Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Baaaaaaaaa! Sheep or Shepherd?

Business magazines feature leadership articles in almost every issue. What makes greatness? When does intensity become abusive and border on disorder? What makes a leader a heartless meanie versus a direct decision maker?

Leadership doesn't usually seem to matter much, in fact lots of people resent the "in charge" guy, until a crisis comes. And then, a wolf enters the fold or worse, a pack surrounds the flock and the shepherd must ACT!

While the sheep screech in fear, the shepherd must guide. All of a sudden the sheep really want to follow someone who knows what he is doing.

Most of us resent the notion that we are common sheep, following trends, ideas and beliefs of others, but for the most part, sheep we be. Consider the following:

We wear similar clothes, following trendsetters. (Don't laugh. Men, you do it, too. The amount of money spent on suits went up 24% last year. Why? Because some fashion LEADER said that the frumpy, "business casual" look is O-U-T.)

We name our kids, following trendsetters. Read the book Freakonomics and either laugh at others or be embarressed yourself about how we name our children based on the neighbors around us who we aspire to be like.

We move to "trendy" neighborhoods following gutsy real-estate leaders who brave changing neighborhoods and make big money when they sell and move to the new hot spot.

We watch the same movies. We drive the same cars. We seek the same schools for our kids. And we didn't do it because we are all independent-minded people seeking the "best for us personally." We do it because "John and Jane are really smart and they picked that and I think we have the same [discriminating, no doubt] taste."

Being a sheep does not mean you're an idiot. Following trends can be very efficient. Let's see, you can spend hours researching private schools or you can talk to other parents who have done a lot of research themselves and have smart kids with good prospects.

As an example: Since I-Pods hit the tech scene, oh my, how I have coveted one. They are sleek, efficient, and the music I want anytime pours out of headphones. How cool is that? But, I am not a tech leader. Paying the big prices seems a waste. And then, with all things Steve Jobs, I wondered if the I-Pod was a flash in the pan fad. And then, what if a cooler knock-off came out?

Instead, I played sheep. Waiting, following the hordes of buyers, watching the leaders, I did not break with the herd. Wonder of wonders, I-Pod seems built to last and to reward my sheep-headed behavior, the Nano I-Pod came out this last week. The size of a credit card and 1000 songs? Be still my heart.

So, being a sheep usually serves us well. We are protected from rash actions. Other people, braver people, make decisions and pay the consequences (good or bad) for us and we benefit from better products with less defects.

But sometimes, being a sheep just leads us to the slaughter. Ignorant of our surroundings but the rear-end of the sheep waddling two paces ahead of us, we can fall over a cliff before we see it there. We can suffer apathy and ignorance--who needs to think? We'll just go with the crowd.

Well, even the best-informed, smart sheep doesn't have the perspective of the shepherd. The shepherd is higher and can see further. He is armed. He is privy to information sheep don't have.

The shepherds possess lots of authority and huge responsibilities.

When the shepherd misuses, abuses or is bereft of the perspective, information and authority, the sheep pay. It has been a long time in American history, since sheep paid so dear a price as in New Orleans.

The SuperDome story continues to serve up leadership lessons. People with no way out were told to go to the Superdome. They went.

The mothers and children and elderly waited in two-mile lines in 95 degree heat to get into the Superdome for safety and protection from the vicious storm. At the entryways they were greated by policemen? aid workers? Mayor Nagin? No, no and no. They were greated by gang members who "relieved" these people of their possessions.

The police fled for their own safety and left the sheep with the wolves. The people in the Superdome were almost all robbed of any money, jewelry or other earthly possession. Anyone who resisted got beat. If they were white their lives were in jeoprody. If they were black their personal safety and dignity and health were in jeoprody.

The police officer who told my husband this account felt shame beyond belief that another person possessing the badge would bail when the people he vowed to serve and protect needed him most.

And then, when the buses came, guess who got the hell out of Dodge first? That's right: the gangsters. 647 firearms were confiscated from fine upstanding gang members who plopped their sorry asses on cots in air conditioning while leaving mothers and babies and grandmas to bake in the fetid mess in New Orleans.

Where was the Shepherd? Did he weild his rod and his staff to protect these innocents? No. Did he send a battalion of officers to secure the convention center and Superdome? No.

And here is a bigger problem: the sheep caged in these buildings are more used than most to following orders. Public assistance is nothing if not list after list of do's and don'ts to qualify. In fact, most of these mothers and children and elderly relied not on family but the government for all support and protection. Who are the leaders if they do not protect the widow and the orphan?

One family arriving at the Astrodome also had guns. While mom drove, father and son sat on opposite sides of the car with windows down, guns drawn. The family made a run for it and gangsters chased after them and shot at their car and they drove, desperate to escape. And while they drove, they shot back.

The boy, crying and confessing to the Astrodome officer said, "I think I killed people. I think I killed people."

The officer took his gun and put it down. He put his hand on the boy and said, "Go on, now. Go on in."

Business schools, poly-sci majors, and everyone who claims responsibility for others should learn from this madness.

It is a given that crisis will come. It is a given that things will go much worse than planned. It is a given that those who report to you will make mistakes. It is likely that all leaders save Jesus, Himself, will also make mistakes.

But leadership is NOT a given. Leaders must practice action. Leaders must plan. Leaders must keep the big picture. Leaders must protect their charges.

And most of all, Leaders must have such moral clarity that in the time of crisis, the question, "what is the right thing to do?" doesn't even have to be asked. The right thing is obvious and known.

When a True Shepherd calls, her sheep will answer and obey because they trust the Shepherd.

Do you trust your Shepherds? Will you rely on your leaders during the next crisis?

And, if you're a Shepherd, is your leadership worthy of trust? It better be. You have more to answer for than just yourself.
More blogs about the woodlands rita.