The staff is the most important tool the shepherd has to lead his sheep. There are four leadership functions the staff helps the shepherd perform.
- Direct. The shepherd needs to know the terrain, find the greener grass, and get the flock there. A skilled shepherd can single-handedly move a flock of more than a hundred sheep over relatively large distances. The shepherd can steer an entire flock by getting in front of the herd and using his staff to gently nudge the lead sheep in the direction the shepherd wants to go. Someone has to keep an eye on the horizon to see where the green grass is. That person also has to keep the flock together and lead it where it needs to go. The shepherd uses it to direct his flock with nudges and taps, not heavy-handed swings. As a result, his sheep follow him out of trust rather than fear. The shepherd leads his sheep. It’s the barking dog that drives them. When directing your people, use persuasion, not coercion. Instead of making pronouncements, make requests. Offer suggestions and ideas. Don’t dictate and demand; instead, advocate and recommend.
- Establish boundaries. If the shepherd sees that a sheep heads away from the safety of the herd, he’ll take the straight end of his staff and tap the sheep on its far shoulder as a signal that it’s headed in the wrong direction. If the sheep doesn’t get the message, he’ll slip the staff’s curved end around its neck and physically pull the sheep into alignment with the rest of the flock. Establishing boundaries isn’t a matter of ego; it’s a matter of practicality and safety. Boundaries aren’t bad things; they’re good things. Don’t confuse boundaries with bridles. Don’t micromanage. Provide direction and set expectations, then let your people decide how best to get there. If they stray too far, give them a tap to let them know it.
- Rescue. No matter how hard you try to keep everyone together and head in the right direction, some people are still going to wander off and get in trouble. Go and get them out. When you do, you’ll be amazed at their loyalty to you and the trust they’ll place in you.
- Encourage. Sometimes the shepherd uses the staff to separate a sheep from the rest of the flock and pull it in close to him. At other times he uses the staff to gently stroke the side or back of a sheep. It’s a signal to let a sheep know that the shepherd has noticed it.
The staff represents your responsibility to direct your people; the rod represents your responsibility to correct them. If you use the rod too much or incorrectly, you’ll lose the goodwill of your people. Use it too little or not at all, and you’ll lose their respect. You can’t be a shepherd who engenders the people’s loyalty and trust if you don’t get this right. The shepherd uses the rod for three things.
- Protect. When your people feel attacked, they need to know they have a shepherd they can depend on who will stand in the gap and fight for them. Do that, and your people will love you. What’s more, if you stand up for your people, they’ll stand up for you when it’s your head someone wants on a platter.
- Correct. When the shepherd notices a sheep is about to do something that could jeopardize its safety or that of the flock, he uses the rod as an instrument of discipline. The key is to guide the person in a course correction without alienating them, and that depends on how you approach the conversation. Approach the conversation as a teaching opportunity. Discipline isn’t about handing out punishment or assigning blame; it’s about instruction. It’s about instructing your people in the direction they should go by helping them see further down the path they’re currently treading. When they know the message comes from someone who has their best interest at heart, they’re much more likely to receive the discipline from a trusted friend. But you have to show them first that you are trustworthy.
- Inspect. Not only would the shepherd count the sheep to make sure they were all accounted for, but he would often use the rod to part the wool on the sheep so he could more closely inspect them. Regularly check on their progress. Take a good look at how they’re doing. Periodically call your people in and ask how they’re doing. Ask them if there is anything you can help them with, anything they need clarification on. You can say all day long, ‘Come to me if you have any problems,’ but chances are the members of your flock who need help the most will be the ones who are least likely to ask for it. It‘s your job, not theirs, to part the wool.
An excerpt from the Way of the Shepherd