Good leaders smell like sheep

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I served in Sunday’s Good Shepherd mass, and for the priest’s (Fr. Reg Tiongson) homily, he shared the challenge Pope Francis gave when he met with some French priests: the Pope challenged them to be “shepherds who smell like sheep”. This means that they need to be with those in the peripheries of society, those who are alienated, the poor and the needy and those who lost faith. This is challenging because no one wants to smell like sheep!

The shepherd who smells like sheep is a powerful metaphor that can be applied in the context of the workplace, imagine being challenged to eat, to walk, to talk, and to spend time with the lowest ranking people in the office, more often than staying in meetings or in closed office doors. I wonder if you would be willing to take on the challenge to be a shepherd who smells like sheep.

So how can a leader be a shepherd who smells like sheep?

  1. Know the people you work with. Know them by their names. Know their stories, their family background or their hobbies. This can only happen if you spend time with them.
  2. Be approachable. Keep an open door policy, allow people to seek you and air their concerns, problems and hardships to you, but of course, set boundaries.
  3. Be willing to be out there. The Japanese has this principle called Genchi Gembutsu, which means “go and see for yourself”. In other words, know what is happening by being there. I will further push this and say go, see and make your hands dirty. As a leader be willing to do the hard tasks and this could mean working alongside your team.
  4. Bring them to the right way. It is not enough to be working alongside your colleagues. The leader must also be able to lead them to the right direction. This is not just fulfilling the company’s vision but also in terms of personal and spiritual development.
  5. Immerse in their lifestyle. This maybe pushing it a bit too much but it is not harmful to do. Eat with them, try out the products they consume, watch what they watch. These examples give you a clue on what it is like to be in their shoes.

Why would you even do something that you are not paid for? To pay attention to those in the lower rank is important because it means that the leader is connected to the lives and struggles of the people he serves. It leads to stronger relationships and effective teams for the company as well. Yes, it can be challenging to do this, specially in a work environment that only focuses on its financial goals and business objectives.

To be a shepherd who smells like sheep, you need to spend time, listen, act with integrity, immerse, and work alongside with them. By embodying this principle, you create effective teams and meaningful relationships.

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