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The Sheepherders and the Shepherds

(March 2014) posted on Mon Mar 10, 2014

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

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By Marty McGhie

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.