4. Make Your Pasture a Safe Place

Every day hundreds of thousands of people get up and go to work in a neglected pasture, untended by the very people responsible for the health and well-being of the flock.  At quitting time, they go home having survived another day, but they haven’t thrived.  They certainly haven’t flourished.  

A flock can’t be productive — it can’t produce the best wool and gain the most weight — unless the sheep get the rest and nourishment they need.  Sheep will not lie down and rest unless they feel safe from at least three aggravations.  Address the three items, and you create a safe pasture where your flock can flourish.

  1. Fear.  For the pasture to be a safe place, the sheep have to feel secure from predators.  If they don’t, they constantly stay on their feet, always looking out if they have to make a run for it.  Likewise, if you don’t feel secure at work, there’s no way you can do your best work. 

To do their best work, people have to feel free from fear.  How?  By eliminating the uncertainty that’s distracting them.  By keeping people well informed.  If there’s bad news, let your people hear it from you first.  If they feel confident that you’ll let them know as soon as you know, they’ll be less susceptible to the rumour mill.

Keep your sheep individually informed and the flocks as a whole, especially regarding their performance.  One huge uncertainty that keeps people agitated is year-end reviews.  You’ll go a long way toward making your pasture a safe place if you keep your people informed on their progress before review time.  That way, they won’t be surprised if they receive a negative review, and more importantly, they’ll have an opportunity to improve their performance by the time the formal review rolls around.

  1. Rivalry.  Rivalry gets people working against one another rather than with one another.  (a) People will be less apt to view for position if they feel their current position has a degree of significance.  Make them feel like you couldn’t do it without them. (b) Cull chronic instigators form the flock.  Some people in life just aren’t happy unless they are unhappy.  It takes only one contentious person to destroy the collaborative atmosphere of an entire department. (c) Rotate opportunities among the different members of your flock.  That way, they won’t feel a need to fight for them.
  1. Pest.  Pests are small in the larger scheme of things, but they can drive a person to distraction.  There’s not much we can do about that, but we try our best to minimize them.  

Two important principles about making your pasture a safe place where your people can thrive are:

  1. Be visible.  Set the tone for the work environment.  Let your people see you.  The sheep will feel the protection of their leader if they instinctively know he has their best welfare at heart and can see that he’s present in the field with them.  People are the same way.  People can handle tomorrow’s uncertainty if they can see a leader they are confident they can trust today.
  1. Don’t give problem time to fester.  If you act soon enough, an individual problem won’t become a flock problem.  

An excerpt from the Way of the Shepherd

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