Leadership is Stewardship

  • By Jeffrey DeWolf
  • 01 Aug, 2017

One day during the American war for independence, George Washington rode up to a group of soldiers trying to raise a beam to a high position. The corporal who was overseeing the work kept shouting words of encouragement, but they couldn’t manage to do it. After watching their lack of success, Washington asked the corporal why he didn’t join in and help. The corporal replied quickly, “Do you realize that I am the corporal?” Washington very politely replied, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Corporal, I did.” Washington then dismounted his horse and went to work with the soldiers until the beam was put into place. Wiping the sweat from his face, he said, “If you should need help again, call on Washington, your commander in chief, and I will come.” From John Maxwell – Five Levels of Leadership

After six years of organizational effectiveness consulting and culture assessment, I'm more convinced than ever that the secret to success lies with leadership. Not as much with leadership "skills" as with leadership "mindset."

Why do I recommend an investment of time and money in leadership development and coaching? It’s because I believe in the power of leadership. I believe in the impact that leaders have on a culture. And I believe in the importance of equipping leaders to actually lead people.

Leadership is not a perk.

Too often leadership positions are seen as a perk. They are viewed as a privilege. A reward for hard work or accomplishment. For some, it’s a desire for power, or prestige or just a bigger paycheck.

Unfortunately, for many, the increased responsibility and additional demands are not fully understood in advance. Taking on a supervisory role is a big deal. It is not something to be taken lightly. One must count the cost beforehand.

Think about it. When a company places the responsibility for a group of others under your leadership, they are trusting you to maximize the use of those valuable resources. They are trusting you to be sure those people have clear direction. They are trusting you to be sure those people are thriving and satisfied in their jobs. They are trusting you to guide them to personal growth and better performance.

Leadership is stewardship.

In essence, the company has made you a steward. The most common definition of a steward is a person that is given full responsibility for the valuables of another. The company has entrusted you with valuable assets and asked you to protect them, utilize them, and grow them.

A steward is a person that is given full responsibility for the valuables of another.

You see, leading others requires a mindset shift. The duties of management can’t be viewed as annoyances that distract from accomplishing daily work. They must be seen as the first priority. Investing time in people, and working alongside when necessary, is how true leaders lead.

So what are the qualities of a good steward leader? Here are my top five:

  1. A steward is present. – In order for a leader to know about the needs of her people, she must be around. To know the threats to productivity, redirect priorities, or solve problems, the leader must be present and involved.
  2. A steward is willing to serve. – Much has been written about servant leadership and the central idea is this: There are times when it falls on the leader to get his hands dirty and get things done alongside his people. No task is below the leader. Being willing to help in the mundane or unpleasant work wins the hearts of followers every time.
  3. A steward is trustworthy and responsible – When a company places its trust in a leader to oversee the work of others, it comes with great responsibility. A good leader understands this and stays vigilant, solves problems quickly, doesn’t ignore issues, and takes his or her duty seriously.
  4. A steward is skilled and knowledgeable – It’s clear that leaders need core skills to be effective. A good leader is skilled in the tools and techniques of management. He or she commits to keeping skills sharp, learning new things, and staying knowledgeable about his or her subject-matter and industry. This inspires confidence in followers.
  5. A steward has foresight – It’s not enough to manage the day-to-day well and respond to issues as they come along. Being a leader also requires the anticipation of upcoming challenges and threats. A good leader must set aside time and energy for proactive vision setting, planning, and preparing for possible problems.

Obviously, there is much, much more to say about the qualities and the heart of a true leader. I also freely admit that I have a lot of growing to do in these areas. We all struggle with issues and blind spots. We all have room for improvement.

George Washington was known for many qualities. One that I’ve always admired in particular, was his reluctance to seek and hold positions of leadership. In nearly every case, he had to be convinced, and sometimes cajoled, to assume power. There was even an effort to crown Washington as a king of sorts...an effort that he quickly and authoritatively rejected. What a refreshing contrast that is to the practice of seeking a leadership position at all costs…for personal gain.

Washington was counting the cost of leadership. He understood the requirements and sacrifices it would take to fully assume the role. When he finally agreed to lead, he did it with a rare balance of vision, courage, skill, commitment, and perhaps most importantly humility.

By Jeffrey DeWolf 03 Oct, 2017

He could feel the heat rise in his cheeks as a small bead of sweat rolled off his forehead and down to the tip of his nose. With a flick of his index finger, the drop of sweat was quickly removed.

“Could you, uh, repeat the question?” Bill Thomas asked as he looked over at the judge and then back to the opposing attorney.

“Please explain what your firm has done to prevent the events which Miss Johnson claims have occurred?” replied EEOC lead attorney, Mark Jackson.

Bill’s mind raced. He thought about the claims of sexual harassment Sherry Johnson had leveled against a member of his management team. While he didn’t doubt her claims, he truly couldn’t believe that the behavior had continued for three months even after she reported it to her boss.

“I, uh, I mean we as a company would never condone this behavior,” Bill stated as authoritatively as he could. “We have a policy against it! It’s in our employee handbook, I believe. Isn’t that right, Janet?”

Janet Baker, Bill’s HR Director, squirmed in her seat, unsure if she was supposed to--or even allowed to--respond.

“Thank you, Mr. Thomas,” came Jackson’s reply, essentially ending Bill’s fumbling for an answer. “Just so I’m clear… Are you saying that your effort to protect your employees from discrimination and harassment in your workplace was the possible insertion of a policy statement in your handbook?”

“Well, uh, yes, I mean, no. I mean, everyone knows that the company frowns on this stuff!” Bill stammered with a rising note of defensiveness.

“So, let’s say the policy is in your handbook,” Mark interrupted. “When was your handbook last updated? When was the last time the policy itself was communicated to employees? What…”

“Objection!” interjected Bill’s attorney. “How many questions will counsel ask before allowing my client to answer?”

“Sustained. Mr. Jackson, please allow the witness to answer one question at a time,” directed the judge. “Mr. Thomas, you may answer the questions if you can remember them.”

“Uh, well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure when our handbook was last updated,” began Bill. “And as I far as I know, employees are asked to read and agree to the workplace conduct policy on their first day.”

“So, the accused harasser read and agreed to comply with the workplace conduct policy on his first day?” asked Mark Jackson, one of the EEOC’s winningest attorneys.

“Absolutely,” replied Bill confidently. “Janet makes sure of it.”

“Okay,” said Jackson. “When was he hired?”

“Excuse me?” asked Bill.

“The date, Mr. Thomas. When was the accused hired?” repeated Jackson with a hint of irritation in his voice.

“I have no idea!” Bill said, almost shouting now. “He’s been here longer than I have! Probably twenty years or more! What does that have to do…”

​Jackson​ ​interrupted​ ​him. ​​“I think we’ve heard enough, your honor. This witness, the CEO of a successful manufacturing company, has done virtually nothing to protect employees from discrimination and harassment in his workplace. He essentially trusts employees to remember a piece of paper they read and signed during their first day on the job.”

Bill’s heart sank. He glared across the room at his HR Director, who decided at that moment that she needed to check her phone for some important information. He looked to the left and made eye contact with company attorney and CFO Harry James. Harry shook his head ever so slightly, and with eyes slightly widened, mouthed the words… “We’re in trouble.”

-----------------------------------------------------

If reading the above account made you as uncomfortable as it did me while I wrote it, then it did its job. Unfortunately, while the story above is fiction, stories like it play out in real life all too often.

Having employees is a risky proposition, but we often don’t invest much in mitigation strategies for that risk. We buy insurance in case our buildings burn down. We invest in security systems to prevent the loss of valuable equipment or information. We even pay IT experts to prevent data breeches which could ruin our business.

The EEOC has been very clear about what they consider to be responsible corporate behavior for the prevention of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation: Effective training, clear policies, solid reporting procedures, and responsiveness when incidents occur. It’s even spelled out what is viewed as effective training. I’ve seen those expectations, and the watching of an awkward, outdated, sexual harassment video from the seventies is not it. In fact, the EEOC has essentially sent the message that if you “check the box” with a policy statement and some weak online training, you won’t receive any real credit for preventing bad practices in your workplace.

We encourage clients to see this is simple risk management . It can help protect you financially, but best of all, it helps you ensure a safe, respectful, and fair environment for employees.

We offer a program called “Workplace of Respect™” that meets the EEOC’s standards of effective training. Leveraging adult learning theory and brain science, it uses a common-sense approach by appealing to the participant to treat others with decency and honor. While providing the basic legal information, it’s intended to change hearts and minds as people start to see others as valuable and deserving of respect. Since leaders at all levels have a special responsibility to act as agents of the organization, the program has a leader supplement. This supplemental material pulls no punches as it lays out expectations for supervisors, managers, and senior leaders.

For more information about this program, click here .

By Jeffrey DeWolf 01 Aug, 2017

One day during the American war for independence, George Washington rode up to a group of soldiers trying to raise a beam to a high position. The corporal who was overseeing the work kept shouting words of encouragement, but they couldn’t manage to do it. After watching their lack of success, Washington asked the corporal why he didn’t join in and help. The corporal replied quickly, “Do you realize that I am the corporal?” Washington very politely replied, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Corporal, I did.” Washington then dismounted his horse and went to work with the soldiers until the beam was put into place. Wiping the sweat from his face, he said, “If you should need help again, call on Washington, your commander in chief, and I will come.” From John Maxwell – Five Levels of Leadership

After six years of organizational effectiveness consulting and culture assessment, I'm more convinced than ever that the secret to success lies with leadership. Not as much with leadership "skills" as with leadership "mindset."

Why do I recommend an investment of time and money in leadership development and coaching? It’s because I believe in the power of leadership. I believe in the impact that leaders have on a culture. And I believe in the importance of equipping leaders to actually lead people.

Leadership is not a perk.

Too often leadership positions are seen as a perk. They are viewed as a privilege. A reward for hard work or accomplishment. For some, it’s a desire for power, or prestige or just a bigger paycheck.

Unfortunately, for many, the increased responsibility and additional demands are not fully understood in advance. Taking on a supervisory role is a big deal. It is not something to be taken lightly. One must count the cost beforehand.

Think about it. When a company places the responsibility for a group of others under your leadership, they are trusting you to maximize the use of those valuable resources. They are trusting you to be sure those people have clear direction. They are trusting you to be sure those people are thriving and satisfied in their jobs. They are trusting you to guide them to personal growth and better performance.

Leadership is stewardship.

In essence, the company has made you a steward. The most common definition of a steward is a person that is given full responsibility for the valuables of another. The company has entrusted you with valuable assets and asked you to protect them, utilize them, and grow them.

A steward is a person that is given full responsibility for the valuables of another.

You see, leading others requires a mindset shift. The duties of management can’t be viewed as annoyances that distract from accomplishing daily work. They must be seen as the first priority. Investing time in people, and working alongside when necessary, is how true leaders lead.

So what are the qualities of a good steward leader? Here are my top five:

  1. A steward is present. – In order for a leader to know about the needs of her people, she must be around. To know the threats to productivity, redirect priorities, or solve problems, the leader must be present and involved.
  2. A steward is willing to serve. – Much has been written about servant leadership and the central idea is this: There are times when it falls on the leader to get his hands dirty and get things done alongside his people. No task is below the leader. Being willing to help in the mundane or unpleasant work wins the hearts of followers every time.
  3. A steward is trustworthy and responsible – When a company places its trust in a leader to oversee the work of others, it comes with great responsibility. A good leader understands this and stays vigilant, solves problems quickly, doesn’t ignore issues, and takes his or her duty seriously.
  4. A steward is skilled and knowledgeable – It’s clear that leaders need core skills to be effective. A good leader is skilled in the tools and techniques of management. He or she commits to keeping skills sharp, learning new things, and staying knowledgeable about his or her subject-matter and industry. This inspires confidence in followers.
  5. A steward has foresight – It’s not enough to manage the day-to-day well and respond to issues as they come along. Being a leader also requires the anticipation of upcoming challenges and threats. A good leader must set aside time and energy for proactive vision setting, planning, and preparing for possible problems.

Obviously, there is much, much more to say about the qualities and the heart of a true leader. I also freely admit that I have a lot of growing to do in these areas. We all struggle with issues and blind spots. We all have room for improvement.

George Washington was known for many qualities. One that I’ve always admired in particular, was his reluctance to seek and hold positions of leadership. In nearly every case, he had to be convinced, and sometimes cajoled, to assume power. There was even an effort to crown Washington as a king of sorts...an effort that he quickly and authoritatively rejected. What a refreshing contrast that is to the practice of seeking a leadership position at all costs…for personal gain.

Washington was counting the cost of leadership. He understood the requirements and sacrifices it would take to fully assume the role. When he finally agreed to lead, he did it with a rare balance of vision, courage, skill, commitment, and perhaps most importantly humility.

By Jeffrey DeWolf 26 Apr, 2017

A few years ago something shocking happened to me. Call it a wake up call.

I was informed that my services were no longer required at my senior executive job. Then I was told that my marriage of more than 20 years was "disappointing." Then it became clear that my role as a parent had been largely ignored.

In short, I found out that being a leader and actually leading were two very different things.

For decades I boasted about my "leadership skills." Those words had a permanent home on my resume since college graduation. Boy was I wrong. I think what I meant was that I had charisma, strong persuasive communication abilities, and a fair amount of natural smarts... not to mention a drive to be in authority.

The truth is that leadership comes down to daily behaviors. Leaders lead when they do the things that people need them to do. Often, these are not glamorous things. They are the things that ensure people have what they need to do their jobs well. They need to happen at every level of the organization. Here are some of them:

  1. Give clear directions and expectations
  2. Fix problems when they pop up
  3. Resolve conflicts when they occur
  4. Get resources when they are lacking
  5. Coach people when they need it
  6. Ask for help when you don't know something
  7. Provide opportunities for people to grow
  8. Give credit to others liberally
  9. Lead by example
  10. Delegate stuff when possible
  11. Manage change when it comes
  12. Treat people with respect
  13. Be consistent with your praise
  14. Hire great people when you get the chance

In short, leadership without action is not leadership at all. It's the occupation of a crucial position while failing to deliver on the expectations of that position.

Is it time for a serious look in the mirror? Is it time to take an honest look at where we spend our time and resources? Is it time to ask those that depend on our leadership to give it to us straight? Are you ready to honestly look at your natural tendencies, habits, and priorities as a leader? While painful, this can be liberating. When we first put down our masks, and admit our own limitations, we experience a transparency and vulnerability that will actually attract others.

For me, the vehicle for this was a leadership model that described eight dimensions of an effective leader. It showed me that I was ignoring many of the requirements of leadership. That model was the foundation of a Wiley Everything DiSC assessment called Work of Leaders. It was through that assessment that I realized I was actually a really lousy leader, and that leading well takes discipline and intentional effort. I was so inspired by this, that I became and Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC in order to bring this experience to others.

True leadership often starts with the self-awareness that comes from taking a hard look in the mirror...

By Jeffrey DeWolf 09 Jan, 2017

It's Okay to NOT Finish that Book

Have you ever picked up a book about leadership, selling, or some other interesting topic by an "expert" on the subject? Have you ever read the first chapter and felt like the main point of the book was fully explained and you have what you need to implement it into your life... only to realize that you have three hundred pages left?

I don't know about you, but my bookshelf is full of business books with a bookmark at the 20% point. In the back of my mind, I feel a little guilty for not finishing those books. Sometimes, I'll even pick one up and force myself to read (or at least skim) the rest so I can remove the bookmark and move on to the next book.

Formal Training: Cramming One Hour of Content to Just One Day

Formal training has become a lot like that. We try to justify getting people together for training by loading it up with unnecessary fluff. We think that if this is an important topic, it's worth investing four hours, or three days, or whatever.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, brain science shows that we only absorb a small percentage of the training we receive.

Let’s keep things simple. Let’s focus on important skills or concepts, but let’s do it bite size pieces. Let’s attack an important concept, and get it into our hearts, our heads, and then quickly into our hands to make it part of our daily lives. Our approach does just that.

We all have a lot to do. Personal growth and development doesn’t need to be complicated or overly time consuming. So let’s learn. Let’s grow. Let’s apply practical skills to our daily work and personal lives.

Let’s make training real.

By Jeffrey DeWolf 07 Oct, 2016

There's a lot of talk about humility these days. It's hard to dispute that it's an attractive trait for leaders and non-leaders alike. We can all relate to the respect we feel for people that exude humility even while achieving great success. Often described as "down to earth," these remarkable people tend to be approachable, kind, and truly thankful for all those that contributed to their success.

I was raised to value and strive for humility. My faith teaches that I am to be humble, largely because when I admit who I really am, I have nothing to boast about. I am in need of mercy and forgiveness every day, and because of that, I should be nothing but humble. So why is it so hard?

Today's leadership theorists tell us that effective leaders must be humble. They explain that humble leaders are more trusted, respected, easier to follow, and ultimately successful. So that leaves us with a choice. We either reject the notion as a wishy-washy philosophy propagated by namby-pamby sensitive types, or we figure out how to "do humble."

We either reject the notion as a philosophy propagated by namby-pamby sensitive types...or we figure out how to " do humble."

Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes?

As a student of personality theory, this topic fascinates me. We've all heard that a "tiger can't change its stripes." If that's true, then we're wired a certain way with little ability to truly change. We are either programmed to be humble or we are not. So if we are endowed with a personality type that is not naturally predisposed to humility, is there any hope for us? I think the answer is 'yes.'

I believe in four types of humility.

Natural Humility -  Natural humility is reserved for those that have been been blessed with a personality type that naturally tends toward priorities like support, listening, care for others, calm, quiet, respect, and introspection. To these people I say, congratulations. While you may have other challenges when leading others, you've got the humility thing nailed.

Humbled Humility -  Humbled humility is a close relative to natural humility. As the name implies, it's a humility born from a major humbling event. Getting fired from a job. Having a spouse file for divorce. Making a costly mistake that rocks your world. These events can truly change a person's perspective and result in a true change at the heart level.

Contrived Humility -  Contrived humility is the fake humility perpetrated by the one that reads a leadership study or attends a conference and pretends to be humble in order to get results. This disingenuous strategy is usually short-lived and obvious to all, causing even more damage than an unapologetic arrogance.

Intentional Humility -  The last type of humility is the one I find to be preferred for all of us without the natural propensity to be humble. Intentional humility requires that we acknowledge our tendency to be self-centered, arrogant, and impatient. It's owning who we are, and putting specific strategies in place to behave more humbly. This may mean publicly admitting weaknesses, and asking others for support as you work to improve. For some, it may be scheduling time to get to know someone personally. It may be setting aside time each week to contact and thank someone that helped along the way. For others, it may be contemplating personal forgiveness afresh. Whatever the strategy you deploy, if it's authentic, people will respect your efforts to grow.

So Which Type of Humble are You?

Go ahead. Give it some thought. If you're naturally humble, be thankful and focus on behaviors and leadership traits that may not come as naturally to you. If you've been humbled by a painful event, embrace it and remember it. Speak of it to others and feel the freedom that comes from being vulnerable. If you are faking humility to manipulate others, just stop it. Seriously, we'd rather deal with your hubris than your falsity. Lastly, if you truly desire to become a more humble person in spite of your natural tendencies, own the challenge. Admit the struggle to the people in your life, ask for support, and deploy intentional strategies.

By Jeffrey DeWolf 10 Aug, 2016

Business owners and leaders share a single driving purpose: Perform well, sustain or grow, and be profitable. They also share a common challenge: People issues. An organization’s people are either the secret ingredients to a great recipe, or the toxin that poisons the dish.

We tend to over complicate stuff. Human nature is human nature. At the core of human nature is a desire to be happy. Humans are wired to embrace things that are pleasant and to resist things that are not. While happiness itself is wildly complex, one thing is certain: Having a bad job is bad.

Time is Precious

Many of us spend more time at work than anywhere else. So, much of our personal happiness is tied to our job. For most people, 2,000-3,000 hours per year of available life is too valuable to spend in unhappy job drudgery. Employers need to make sure employees are experiencing what I call “job happiness.”

Unhappiness is a Secondary Emotion

For a moment, let’s set aside all the personal (non-work related) issues that contribute to a person’s unhappiness. Dissatisfaction with one’s job is nearly always caused by something else. Unless a person has selected a role he or she hates or is not equipped to do, job unhappiness is a result of good things that are missing and bad things that are present.

Employees at all levels, in organizations of all sizes, functioning in all industries, want the same things. They want clear accountability, open communication, growth opportunities, equitable treatment, strong relationships, and the ability to trust their leaders. Without these core elements of workplace life, employees experience primary emotions that directly affect their overall happiness. Unhappiness is a secondary response resulting from more primal emotions.

Simply put, a work experience that regularly produces fear, uncertainty, mistrust, isolation or feelings of injustice leads to employee unhappiness. The more severe and long-lasting the dysfunction, the deeper the unhappiness.

Job Happiness is the Oil in the Gears of Performance

There’s really not a lot new under the sun. Most “new” ideas and theories are simply reformatted truths with new labels and colors. Call it engagement, satisfaction, commitment, discretionary effort, loyalty, or whatever, it still comes down to whether people are happy about their job situation.

  • Step one: Find out if your employees are happy. Do they regularly enjoy their workday? While no job or organization is perfect, are the normal frustrations of work life balanced by healthy cultural components? Have you asked them?
  • Step two: Find out what is working and what is not. What’s driving them crazy? What are the typical causes of frustration in daily work life? It’s important to note that the top issues are common across most organizations. Bad bosses, rotten coworkers, anemic rewards, horrific office spaces, out-of-whack work/life balance, and lousy communication are universal issues making many jobs a discouragement worldwide.

Keep it Simple

Can we all just agree that a basic human nature principle has morphed into a nightmarish bundle of theoretical gobbledygook. (Yes it’s a word. I looked it up.) It’s no wonder that CFOs and CEOs change the subject quickly when the issue of employee engagement and culture is brought up. Rather than commit to keeping employees happy, they roll their eyes and balk at the latest request to fund “soft” initiatives.

Just Do It

Maybe it’s time for leaders at all levels to set aside the complex piles of emotionally intelligent employee engagement constructs and simply look their people in the eye and ask them… “are you happy?” If not, “what can I do to help?”

By Jeffrey DeWolf 11 Apr, 2016

There is no shortage of articles and books on leadership. There is, however, a massive shortage of true leadership. Does anyone else find this disappointing?

Believe me when I say that I’m shocked to be writing about leadership. For years I saw the gurus speaking, writing, teaching, and training about it. With the likes of Tom Peters, Jack Welch, John Maxwell, Jim Collins, and Robert Greenleaf capturing the attention of the world, I was certain that there was no need for a nobody like me to make a comment in public.  However, while I’ve seen the mountain of great leadership books growing, I continue to see appalling evidence of horrible leadership. Where’s the disconnect?

A Wake Up Call

It wasn’t until I recognized a major blind spot in my own life, that I started to understand the leadership problem most organizations face today. Through a serious personal wake-up call, it dawned on me that while I was a leader by appointment, I was doing very little actual leading. I discovered the obvious truth that being a leader is NOT leading. In fact, being in a leadership role without actually leading is one of the most destructive organizational scenarios imaginable.  Lack of leadership is as damaging as bad leadership. It creates a leadership vacuum that sucks an organization into a vortex of chaos, confusion, and cultural decline.  It became clear to me that occupying a box on an organization chart may appoint  one a leader, but actually doing the hard work of leading others makes  one a leader.

Rank Has Its Privileges?

The military has a saying that “rank has its privileges.” Unfortunately, this seems to be the default mindset of organizational leaders everywhere. Let’s admit it. We strive for the leadership role because we want the trappings of that role.  We crave the attention, the money, the power, the control, and the freedom that comes from leadership jobs. It’s human nature to want these things, and climbing a corporate ladder is an available method to attain them.

Tragically, many fail to recognize that rank has its responsibilities, and that failure to lead well has dire consequences. Leadership is a duty. Leading is hard work. Leading takes intentional effort and a heart to sacrifice personal desires for the good of the people and the organization. While rank may have some privileges, first and foremost, rank is  a privilege. When a person is appointed as a leader, he or she is receiving the trust of the organization to care for, protect, develop, coach, guide and ensure the productivity of others. Unfortunately, many see their appointment as a leader as a reward for performance, and an invitation to enjoy the trappings of success and the service of their new team. Like Denethor  of Gondor, they act not as a steward, but as a king.

A Different Cost – Benefit Analysis

One of the greatest true leaders to ever lead, refused to take his ultimate leadership role several times before finally capitulating.  His qualifications to lead were obvious, observed, and desperately needed. When he was asked to take a position of near unlimited power and prestige, he refused.  He didn’t refuse because of the benefits  of the position, he refused because he knew the cost . George Washington resisted because he understood that leadership was a sacred duty that would demand a tremendous commitment of his time and energy. He did not take the request lightly, and when he finally assumed leadership he did so with humility, gratitude, and a willingness to sacrifice.

It Starts with the Heart

I've also written a short article that introduced a leadership construct based on the ancient role of shepherd.  In that article I shared the idea that a shepherd leader must have the right attitude, awareness, abilities, and actions.  The foundation of true leadership starts with the heart (attitude), moves to the mind (awareness), and then flows through the body  (abilities and actions).  Leaders that lack a deep, heartfelt understanding of the sacrifice, discipline, and intentional actions required will continue to occupy a role, but fail to fulfill its duties.

By Jeffrey DeWolf 11 Apr, 2016

There was a time in my life that I desperately wanted to be a cowboy. I was drawn to the aura of the cowboy mystique like a moth to a flame. I remember sitting on the deck of my suburban Kansas City home daydreaming about a rugged, carefree, solitary lifestyle.  Silly boy…

For most of my corporate career, managers and leaders described as “cowboys” were valued by senior leadership, and seen as aggressive and dedicated in their pursuit of results. They were seen as people that could get things done, albeit sometimes forcibly, by the sheer strength of their talent, drive, and charisma.

True life cowboys (not the Clint Eastwood drifter types, but the actual rugged handlers of cattle) are tough, brave, and skilled at driving a herd of cows where it needs to go.  They use whips, ropes, shouts, and a large horse (or quad runner) to essentially frighten the herd into action. Granted, when it comes to moving steers, this approach has been used for centuries and is proven effective.  I don’t begrudge cowboys for their cattle leadership style. However, the cowboy style is not a sustainable model for people leading. While it works upon occasion, it’s not a healthy approach for the longer term.

A New, Old Model of Leadership

Rather than glorifying and emulating the cowboy for his leadership style, I believe that the best model for leadership comes from another familiar, rugged, figure from history:   The shepherd . It’s clear to me that studying and applying the characteristics, actions, and commitment of a good shepherd has the potential to transform our companies, non-profits, and families.

Shepherd as a Trusted Guardian

What do you picture when you hear the word “shepherd?”  If it’s Little Bo Peep, you need to come to understand the true realities of shepherding. The shepherd was an important role that required a balance of courage, responsibility, foresight, compassion, and intelligence. To put it into perspective, it’s important to realize that in many cultures, a man’s sheep were some of his most valuable possessions. They represented much of a family’s economic wealth because they provided milk, fiber, and meat to be utilized or sold by the family. Their protection and well-being were of utmost importance. Therefore, the selection of a shepherd to guard and care for a flock was crucial. It was an honorable and important role that required a very special person. He or she received the trust of the flock owner, and was expected to do whatever it took to ensure the safety and productivity of the sheep.

Leadership not “Drivership”

I will use several additional articles to describe the attitude, abilities, awareness, and actions  of a shepherd leader, but for now I’ll just mention that shepherd leaders lead from the front. To move sheep from one place to another, the shepherd will move to the front of the flock and calmly lead the way to the destination, gently guiding and encouraging the flock.

 Sheep that know and trust their shepherd are happy to follow wherever he or she directs. Sheep are not driven from behind. When a shepherd attempts to “drive” sheep, they may react by scurrying ahead out of fright, but then they will often stop, turn, and wait for further instruction. Sheep want to be led, not driven. The same is true of people. We respond to trustworthy, competent leadership, not aggressive, demanding “drivership.”

A Figure Worthy of Imitation

It’s taken me many years and some gray hair to come to recognize the timeless wisdom of the shepherd leader model. Several months ago, I encountered a small book that changed my life and perspective on leadership. While not a book about leadership per se, it shared insights about shepherding which transfer wonderfully to human leadership. I began to better understand Psalm 23, and why we are called the sheep of God’s pasture. While I’m far from a stellar example of shepherd leadership now, it has become my passion to apply these principles to my own life, and to share this amazing leadership secret with others.

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