Be Careful How You Lead — Or How You Follow

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Mar 9, 2015 – by Robert J. Tamasy:

Recently I read a brief account about a sheep in Istanbul, Turkey that jumped off a cliff. What made the story especially tragic was nearly 1,500 other sheep followed, about one-third of those dying as a result. Most of the others suffered injuries, and all must have sheepishly wondered, “What was I thinking?”

In case you think this must have been an aberration, a rarity in the world of sheep, be assured it was not. My friend, Ken Johnson, wrote a book called Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart, and recounted many examples of how foolish sheep are. One experience relates directly to the sheep-over-the-cliff incident.

Early one morning Ken was preparing to let his sheep out of their barn. As the first sheep came to the doorway, Ken held the handle of a hoe in front of it to see what it would do. The sheep casually jumped over the handle and proceeded to walk toward the pasture. Ken then pulled the handle away, but as each sheep exited the barn, it paused at the same spot and then jumped, just as the sheep in front of it had done. Apparently sheep follow the leader’s example, regardless of whether it makes sense to do so.

What does that have to do with today’s workplace? A lot. We have a common tendency to play “follow the leader” whether there is good reason for it or not. We adopt the latest business philosophy because everyone else is doing it. We use the newest technological device, often simply because someone else has it. When we enter a store, we unthinkingly get in line – just because everyone else is in line.

Apparently our behavior strongly resembles the wooly creatures we call sheep. The Bible even asserts, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray…” (Isaiah 41:10). The Scriptures offer numerous comparisons between sheep and people, pointing out sheep desperately depend on a shepherd.

What this tells us is to be cautious whom we follow, so we are not led astray – and if we are in leadership roles, to take seriously and soberly our responsibility to properly “shepherd” those entrusted to our care and direction. Here are a few principles the Bible offers:

We all need a shepherd. We tend to believe we can function independently, without the assistance or guidance of anyone. But like sheep, we all can become misguided by wrong thinking, motives and objectives.”When he saw the crowds, he (Jesus) had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd'(Matthew 9:36).

Be careful which shepherds you follow. Some people in positions of leadership can sound very convincing, assuring us they have our best interests at heart. We must be cautious, however, to make certain we want to go where they are leading.”My people have been lost sheep, their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam…and (they) forgot their resting place” (Jeremiah 50:6).

The right shepherd is one we can trust. The shepherd worth following sticks with us, joining us and leading us through times of challenge and adversity. He will not abandon us when times become difficult. Jesus was the ultimate example: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away…. I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-14).

Robert J. Tamasy is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.

Reflection/Discussion Questions

1.  Have you ever found yourself doing something, even adopting a business practice, simply because everyone else was doing it, then later questioned the wisdom of doing so? If so, what was the situation – and what was the result?

2.  Can you think of a time, whether in your personal experience or just a circumstance you know about, when – like the sheep following the single sheep that jumped off the cliff – people were enticed by a poor leader with disastrous results?

3.  Do you consider yourself a “shepherd” to others, whether at work or in your home? How well are you carrying out that responsibility, do you think? Explain your answer.

4.  Jesus Christ described Himself as the Good Shepherd. What is your reaction to that claim?

If you have a Bible and would like to read more about this subject, consider the following passages:  Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ezekiel 34:2-10; Luke 15:4-6; John 10:1-18, 25-27; Hebrews 13:20

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