Larry’s original interview appeared on the Harper Collins blog: Lead Like A Shepherd: The Secret to Leading Well. We are reposting with permission.
What makes leading like a shepherd so important? Why do you consider it the secret to leading well?
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is that a leader’s ethos and attitude toward the flock he or she leads is ultimately a game changer. It’s far more important than any particular strategy or tactics used.
When Jesus contrasted the different responses to danger between a shepherd and a hireling he was in essence pointing out the importance of leading from a shepherd’s perspective. The best tactics with a hireling’s heart never works out in the long run.
What’s the primary difference between a shepherd’s perspective and a hireling’s perspective?
That’s easy. If I’m a genuine shepherd, it’s all about the sheep. If I’m a hireling, it’s all about me, my personal fulfilment, my rewards, and even my career path. Jesus said that a hireling flees when danger shows up. I’d add that a modern-day hireling also runs whenever a bigger flock shows up with a better offer.
Few of us have actually grown up around sheep. Can you give us an example of something that most of us are likely to miss when it comes to leading like a shepherd?
A real-life shepherd has to constantly navigate the tension between being a forceful and strong leader and gently adapting to the fragile weaknesses and limitations of the individual sheep. The 23rd Psalm gives a great example of that when it speaks of our Lord making us lie down in green pastures and leading us beside still waters.
Like many, I conjured up an image of an idyllic setting, the kind of place I’d grab a book or take a nap. I thought it described the abundant care and blessings the Lord provides.
But in reality, the green pastures and quiet waters illustrate something completely different. They illustrate one of the great tensions of godly leadership; the need to be both strong and tender at the same time.
When a shepherd “makes” the flock lie down, even when the pastures are green and lush, it’s obviously something the sheep don’t want to do. That’s what the word “makes” means. And no one applauds or appreciates being made to do something they don’t want to do. But a good shepherd won’t care because it’s about the sheep, not our popularity.
On the other hand, sheep are spooked by running water. They won’t drink from a moving stream even though the water is fresher and better for them. A hireling would probably berate the sheep for their unfounded and inconvenient fear. After all, there’s no way they are going to be swept away or drown when he’s standing by with staff in hand.
But a wise and good shepherd knows that sometimes it better to adapt to their fears and weaknesses than to make them do what’s convenient for the shepherd. So he either finds a spot where the water is still or dams it up himself.
You’ve said that Lead Like A Shepherd is different than any of your previous leadership books. What’s unique about this one?
I tend to alternate between writing about leadership and discipleship because I see them as two sides of the same coin. Leadership without discipleship is a waste of time. But a heart for discipleship without an understanding of leadership is just a pipedream. Which is why most of my previous leadership books focused on the tactics of healthy leadership.
But this one is different. It deals primarily with the heart and values of a healthy leader. I find that too often today our spiritual leadership resembles that of a cowboy or a CEO more than a biblical shepherd.
—Larry Osborne, Lead Like a Shepherd: The Secret to Leading Well