Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves-Leadership Lessons from the Flock

As an invited guest to the NAS Pensacola National Naval Aviation Museum, I had the honor of attending the "winging" of a group of young aviators.  Rear Admiral Mark Vance was the guest speaker to address this assembly of recently graduated Navy and Marine aviators with a welcome to the fleet speech.  I found myself feeling like I too was being given a "charge to order on the tip of the spear".  The charge to order in simplified terms was to always be ready to be a leader, an important skill set for automotive management.  The Rear Admiral went on to explain the dynamics of service and leadership by relating the experience to that of a herd of sheep, something everyone can understand.

Sheep live in a world where they must believe that there is no wolf in order to maintain their carefree lifestyle.  Sheep tend to prefer popularity over individualism and therefore will often go with the flow.  They have no sense of urgency or danger.  They move through life as one large orderly mass that maintains close connections with the flock.    Their safety is left in the hands of a guardian, usually a sheepdog.  Example: A manager who is more concerned with politicking and agreeing with the boss, than being a stand of the betterment of the people he is supposed to be leading.

A wolf lurks in the shadows as an opportunistic predatory.   A wolf drives a selfish agenda using fear and intimidation to gain power and prey on the sheep. Sometimes the wolf acts alone and sometime it will form a pack of like-minded wolves.  Every action of a wolf is selfish and without concerns for any life other than its own.  The wolf fears nothing but does find the sheepdog a worthy adversary.  Example: A leader who makes demands of the people they lead, but would not be willing to make those same sacrifices or actions if they shoe were on the other foot.

The sheepdog lives a life protecting the sheep at all costs, including bodily harm.  The sheepdog’s life is that of service and devoid of selfish goals.  Sheepdogs are not popular with the sheep since a dog looks like a wolf.  Sheepdogs are also not popular with the wolves, as the wolves see them as a threat to their motives.  The sheep wish the sheepdog was more like them and the wolves wish the sheepdog would join their canine ranks.  Therefore, the life of a sheepdog is often spent in solitude.  A sheepdog never rests.  It is always on alert and ready to defend the flock.  The actions of a sheepdog are governed by integrity, service and duty.  Example: The manager who leads by example and plays the game that you don’t win at all cost, but lead at all cost.

When working with an Automotive Management Recruiter, ask them to find a sheepdog.  Effective leaders are usually sheepdogs.  There is a fine line in mastering the role of a sheepdog, as a sheepdog must understand the lifestyles of both the sheep and the wolf.  The role of an effective leader is that of a servant to those they have been charged to lead.  An effective leader protects his organization and its people from harm.  Being an effective leader is not always popular and often effective leaders find themselves ostracized from the masses.  Effective leaders are often faced with challenges that have no sense of time and therefore must always be ready to act at a moment’s notice.  Effective leaders are expected to govern themselves and their actions.  Effective leaders employ integrity over selfish agendas while doing what is right over what is best.

For those in leadership roles in your career, which are you?  The sheep that pretends to lead by being popular and going along with the flow?  A wolf that drives a selfish agenda through the use of fear and intimidation?  Or are you the sheepdog that is an always ready servant that defends without a selfish motive?


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Comment by Stephanie Young on June 13, 2011 at 9:45am
@Darrin:  You are most welcome.  I hope you are able to take this along with you and share with your managers and they too find it a easy lesson to embrace.  I think the auto industry would be dramtically different with more sheepdogs in play.  Thank you again for your compliment.
Comment by Darrin Brandon on June 10, 2011 at 10:13pm
Stephanie thankyou for putting into simple words something that i have been trying to teach our managers for sometime.
Comment by Stephanie Young on June 8, 2011 at 9:52am

@Marsh:  Thank you for your generous compliments.  It is my pleasure always to be of assistance.  When I found the article, I actually postponed the article I had written for the volume of the newsletter to substitute To Lead is to Serve.  I just found the article so compelling and needed in the corporate culture.  I too hope that more managers read this blog and supporting article from the newsletter.  I just have to believe that employing Servant Leadership will dramatically change the focus and the productivity of some dealerships. 


@Carrie:  I am so glad to not be the lone sheepdog in the office.  I am ready to chase down the wolves and protect the sheep with you my peer and friend.

Comment by Marsh Buice on June 7, 2011 at 9:58pm
Stephanie, loved the article To Lead is to Serve; thank you for sharing it.It reminds me of a book I read years ago The Servent by James C.Hunter. To lead effectively, you must first serve; when you serve, you naturally lead. I hope more managers read your post- it is one of the best leadership posts I've ever read-in my 'all time favs' box :)
Comment by Marsh Buice on June 7, 2011 at 2:23pm
:) 'preciate it!
Comment by Stephanie Young on June 7, 2011 at 2:23pm
@Marsh:  Just throwing you a bone, from one sheepdog to another.  (smile)
Comment by Marsh Buice on June 7, 2011 at 2:19pm

Beauteeefull! Thanks for the article-can't wait to read it :)

Comment by Stephanie Young on June 7, 2011 at 1:58pm

@Marsh: Here is a great article on servant leadership that was featured in one of The Manus Group's newsletters: To Lead is to Serve


Comment by Stephanie Young on June 7, 2011 at 12:19pm
@Julie:  Do they make sushi flavored Milkbones?  LOL  Always my pleasure to do what I do.
Comment by Stephanie Young on June 7, 2011 at 12:08pm
@Marsh:  Now, don't go giving BC ideas on how to run-away with my  I have to admit though, it was a well made case by BC.

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