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The direction of leadership

Currently my wife’s flock of sheep – and by association mine also – have free range to hang out in the field or the barn, but soon we will direct them into the barn for their fall check up and trimming of their hooves.  They will need to be rounded up and brought down to the barn.  With the grass still green in this indian summer we are having, they will not easily come down to the barn to Sara’s call or shake of food.

Sadie, our border collie who is being trained on the job –  guided by her instinct alone – will help with this process.  I walk Sadie up to the top of the hill where the sheep congregate and give her the simple command “Get those sheep to the barn!”and she takes off.  She runs the flock, and if one is  separates itself, she is more than ready to get them in line with a nip at their heels.

It is a thing of beauty watching her do something she was created to do.  It is beautiful to watch her give direction.

Sheep, like humans need direction.  Direction is not the same as control.  The sheep respond to being pushed and having their faces turned towards a certain direction.  Where they are headed is where they are going.

In leadership, my job is not to control or lead each person.  If I was doing this in the sheep world it would look like lassoing each sheep, and dragging them to the barn.  This would take forever and not be pleasant for me or the sheep.

My job in leadership is to help others face in the direction they are to be heading. 

It is to help them move from the place that they are to the place they need to be. 

It is helping them understand where the better dwelling place is.  

It is helping them to turn their face towards the place they need to be now.

It is more about direction more than destination.  

Rarely, in any type of setting, do you get resolution in one day.  There are some technical challenges (see this blog post for more about technical vs. adaptive challenges) that come easy and quick.  Most are adaptive and take a good amount of time.

Therefore the key question when leading in any situation is this:

What direction do we need to go?  Are we facing that direction? 

Only then can you ask,

What is our next step?

Leadership, even self-leadership, is about determining direction.  Direction is just the start, it doesn’t mean you will know all the details of what comes next.  The sheep do not know what awaits them in the barn- but they move there because that is the direction in which they are being nudged.  

The Shepherd knows the details.  The Shepherd knows the destination.  The Shepherd knows the why.

The sheep need to know the direction and take the next step that way.

As you lead, help your people determine direction more than details and final destination.

As you are led, seek help in the discerning direction, and allow the details and the final destination to emerge.

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