- “He who throws the only spear he has at you doesn’t fear you.” – African proverb
There is so much buzz about leadership because the world is in need of leaders. While occupying a leadership office takes guts and grit, it is not a guarantee of constructive purposefulness. Thus, we’ve had lots of ‘leaders’ who have not delivered as expected.
This is because the true measure of leadership rests on shepherding people to the ‘pasture’ with full knowledge that you cannot feed on it. This sacrificial attitude is what differentiates leaders from those who merely occupy the leadership office.
Real leadership is akin to being the custodian of honey without being tempted to taste it for yourself. It is a role that demands a ‘giving-of-the-self’, and not a ‘grabbing-for-the-self’. It is a call to use your abilities and authority to care for and dignify others.
It is a task to uplift followers by creating an enabling environment that allows the ‘least-among-us’ to improve themselves in a manner which ensures they are treated with common decency by all others. Leadership is like fire-fighting, whereby you have to put your life on the line while responding to save lives.
Leadership is a mission. It is not the occupancy of an office. It demands a focus that cannot and should not be distracted by anything; not even a righteous revenge on the distractors, as all energies and efforts are channelled into accomplishing the mission.
Christian scripture describes it brilliantly as: “Once you lay your hand on the plough, you cannot look back; neither should you turn back”. That is why when individuals actually lead, they are filled with a sense of achievement that opens up new possibilities and new beginnings.
To lead, one must learn about and appreciate why the sheep follow the shepherd. This knowledge is essential because throughout the history of our humanity and in almost every community, ‘shepherding’ as a profession has always been reserved for the proverbial ‘ditch diggers’ – the down-trodden and least respected in society.
You will not find any literature romanticising them as other professions have enjoyed. More often than not, they are jobs reserved for migrants and those who have had to flee from their people. Moses, the liberator of the Israelites, took up a shepherding job when he fled from Egypt.
Shepherding has always been a job whose rewards lie in personal satisfaction. While the job description focuses on leading the flock to pasture to graze and bringing them back safely into their pen, the nitty-gritties entail caring for every single sheep in a manner that ensures they are healthy, nourished, protected and, more importantly, that they feel safe.
This requires a hands-on approach where the strategy is to ‘tend to the flock but care for the individual’. It is about conceptualising and actually implementing policies, programmes and projects which ensure the whole is catered for and yet the individual is treated with compassion.
While caring for a flock of hundreds or thousands of sheep, shepherds are able to identify sick and injured sheep, and can care for them. They work with a ‘no-sheep-left-behind’ policy. This is the attitude a leader should have – caring for every follower so that the whole community is healthier and wealthier.
While popular opinion perceives sheep as ‘dumb’. the shepherd does not. In fact, they recognise the herding mentality of sheep as the source of their intelligence. The sheep understand their survival rests on being part of a community. They know the greater their numbers, the greater their strength.
Their flourishing is enhanced as members of a group rather than as individuals. This intelligence is only understood when one takes time to learn about them. This is the biggest lesson for leaders: understanding the intelligence of your followers. It reminds you of each person’s value and the need to preserve their communal ties.
Shepherds do not walk in front of the flock. Most of the time, they walk behind them to ensure no sheep strays – and it is because they understand the journey to the pasture is not about them.
They always remember that it is about the sheep who must be fed and duly cared for deeply. Is your leadership style akin to the shepherd? It is a better way, if not the best way, to uplift a people; and you earn admiration in the process…
Kodwo Brumpon is an author, life coach and philanthropist who inspires individuals, groups and organisations to think and feel that which is true by helping them positively respond to that which is beautiful, while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions.
Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected]