the night, the shepherds lead them instead of herding them. The sheep simply follow the shepherd.

Now, you could argue that one way of moving sheep is better than the other. But that’s not my point here. Instead, I think these two examples illustrate the different ways we often find ourselves running our businesses: The sheepherders in Wyoming could be compared to the management side of our responsibilities, while the shepherds in Jerusalem could be compared to the leadership roles in our businesses.

Managing the daily workflow
In our business operations, we’ll always need both managers and leaders. In a shop’s daily flow of work, for instance, you’ll always need managers to keep production systems and work product moving. This is critical to achieving success with the daily commitments to your customers.

Now, hopefully, our managers are not managing our people and processes in a chaotic fashion like the first example of the sheepherders. The Wyoming sheepherders knew where they eventually wanted to arrive and were generally headed that way – it just took a lot of running around to get there. It’s likely that some days our managers feel exactly like that: lots of hectic running around feeling like we are indeed getting nowhere fast.

The overriding point I want to make here, however, is that we absolutely need the daily roles of managers in our business to actually get the work done. Our managers should be completely immersed in and equipped with the information needed to get our products out the door correctly and on time.

Managers are the ones tasked with the daily, perhaps hourly, responsibility to make the necessary decisions to meet our customers’ demands. To speculate that we only need leaders rather than managers in our companies would be folly. But how well do your managers perform their functions as managers? And for that matter, how well do your employees follow your managers’ direction?

Two levels of leadership
A company’s shepherds – its leaders – are, however, another matter.

When considering the role of leadership in your organization, the first question you might ask is: “What?” What is the role of a leader in your business? If your managers are the ones tasked with the daily responsibilities of workflow, then your organization’s leaders are the ones accountable to teach the managers exactly how to do that. While the leaders in your business might be responsible to teach your managers and the rest of your team “how” to properly do their job, their more important role might be “why” they should do their job in a certain manner.

Your leaders will be the ones who develop, teach, and reinforce the culture of your business. If you have strong leaders in your organization, your managers and employees won’t do their jobs out of fear for their job, or just because they get a regular paycheck. Rather, they’ll do their job well because your company culture, taught by the leaders of your company, will become each employee’s daily behavior. The “what” of leadership is largely the development of exactly what kind of company you wish to be.

The next question might be: “Who?” Who are your leaders? I believe that leadership in most organizations comes to you at two levels. First are the appointed leaders. Appointed leaders include the owner of the business and the members of a senior management team. They have, as a part of their job description, the responsibility to lead others in the organization. They should be teachers and mentors to the other members of the team. They might be directly over a lower level of managers, or in a smaller organization they’ll often have the dual role of being a leader as well as a manager of the day-to-day. In other words, an individual may very well be both a sheepherder and a shepherd.

There is, however, a second level of leadership in most companies. Although these people might not officially carry the title of leader, they’re nonetheless recognized by their fellow employees as natural leaders. They will often be the ones making the tough decisions in the heat of the battle. Well respected among their peers, they’ll typically provide the leadership you need in the trenches. More importantly, these leaders are just as critical as your appointed leaders. Figure out who these people are in your organization. Talk to them; listen to them; help them progress in the company. They can be key in creating the right type of culture in your business and in helping you achieve great success.

Analyze and improve
The bottom line: Strong managers and leaders – sheepherders as well as shepherds – are essential to the ongoing success of your business. Take the time to analyze the quality of your company’s management and its leadership, and then focus on taking steps to improve in both areas. Developing a great management and leadership culture in your organization will be one of the most critical steps you can take in planning for your shop’s future.

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