The Shepherd Leader: Orienting, Harnessing and Adapting the Collective Intelligence of the Team

Philip L. Fioravante, Ph.D, FCIM, FISROSET
September 30, 2020
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Shepherd leaders must have observant eyes, listening ears, open minds and be focused on emerging trends.

The notion of shepherd within organizations was popularized by the renowned South African leader, Nelson Mandela (1994), as proclaimed, “a leader…is like a shepherd. [The shepherd] stays behind the [team], letting the nimblest go out ahead, whereupon the others follow…being directed from behind”. Similarly, Mandela purported that leading [the organization] from behind enables individuals to move forward with the guidance orientation of the leader. There is no denying that shepherd leadership is a fascinating and unexplored phenomenon in the realm of leadership models in business. Shepherd leaders must have observant eyes, listening ears, open minds and be focused on emerging trends. Shepherd leaders make course adjustments at intervals through the journey and should not be reluctant to take [calculated] risks. However, they also might need to stand firm to achieve a greater outcome. In addition, pursuing and capturing new opportunities while working tirelessly to evoke team member ideas are unparalleled objectives and must be nurtured.

Shepherds [by definition], within the new American Standard Bible (2000) defines shepherd as, “a caretaker or tender of sheep and goats”. Understanding this is to be effective in shepherding, the leader must believe in himself/herself as providing a service, while having authority and influence over others. In fact, Michaelson & Michaelson (2010), offered the importance of leaders concentrating on their own strengths as a way to achieve superiority. Leadership is commonly thought of as a command and control situation and this was validated during the interviews. In this vein, the leader maintains control of the team and has ultimate authoritative role to command the decision-taking. The research shows social capital distinguishes top leaders from others with specific attention to mobilizing and influencing others.

In the shepherd leadership metaphor, there will be those who run faster, enjoying moving sideways more than forward and those that will move, stop, reflect and start moving again. It is incumbent of the shepherd to observe and orient, while harnessing intellect both at the individual as well at the organizational level. Furthermore, the leader is endowed to protect and nurture those who seemingly are in distress – educate, train and empower. If after all of these and one’s performance does not add value, it might be time to move on. In the end, the leader must make the right decisions for the organizational on a whole – while difficult to separate one of the team members, it takes courage and empathy to do so. Organizations that have consistency of direction, maintain people orientation and strategic execution have been recognized as best in class.

Shepherd leaders must lead with intent and are endowed to do so. In 2017 Kouzes and Posner suggested in their discoveries that people are able to perform well and reach extraordinary heights by freeing up the leader in us all - this surely resonates with many of us. In specific, shepherd leaders act as the primary “pacesetters” while they work to instill and protect organizational norms and decorum. Organizations must become and support the belief of being a “learning organization” and in fact being able to diagnose issues as they arise. In 1993, Galbraith and Lawler suggested that organizations essentially adapt learning as a first and foremost action. The concept of organizational life-cycle management is critical here as organizations will ebb and flow with changing customer demands, marketplace relevancy and financial pressures. The recognition by the shepherd leader to adjust, change direction [re-orientation] and insist on synchronicity throughout the team is paramount. In 2019 Brown alleged the importance of lifelong learning and getting it correct – learning to ask thought-provoking questions, being curious and ensure recognition of organizational contributors. In today’s business settings, it is imperative to create and innovate all the business practices - the way we market and sell, the manner in which we monitor our fiscal metrics and also in how we foster individual growth for the betterment of the individual and the organization. Creating a shepherd leader-based ethos by which the organization perseveres is sin qua non to how a shepherd style is evoked and justified. As Kotter distinguished in a 1999 article, a difference between leading and managing, the latter is more about treatment of change in the relationship of the actors within the situational context. Leading is about direction and vision alignment. In the principle of reciprocation, the team members perform to greater levels as the shepherd leader, acting in an authentic consultancy manner, provides encouragement and praise.

Creating highly energized team member behavior under the shepherd leadership model is about 1) orienting: bringing the team close, 2) harnessing: empower and inspire the team, and 3) adapting: clear and articulate strategic explanations. A term put forth by Karl Wieck, the noteworthy psychologist is “sensemaking”. It is incumbent upon the shepherd leader to strategically scan and reflect on the situational context and then take decisions including, clearing the field of the nonessentials, as the leader moves to harness the collective intellect of the organization. Shepherd leaders are often not clearly seen as distinctive from the organization. However, these action-oriented, adaptative and empathetic leaders provide cohesiveness, clarity of orientation [direction], and reassurance. Have patience – but move swiftly.

Philip L. Fioravante, Ph.D, FCIM, FISROSET
Philip L. Fioravante, Ph.D, FCIM, FISROSET

Philip L. Fioravante, Ph.D. is a well-rounded business executive and Professor of Marketing. Dr. Fioravante currently sits on numerous academic and corporate boards for both private and public companies. He also is a guest speaker and participant on industry and academic panels. In addition, he has published several peer reviewed articles in the areas of corporate philanthropy, the value proposition of strategic philanthropy, and leadership – strategy and innovation and published a book on Philanthropy and its Role in an Organization’s Performance. Dr. Fioravante has a B.S. in Applied Engineering Sciences – Manufacturing Engineering from Michigan State University, MBA – International Business from Wayne State University (Detroit), an Advanced Executive Program Certificate – Strategy & Technology from MIT and his Ph.D. in Organizational Management & Strategy from the Business and Technology College at Capella University (Minneapolis). He also earned an Executive Scholar Certification – Growth & Innovation at Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management.

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