Shepherds, Sheepdogs, and Sheep

Have we forgotten the role of the shepherd?


Going back to the early days of, you will find some thoughts and words expressed by some guest authors on the importance of being a “sheepdog” and guarding the “sheep.” Although there was no intent to make a value judgment, many leaders are drawn to the sheepdog when asked to describe themselves and given the choice between the two options.

But what about the shepherd?

Yeah, what about the shepherd? Where does he fit into all of this? My experience in animal husbandry was as a hired hand on a dairy farm back in the late 1970s. I don’t have a lot of experience with sheep. But this much I do know. It is the shepherd that leads the sheep. It is not the sheepdog. The sheepdog serves a vital function. The sheepdog is quick and agile and is able to run so much faster than the shepherd. But note that the sheepdog takes commands and directions from the shepherd and then goes out and performs them with great energy and efficiency.

Sheepdog Strengths

Many times the sheepdog acts without explicit direction from the shepherd. The sheepdog, having been trained by the shepherd, sees that the sheep that are wandering from the rest of the flock and will instinctively go and round them up. The sheepdog will jump into the fray and into the face of danger in order to protect the sheep from wild animals or predators.

Sheepdog Shortcomings

But the sheepdog does not survey the land and choose the path that the flock will take. The sheepdog cannot select the greenest pastures. Because the sheepdog’s diet is not the same as the sheep and therefore it cannot judge the quality of the grazing land. In fact, to be completely honest, the sheepdog could be completely content to eat one of the sheep that it guards. Just let that sink in for a second. These are just several shortcomings of the vaunted sheepdog.

Strengths of the Shepherd

So, what are the strengths of the shepherd? The greatest strength of the shepherd is that, by virtue of his height, he can see much farther than either the sheep or the sheepdog. He has a perspective that they do not. He has the strength of determination. He is committed to the sheep and to the task of caring for their overall wellbeing.

Shortcomings of the Shepherd

It would be easy to assume that the shepherd is perfect and has no shortcomings. Sadly, that is not the case. For one, the shepherd cannot attend to the needs and the safety of all of the sheep at the same time. The shepherd must rely on the sheepdogs to help and be attentive to the protection of the sheep on the far side of the flock. Further, the shepherd must rest from time to time. It is in those times that the shepherd leans heavily on the sheepdogs who can be watchful while the shepherd gets some rest.

A Perfect Analogy?

Is this a perfect leadership analogy? Of course not. But I think it does shed some light on the value of the role of both shepherd and sheepdog. Many are drawn to the glamor and excitement of being a sheepdog. I tend to be that way by nature. But we must not forget the role of the shepherd. He is the leader of the flock.

Are you a sheep, a sheepdog, or the oft-forgotten shepherd?

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

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