Shepherd leadership provides a framework to enable teams to reach their full potential. Our first success comes when we embrace the idea that the leader is a role to be played. An important role, but one that is not above any other team member. This type of leader has a different mindset. They frame their work as responsibilities to their team.
When we start well we have the best chance to finish well.
The truth is we each have a role and roles to play. We all have people that have authority over us.
The role we are invited to play on any team and within the organization comes from our competency, training, talent, and to some extent our desire. While everyone can grow in leadership, we are not all suited to play every role on a team. We do well to respect each role for what they bring if our goal is high performance.
Shepherding is the art of becoming the leader others want to follow.
The first step to leading better is knowing how to think about it and what to do to get better. Let me outline the framework for you and we’ll see how it might help you.
Principle 1: Shepherd yourself first
The best leaders understand we can’t give what we don’t possess. However, when we can lead ourselves well we may be given permission to lead others. We live with authenticity as we grow into our best selves and we do it in an open way; even letting others see our weakness. We dedicate ourselves to learning, applying, and refining our key competencies and smoothing our weaknesses.
Focus area: Identify strengths, cultivate natural giftings, increase EQ, and build good habits. Becoming whole and fit to lead is accomplished within the context of our values, purpose, and beliefs so that we remain the authentic leader others can easily connect to.
Principle 2: Entering the world of others
Few people care about what we think or where we are going if we don’t respect them. We miss and mishandle this principle all the time (I do too). Engaging people the right way is critical if we ever expect individuals to give us permission to lead them. We remember that people will “do what they are told” because of our authority. What we are talking about here has little to do with that. Having authority is one of the lowest types of leadership according to John Maxwell. Entering the world of others is where the best leaders begin building trust. We have to do this if we are to stand a chance of accomplish the mission.
Focus area: Learn about each person on your team. The secret is that we must engage them on “their terms”; not ours. We must care about issues important “to them”, not us. When we do that we give them the respect they deserve.
Principle 3: Connecting with others
It is the connection with us that completes the loop and is the evidence that our people are open to granting us permission to lead them. This connection can be broken or never made if there is bad history, reputation, or mistrust in the organization.
However, when we engage them on their terms successfully, our people typically will want to know more about us, our values, and what we think is important.
They will be most concerned to learn if we are a person of integrity. When they connect with us through whatever we have in common, we have enough to begin building a relationship.
Focus area: Trust is the foundation for connection. Think about how each decision and communication might impact our teams’ ability to trust us. Practice what we say consistently even when it is not in our own benefit.
Principle 4: Creating safety
Once we have engaged our team and we have established a connection, we have the ingredients to begin building safety. Not only do we have the responsibility to create a safe environment between us and our people, but we need to extend this to the entire team and create opportunities for them to interact.
We encourage them to engage and connect with their teammates. They can practice what we have already modelled for them what that looks and feels like.
Some may find this comes naturally and help you teach others. I find it interesting when I hear some in charge claim they have a safe environment yet have neither engaged people properly nor connected with any of them.
Safety is the result of the work we have already done, not something that we do by itself.
Focus area: Begin creating safe spaces one conversation at a time. Not talking at people but talking with people and finding something you can share. Model this approach and encourage team members to practice it with others. Safety takes time, but it can come when we are consistent.
Principle 5: Leading sacrificially
Putting people first must be a primary guiding principle. Doing so gives us credibility to speak into the lives of individuals. People that choose to follow do so because they trust, respect, and have confidence in our ability to achieve the mission. They also expect that we will protect them. This means to take responsibility for team performance even when it could be better. We demonstrate our commitment to them when we take the hits from those looking to hurt the team.
Shepherding doesn’t mean leading from the front, from the back, or from alongside. Effective leadership means that we take the position that most helps the team achieve the mission.
This can mean front, back, sideways, upside down, or any other position we need to place ourselves. It may also mean giving up our role as leader to one more suited to accomplish the mission. We remember that leading others is not about us, it is always about those we choose to serve.
Focus: set clear objectives and tell stories that illustrate how each team member fits into the vision of the future we are creating. Ask them to participate in developing the vision and for their buy-in. Lead by example and be sure to protect the team at all cost.
Principle 6: Aligning for performance
Most of us have trouble with this advanced step. One of our responsibilities is to keep the team on track. This involves ensuring that we have the right team members. Changing team member responsibilities, bringing in new talent, and letting others move on is healthy. As leader, we are looking ahead and anticipating what the team will need to be successful. If we are practicing the earlier principles successfully, adapting the team to environmental changes becomes an opportunity to strengthen the trust between the leader and team members as well as the team itself.
Focus: Choose to do what only we can do to help the team understand the changing environment and prepare them for it. Evaluate team members based on their talent and desires. Match team capabilities against challenges seen on the horizon. Be prepared to take risks and practice being courageous. Doing this well will determine if the team is able to complete the mission successfully.
Principle 7: Accomplishing the remarkable
Something remarkable happens when we change the question at work from “what am I here for” to “who I am here for”. Doing work that matters is critical. Work matters. Those that practice shepherd leadership demonstrate that people matter more. As we change our focus to people, we will see our team come to embody the change that we are seeking to make.
The mission is realized first inside our people then comes into being through our people.
That is the outcome we are after. This is the heart of shepherding and people feel the difference.
Focus: Continually catch people doing the right thing, appreciate them for who they are, and reward them for accomplishment.
Through shepherding, becoming the remarkable is now the group identity. The way we work. The best us comes out without any special effort and the light of the team burns steady and bright. We attract others that want to contribute to the cause and the remarkable continues.
What are you waiting for? You can be the leader others are waiting to follow. `