Back in Jesus’ time everyone knew about shepherds, their sheep, and how shepherds and sheep interacted with each other. The dynamics between them were well known. Not so today. Few of us have watched shepherds tending their sheep. But if we think of shepherding as leadership we can get a better grasp of what it means for us in our times. Shepherding and leading have similar dynamics in our relationships with others, particularly in caring for others as God would have us.
The shepherds of our day, to mention a few, are parents and grandparents, coaches, teachers, clergy and nuns, senior partners in firms, officers in the military, and executives in companies and so on. If anyone is placed under your supervision or care, you are a shepherd. All who are in leadership positions are modern day shepherds.
What are the characteristics of good shepherds? What makes them effective?
Good leaders want those who are in their charge to succeed, to grow in competence, and to advance. Their own success is found in the successes of those under their supervision. After all, the growth of an enterprise comes from the growth of those who comprise it.
Good leaders have character. They stand for something and exert a positive influence on others. Good leaders are accountable for the choices they make and likewise hold those in their care accountable. Leaders, good leaders, have a clear sense of purpose. They know where they are going and they clearly communicate their goals to those around them. They make their choices knowing that they will be accountable, accountable to others and accountable to themselves.
Good leaders examine their consciences. The word conscience comes from two Latin words: con-scientia and it means “to know with,” to know with God what is right and what is wrong and so they act with a clear knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. Good leaders examine their motives and pay attention to their relationships with others.
Good leaders know their own limitations but they are not governed by them. A leader who cannot accept himself or herself, who labors with doubt about his or her competency, with feelings of inferiority or inadequacy will lose his or her ability to lead. Good leaders are people who are comfortable with themselves and at peace with themselves. One cannot give what one does not have. A leader filled with self- doubt will project that on to those whom he or she is leading. Self-punishment leads to punishment of others. Doubt of self leads to doubt of others. Feelings of inferiority will cause leaders to use others in or to prop themselves up.
Leaders: it’s not about you; it’s about those in your care. Self-centered leaders who think only of their own promotion need to get over themselves.
Leaders have a clear sense of direction and the goals to get there. Like shepherds they know where the green pastures are to be found and lead those in their care to those good places.
Power is found in humility and service. Those who publicly assert their power and surround themselves with the symbols of power need to do so because deep down they really don’t have it. Those who quietly serve others don’t need to assert power because they really do have it. The proof of this proposition is found in Pope Francis. He has stripped himself of the symbols of power and humbly serves others, especially the downtrodden. He has become one of the most powerful leaders of our times. Truly, humility and service is power.
Pope Francis is calling us to serve a purpose greater than ourselves, to get over self-concern and devote ourselves to the concerns of others. That means we can’t sit behind the desks of our own sanitized environments. Good leaders smell the smell of the sheep and immerse themselves in the mud of human failures, human sins and human problems. Too many Catholic institutions operate under the notion that “if we build it they will come.” We must go out into the peripheries of human life, to where people are actually living, and understand what they are going through before we can offer any solutions that will matter. How can we help others unless we know what help they need?
Good leaders go out to be among those whom they oversee and work with them. Effective leadership is leadership by immersion, baptism in the waters in which your workers are swimming. Aren’t those the sort of leaders that people talk about and admire? It’s horizontal leadership, not vertical. It is horizontal supervision, not vertical supervision from above.
Good leaders believe in the Incarnation. They believe that God created a beautiful world, that He loves it, and that His presence can be found in this world, particularly in men and women, those whom He created in His own image and likeness. That being so, good leaders take time to reflect, to meditate and to see things as God sees them. Prayer time and meditation time are times of reflection. They allow us to have vision. They allow us to see purposefulness in all things. They allow us to see our own reasons for being, our goals, and our purposes. How can we possibly be effective leaders if we don’t have those things in our lives?
We are surrounded these days by all sorts of leadership workshops and lectures on how to be effective leaders. I want to point out, however, that all of these supposedly new-found skills are not worldly skills, they are spiritual. All that I have pointed out to you is spiritual in nature. I haven’t been using psychological categories or Hollywood style motivational skills. I’ve been presenting you with points based on spirituality, points illustrated in the attitude and approach of God’s wonderful gift to us, Pope Francis. Good leaders are good shepherds… and good shepherds are good leaders.
So let’s you and I get over our self-concerns and devote all of our concerns to those whom God has placed in our lives to care for, to develop, and to succeed in all their endeavors as they journey through life headed back home to our Father in heaven. Treat each person in your care as a uniquely dignified individual, a person made in God’s image and likeness, beloved by God and precious in His sight. Do that and you will be a good shepherd.
Follow the example of Pope Francis and you will be a good leader.