The Way of the Shepherd: Know the Condition of Your Flock

Having been offered to be mentored by his professor, Dr. Neumann, Ted expects to learn the business secrets and tricks of the trade to being a successful businessman. Imagine the shock when the first encounter he has involves jumping into Dr. Neumann’s old farm truck on a Saturday morning and heading out to check on his flock of sheep.

I would imagine thoughts of, “This is a waste of time,” and “What can I possibly learn from this?” no doubt was on his mind. But it would be on this trip where he would learn the first principle of the Way of the Shepherd.

1. Know the Condition of Your Flock

“A manager can’t manage what he doesn’t know. So you have to make a point of knowing not just the status of the work but also the status of your people. Many managers focus too much on their projects and not enough on their people.”

Ted asks the question that almost everyone naturally asks, “Well, the work has to get done, doesn’t it?” And it absolutely does. But I appreciate Dr. Neumann’s response, “Yes, it does. But remember, it’s your people who get the job done. Your people are your greatest competitive advantage. Managers will say they agree with that, but often they merely give lip service to the idea.”


1. Follow the status of your people as well as the status of the work.

  • Do you know how your people are doing beyond the status of their projects at work? 

2. Get to know your flock, one sheep at a time. 

  • Beyond what you learned about them during the interview process, do you regularly invest time in getting to know those you are leading? 
    • Do you know about their family, spouse, and kids? 
    • What are their interests and hobbies outside of their work? 
    • What are their dreams and ambitions in life? 
    • What motivates them when they walk through the door each morning? 
    • What are their career ambitions and frustrations? 
    • What things are impacting them at the moment?

3. Engage your people on a regular basis.

  • Do you have a regular time set aside to listen? To ask the questions of: 
    • What personal or professional goals have you set for this next week or month? 
      • How can I help you reach them? 
    • What are you doing right now in your work that you are most excited about? 
      • How can I support you? 
    • What is your greatest challenge right now in your work? 
      • How can I help navigate this challenge?

4. Keep your eyes and ears open, question, and follow through.

  • How attentive are you to those you are leading? 
  • Are you able to notice when someone is struggling, discouraged, stressed or even depressed? 
    • Respectfully engage in a way that communicates a genuine care and concern. 
    • Example: If an employee asks for time off to take a child to the doctor, the next time you see them; ask how the child is doing.

These four aspects of knowing the condition of your people are great, but there is an underlying issue that is at the heart of this ever being a reality in your leadership. They will be next to impossible for you if you do not possess a genuine concern and care for those you are leading.

In the words of Dr. Neumann, “You can go through all the right mechanics, but if you don’t genuinely care about the people who report to you, you’ll never be the kind of leader they’ll drop everything to follow. If they’re nothing but stinking sheep to you, they’ll never do their best work for you and they won’t stay in your fold for long. It’s an old adage, but it’s true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”


Step up your leadership game. Get to know your people. If you are a leader who has already made efforts to know those you are leading – I encourage you to crank it up another gear or two. If you are reading this and this principle is something that might be new to you in your leadership role, I want to challenge and encourage you to begin today.

Starting this week, set aside regular time for each person who reports to you. If you already have regular meetings with each individual, structure those encounters so that you are able to engage not only in the status of their projects or work, but also to allow you to engage in them as well. Invest in them by giving your time and your ear.

If this has not been something you have done in the past, understand that for the person you are investing in, this may come as a shock and it could be awkward at first. Embrace it. Over time, people will look forward to this time because of your ability to communicate that you genuinely care and want to see them reach their full potential, not only as an employee in your department, but as a person, a spouse, a parent, etc. You want them to succeed in life and you are willing to use your resources as their leader to help them get there.

Know the condition of your people.