Leaders today understand that too much ego can be destructive and can have broad-ranging consequences for a team or a company.
Frank Adu ANIM & Dr. Genevieve Pearl Duncan OBUOBI (Dr)
  • …the Love episode (a charge for leadership shepherding)

Have you ever taken a position of leadership and discovered immediately you were not equal to the task? This happens to several people in most occasions. The panic of those moments must not lead us into perpetual regrets to forbid pursuing our God-given mandate and purposes. Leadership is challenging but must be approached with excitement and purpose.

In ‘Purpose unleashed who called you into leadership’, we established that the call into leadership is a call by God, and once called He equips. Again in Jeremiah 3:15, He emphasised that He gives us shepherds (leaders) after His own heart, who will lead with knowledge and understanding. It goes to emphasise the earlier claim that God calls people to lead. The one who calls us to lead takes us where we are and moves us to where he wants us to be. He gives us opportunities to succeed. He helps us learn from failure. It is true that failure is not final unless we fail to learn from it. It is likewise true that experience is not the best teacher, evaluated experience is.

Shepherd leadership comes from our heart and a genuine desire to serve others. When we lead through service for one another, we reveal our hearts. As intimated by Dr. Artika Tyner, a distinguished professor of public policy and leadership who wrote, “The heart of the leader is manifested through service to others”.

You equally may have read about the encounter between Jesus and Peter, the head of His disciples in John 21: 15-17 where the Lord asked Peter whether he loves Him (Peter replied yes, I love you; and Jesus responded, then feed my lambs and take care of my sheep). The demonstration of love and the qualification for shepherd leadership was defined by the principle of service through feeding and care taking by leaders.

Every leader has followers, and as many would say, a person leading without followers is just out taking a walk. The essence of shepherd leadership is to balance the principles of serving and leading. This series is a call to shepherd leadership and the best way practicable to distribute leadership responsibility and authority. Let’s do ‘Purpose Unleashed’ (The Love Episode, a charge to shepherd leadership).

The Art of Followership:

Followership describes how individuals respond to and interact with their leader and others. It is characterised by the active participation in the pursuit of group or organisational goals. In many cases, this means working independently, being accountable for your actions, and taking ownership of necessary tasks. Responsibility weighs on leaders; and the higher the individual is in an organisation, the heavier the responsibility. Indeed, the ability to work in concert with a leader – being guided by that leader, but still having the courage of ones conviction to execute the vision of the leader within the framework of personal accountabilities – defines who a true follower is. Leaders can give up many things but cannot delegate responsibility. As such, the follower has two major things to do. Either to make the leader’s load lighter or heavier. There are positive benefits that can come from helping to lift the leaders load.

Arguably, there’s no leader who was not once a follower; and even then, leaders continue to follow throughout the trajectory of their leadership. Every follower is a potential leader based on the attitudinal mindset of that individual. Potential leaders do not need seats in front to cause a shift in matters pertaining to the wellbeing, strategic direction, change necessities, excellence and greatness of the organisation.

The benefits of an effective followership and the capacity to provide great support for leadership performance is a desirous impetus to ensuring the building and managing competencies of the individuals (subordinates) for leadership advantage and benefits. Followers must know who they are by competencies (skills and capabilities) so that they can properly receive training, mentorship and coaching if need be. The trajectory of the incompetency/competency cycle of the followership journey can be better and fully appreciated when leadership takes the greater part and interest in profiling all those led by the leader into whether they are consciously or unconsciously capable of understanding what is expected of them in terms of task.

Love and Shepherd leadership Encounter:

The love of leaders will be tested, loyalty to their followers should be seen proven, and commitments will require a demonstration – all in defence of what is showcased when everything is under control, rosy, pleasant and pleasurable. The good Shepherd (Jesus) in John 21: 15-17 subjected his close confidant, friend, follower and leader of the Disciples (Peter) to a love test by asking, do you love me?

Jesus realised the love for Him by Peter was nothing more than the comfort he received from being around Him, the satisfaction he received, the fulfilment in His presence, the provisions available and the solutions he received for his problems. Peter’s response and Jesus’ directive to feed and take care of the sheep defines Shepherd leadership practice. Our mandate and responsibility as leaders must be discharged to others demonstrating the clearest principle of feeding, nourishing, impacting and attending to providing for the needs and expectations of those we lead. To lead here is to care deeply about your team-members, your company, your community and your followers.

The sheep and lambs have weaknesses, and the deep knowledge, understanding and concern for these gives the leader a certain leverage to function well in this office. The knowledge that sheep and lambs are defenceless, always tormented by flies and parasites, and occasionally fight among themselves should inform the leader’s decision to make provisions and institutionalise actions to make them comfortable. To understand the Sheep (people) and their nature, aspirations and fears is to deepen knowledge and skills of the leader to function in the capacity to provide, defend and address their challenges to make them lie down (in green pastures – comfortable).

Characteristics of shepherd leaders

Strong character and Good reputation:

Shepherd leadership is a function of creative positive change expectations. It seeks to protect the core while simultaneously fuelling advancement. Shepherd leaders are expected to guide and nourish opportunity. They nurture and create room for their flock who follow and pave the path, fuelling the mission’s light ahead as the shepherd leads from behind.

Character is who the person is, reputation is who others think a person is. In thinking about how the analogy of the staff applies to our leadership in business, the staff can represent our character, our integrity, our humility, our graciousness, our positive energy and compassion for our people.

Mature and responsible:

The shepherd leader must be mature and responsible. The ability of the leader to possess the skills of discernment, prudence and judgement is crucial.  A shepherd walks alongside his people (sheep), and he knows and cares deeply about each of them. In that team, group or organization, the shepherd leader is seen as responsible for each of his sheep… every single one. He uses his experience, his know-how, possessions and devotion toward successfully guiding the flock (team) to meet expectations and goals. It is an imperative task and a show of leadership and responsibility to guide each of the team-members by tending to their learning, growth, success and wellbeing.

Act with Conviction and courage:

The Call into Shepherd leadership equally requires leaders to be courageous and full of conviction, for they may be required to defend their sheep (followers) at all times. They must be seen to act boldly and with conviction, even through conflicting issues and controversial cases abound.

Ready for Challenge:

They must challenge themselves to be on top of issues, and be ready to surmount the hard times and the rocking boats.

How does a leader take care of the sheep?

Understanding the issues of followers is the beginning of shepherding. Besides, aligning the expectations of the sheep with broad goals of the team or group tends to yield greater results. The definition of love and the responsibility of leadership to their followers are inseparable. To love them is to feed and take care of them. In feeding them, the leader protects, secures, fosters and provides for everything needed by the followers. To love is to provide nourishments in food and in anything that builds up the people for growth, strength and general well-being.

Nevertheless, though the quest to lead is a call to service and a culture which never stops, sometimes seasoned leaders lack the requisite competencies and skills to make them excel in their roles as leaders. The leader obviously must be self-aware of who he is, pursuant to the task and responsibilities ahead. The leader must possess leadership wisdom, the insight drawn from reflecting on one’s leadership experiences. The level of trust and sincerity that the leader exhibits, the ability of the leader to be completely authentic and fully transparent with his or her team and followers, and the experiences which present the opportunity for growth and impact for the leader’s effectiveness must prioritised.

However, we train leaders by assigning responsibility and authority they can handle and grow into. We give them opportunities to succeed and to build confidence. A leader rises in an organisation to his or her level of competence. Such leaders who run into their competence with full force have choices to make. They can get comfortable at that particular level, or they can continue developing their knowledge and skills to move to the next levels of competency.

The questions however are: where are you in your leadership journey? How are you maximising the opportunities before you? How will you better equip yourself to lead forward with wisdom and strength? How will you make your followers better through your self-leadership? What can you do to make a significant stride forward to who you should be? When will you start? What resources do you need? Who will you take with you on the journey as followers?

The answers to these questions obviously lie in the leader’s service to his followers, team-members and readiness to impact. The shepherd leadership approach to managing followers, subordinates and team-members invigorates the organisation’s culture and inspires the people to also care about one another, valuing team accomplishments over personal achievement and recognition.

The leadership character of Telling:

Good leaders help team-members solve their own problems with their own insight. Average leaders tend to solve their team-members’ problems, thus truncating their opportunity to grow themselves. So, how do we help our team-members learn to solve their own problems? Leaders must be tellers.

Leaders that tend to be tellers lead their team by telling their vision, communicate goals and strategies by telling, recruit by telling, manage staff by telling, teach by telling, and tend to solve the team’s problems by telling. Considering dealing with storm-like conditions (weather and people) in everything while managing the people leadership practice implies thoughtful consideration and the three consistently integrated shepherding principles of Relationship, Care and Ability.

Learn to lead in Relationship:

Jesus called the disciples to follow him and his ministry was primarily invested in this group. He promoted togetherness, oneness, trust, unity, love and collaboration. He taught and interacted with them. Corrected and warned them. Loved and prayed for them. Leading like a shepherd places an emphasis on relating well with those in our leadership circle, and with those who are entrusted to the leaders’ care.

Learn to lead with care:

Attentive and responsive to people’s needs, Jesus promoted and brought goodness to people and social situations. He addressed needs of the multitude as well as specific individual needs. When it came to self-care, he tended to rhythms of work and rest, ministry and social time, full-on engagement and time to relax. Leading like a shepherd involves awareness, compassion, provision, protection, discernment and growing in our ability to lead well. A key lesson for emulation.

 Learn to lead with Ability:

Jesus was singularly focused on his purpose and mission. He inquired of his father for guidance to set priorities and he trusted him in everything. Jesus did not overextend himself or use his abilities and power to promote or protect himself. He poured his time, energy and skills into settings where he could make God known, inviting people into new and abundant life. Leading like a shepherd combines streamlined commitment to a specific assignment and competence to faithfully fulfil those responsibilities.

Leadership Key learnings for the contemporary leader:

How often do we underestimate the complexity of a leadership task, either we plan to do or that we assign to someone else? It’s good to lead from our strengths up to a point. We also need to be aware how under-developed capabilities may lead to future problems.

Asking good questions can become a potent team reference for development, and a tool to put into the leaders leadership toolbox. Eugene Peterson called it “a long obedience in the same direction”. The Bible describes this as “long-suffering”. We could call it perseverance, determination, gumption or faithfulness.

The ability of a leader to achieve longevity in their field is always important and premised on:

Clarity of vision

You can’t be faithful to a vision you don’t deeply, personally align with. You can’t have integrity if the purpose of your work does not match the purpose of your life. That is not to say your career is your purpose. We must not be tempted to conflict the two and risk losing our identity in business and achievement. However, when our personal vision is clear, we gain insight into what work is worth the best hours of our day. By this, we become aware that our work is an extension and expression of the calling God has placed on our lives.

Knowledge of self

What matters most to us as leaders? When we look back in our lives, what do we hope to be remembered for? The point is one can’t be faithful to his calling if he or she is not leading himself or herself well. And you can’t lead yourself well if you don’t know yourself. Self-awareness leads us to acknowledge and accept both our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and our limitations. When we humbly know what we have to offer, we can offer it freely and confidently. When we humbly know our limitations, we know what we need to let go of, trust God with, and invite others into.

Health of rhythms

What makes us feel most alive as leaders? What is the one thing leaders need to let go of or stop doing? You can’t be faithful to handling stewardship your life well if one is not caring for himself. And you can’t give your best effort when you’re depleted or drained. The rhythms the leader establishes for himself allow him to remain disciplined and rested. Be it prayer, reading, exercise, rest, hobbies, community work and other healthy rhythms in our days, weeks and months, these are what will allow our years to be built steadily toward faithfulness.

What discipline do I want to develop? To set a goal of faithfulness is admirable. But knowing the scaffolding that will support such a goal is wisdom. The expectation of anyone hoping to lead and make remarkable achievements is to create space and time to reflect on the leader’s personal vision, to pursue self-awareness, and to establish healthy rhythms that will lay a foundation for faithfulness and openness to trust God with the outcomes.

In conclusion, if leaders have solid character their followers (people) will follow them, just as the sheep follow their shepherd. The leader’s character guides him and sees him through challenging times of work. Our character comes from the depth of our inner being, from the realisation that we are here on earth to love and to serve others. If we are shepherd leaders we relate to our people with genuine care and trust, and we assure them that they and their ideas matter and that we are dedicated to helping them succeed – and that is what matters most.

Discovery…. Thinking solutions, shaping visions.


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