Learning from Leaders: Reviewing The Way of the Shepherd

Leman, Kevin and William Pentak. The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

shepherdLeman and Pentak offered an incredibly helpful work in the realm of leadership.  I think of all the leadership books I’ve read this is in the top 5.  It was simply communicated but had profound ideas about the linking of the practices a shepherd uses to care for his flock and the transference into the needs of leadership that people have.  The narrative approach and framing story format offered a very approachable message with an inherent tension that doesn’t seem to be as common in books aspiring to impart leadership principles.  While the seven principles where extremely helpful I think they actually just served as categories for the real meat of the advice they offer throughout the pages of their work.  For the sake of clarity I’ll frame my comments around those categories, which were my favorite and most helpful sections of the book.

1.    Know the Condition of Your Flock

The state of those we lead is often summed up very quickly and little attention is given to the needs of those we lead unless they are so acute we have no choice but to manage them in order to return that leader to faithful and fruitful service.  The ongoing care and heart check that was advocated for in this section was very helpful to consider in the long-term investment of our people.  I think because of the varied expectations (often lower) I put on paid staff the following was a really excellent litmus test for where I am in identifying their condition; “If a person never indicates they need help when you inquire about their progress, it means either that they don’t trust you enough to be honest with you or that you haven’t sufficiently challenged them to grow. If it’s the latter, you need to look harder for projects you can put in front of your people that will develop them. People who aren’t progressively increasing in their capabilities have a shepherd who’s stunting their growth. You need to wield the rod of inspection to make sure that doesn’t happen (93,94).”

2.    Discover the Shape of Your Sheep

I’ve used similar language to this in how to help young believers process their determining God’s call on their life but I think it sometimes slips once we’re talking about a leader or especially a staff person that needs further love and direction.  The elements are all helpful but I think the attitude is often the underlying strength that gives me conviction to fight for someone or the caution to go deeper and identify the real sources of problems.

3.    Help Your Sheep Identify with You

This might be my weakest area.  I grew up in a space where leaders were not transparent and not approachable.  It was as though they were wearing a bulletproof vest and couldn’t ever take it off emotionally without risking people taking advantage of their vulnerabilities.  I think as a result I sometimes come off as unapproachable and people don’t know me and therefore it can bleed into mistrust. “Great leaders leave their mark by constantly communicating their values and sense of mission. They tirelessly call their people to engage in the cause. They know people are easily distracted by the many pulls of life, so they’re continually calling them back to the mission, back to their purpose for being (49).”  This might be might quote of the book; it is so true that leadership discipline and ardent simplicity help people trust you, believe in the mission and stay focused…vision leaks.

4.    Make Your Pasture a Safe Place

I serve under a Senior Pastor who is incredible at this and I believe that it has really affected me for the positive.  People need to know that sharing is ok and even challenges and shortfalls can be worked out.  When they feel confused and you’re not a safe place they will instigate elsewhere and create broader dysfunction.  My challenge in this area is that I abhor details and when I feel like details are sucking up too much time and energy I tend to push back which can create an unsafe environment for people, even when they have important needs.

5.    The Staff of Direction

The distinction that is made between the staff and rod is one of the most helpful treatments on the subject that I have read in a popular level leadership book.  The thrust of the section emphasizes the gentle realignment needed in leadership.  The following list was essential in my understanding of the section:

  • Know where you’re going, get out in front, and keep your flock on the move.
  • When directing, use persuasion rather than coercion.
  • Give your people freedom of movement, but make
    sure they know where the fence line is. Don’t confuse boundaries with bridles!
  • When your people get in trouble, go and get them out.
  • Remind your people that failure isn’t fatal (80).

6.    The Rod of Correction

This is definitely a hard concept and principle to apply in an environment of grace where you love the people you lead.  I think the approach that is share is even handed and broadens the focus from a simple correction measure with those in the fold to a defensive tool in protecting against outside intruders.  “The staff represents your responsibility to direct your people; the rod represents your responsibility to correct them (83).”  They highlight the distinction between the two aspects of leadership and the need for us to understand that these are not options as leaders but responsibilities is vital.

7.    The Heart of the Shepherd

What makes a shepherd a shepherd isn’t the staff or the rod; it’s the heart. What distinguishes a great leader from a mediocre one is that a great leader has a heart for his people (101).”  They offer a perfect concluding principle and perhaps the most important for the leader.   Too many leaders see their job as producing widgets and those they lead as flesh and blood machines in the process.  When we lose sight of the people we lead and don’t genuinely love and care about them we forfeit the privilege to show them where we are going and ask them to follow, we certainly shouldn’t expect them to follow us.

I’m really thankful for the work that was done to synthesize these principles in such a readable format, they will serve as a resource for me for a long time to come.

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