If you don’t like sheep poop…

12 Jul

At church this past Sunday our senior pastor, George Moore, gave a sermon about being a good shepherd. His messages are always terrific, but his words about being an effective shepherd (leader) really struck me.

We know the tasks of the shepherd– at church, home or work– are not always easy. A shepherd’s sheep often need help, need care, need support,  and need love. And George sees some people who have taken up this role as less than enthusiastic about many of those duties. In fact, he noted that there are some in shepherding roles today who don’t seem to even like sheep. He has some pretty blunt advice for them:

If you don’t like sheep poop, don’t become a shepherd!

In writing Re-Engage we ran into far too many employees who don’t feel like they have very good shepherds. They are often discounted, lied to, ignored, kept in the dark and often discarded on a whim. Here’s how one employee described her leader:

This organization views employees as fiscal liabilities to be limited as much as possible; until we are perceived as assets rather than liabilities, it will never be a great place to work.

There are, sadly, too many leaders who act as if they don’t really like working with employees. They don’t want to deal with employees who have wants, who have desires, or who have needs, because in their mind all that employee stuff can sometimes get, well, messy!

But here’s the part that poor shepherds don’t understand: not caring for and engaging employees saps their energy, splinters their morale, and eventually drives them away. Employees are hungry for great leadership, and when they experience it they will take longer commutes or less pay or turn down promotions to be part of a group that is shepherded well. Here’s an employee at a different company talk about the leadership where he works:

This company is a great place to work. If I have a problem, I feel confident going directly to one of the managing partners because I know they truly care. They know who I am and are always willing to help in any way.

It’s true, employee engagement can get messy. Here are a few of the additional “chores” our research indicates drives employee engagement:

  • Employees value more open and honest communication than every before.
  • They want leaders who have an idea of where to lead them, yet are open to feedback that might help make a needed course adjustment.
  • They’re hungry for opportunities to learn and grow in ways that use their talents to advance the interests of the enterprise.
  • They demand being part of a team that understands what they’re doing and leverages the respective strengths of each team member to put together a work product for which the team can be proud.
  • And when they succeed in adding true value to the organization they want to be recognized and rewarded, including a fair wage and benefits that meet their needs and the needs of their family.

Chores indeed. But according to every bit of research we’ve seen (and what my gut says anyway), investing in the engagement of employees, particularly in these difficult times, can make all the difference.

Thank you, George, for reminding me that shepherding can often be a challenging business, one that requires a little time and a bit of elbow grease applied in the right measure.  But I’m convinced the good shepherd will be rewarded.

One Response to “If you don’t like sheep poop…”

  1. Derek Irvine, Globoforce July 14, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Carrying the shepherding theme a bit farther, the job is much easier when the sheep are tame. What makes them tame and easier to handle? Spending time with them. Touching them in kind way. Being sure the sheep see you, the shepherd, as someone who is not just a defender against enemies, but a caregiver who looks for the best pasture.

    The same is true with employees. Without constant feedback, especially appreciation for effort and achievement, employees can become “wild” — chasing after projects they may think of as more “fun” or more likely to bring them some kind of glory, but ignoring those projects that must take priority but are perhaps less “fun.”

    Keep employees engaged and excited about what you need them to be engaged and excited about by simply positively reinforcing their efforts on those projects. Don’t forget to say thank you!

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