The Way of the Shepherd: Make Your Pasture a Safe Place

Dr. Neumann picks up Ted during a busy week of classes and projects that are due. They hop into Doc’s car and drive out to a farm where the sheep have obviously not be cared for, a pasture that was bare, and fence that had received little to no attention. Every aspect of the role of the shepherd had been neglected. 

  1. Know the Condition of Your Flock 
  2. Discover the Shape of Your Sheep 
  3. Help Your Sheep Identify with You 
  4. Make Your Pasture a Safe Place

He tells Ted, “I’ll tell you what else is sad. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people get up and go to work in a fold that looks like this one. They work in a neglected pasture, untended by the very people who are 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. On the outside, they look just fine, but on the inside, they look like these poor sheep.”

He describes the sheep as needing the rest and nourishment needed in order to provide the best wool and to gain the most weight possible. The reason these sheep looked so terrible was that they were completely exhausted. Sheep will not lie down and rest unless they feel safe.


They must be free from the fear of being harmed

Sheep know when they are vulnerable and the fear of being harmed keeps them from resting, eating and thriving.  If people are in a similar environment where fear reigns, it is nearly impossible to get anything done for fear that we may lose our job. For example, if threats of layoffs are constantly being given in order to attempt to get more out of employees, or a boss is constantly threatening to fire people if numbers don’t increase – just as the “shepherd” of the emaciated flock loses the right to the title of shepherd, so too does the “leader” who tries to “lead” by instilling fear.

Regularly rotate to prevent “greener pasture” mentality

Good shepherds and farmers know that if you leave animals in the same field for too long, they will eat until it’s bare. At that point, the only place to look is the greener pastures on the other side of the fence. At the very core of this issue is the responsibility of the shepherd to care for the environment where his sheep are growing and being nourished. For leaders of people, your concern for the environment where your people are working is incredibly important, not only to keep people from leaving, but to help them thrive while they are here. Rotating opportunities among different members of your team and creatively finding ways for people to learn new things can keep things fresh and create a healthy environment where the greenest pasture is your own.  No need to hop the fence – in fact you have a new problem – people want to find a way to be on your team now.

Keep your people well-informed

Do those you are leading know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what their role is? Do you adequately and appropriately communicate successes and failures to your team?

Infuse every position with importance

What would it look like if every person on your team was able to articulate the importance of their position, not only to the team, but to your plant or office, to their family and friends, and to the success of Simmons as a whole? As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure that each person on our team and in our department understands the importance of their position. It is something that is ingrained deep into our being that we want to be part of something that has meaning and purpose. It should be a non-negotiable aspect of your leadership to ensure each person sees the importance in their work.

Reassure the sheep by staying visible

I like what Dr. Neumann says on this topic, “Don’t be an absentee shepherd. What I’ve tried to tell you today is that you set the tone for the work environment of your department. If you create a safe place where your people can work in an undistracted atmosphere, you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish. You’ll also be amazed at the loyalty you’ll engender from your people. And you can’t do that unless you get out and let your people see you. Nothing reassures the sheep more than the presence of the shepherd.”

The sheep will feel the protection of their leader if they instinctively know he/she has their best welfare at heart and can see that he/she’s present in the field with them. People are the same way. People can handle the uncertainty of tomorrow if they can see a leader they are certain they can trust today.

Don’t give problems time to fester

One sick sheep can infect the entire herd. When you see a problem – engage. Don’t wait to see what happens, who it affects, or how bad it gets. Create an environment where problems are opportunities to grow and to learn. This is not only a leadership lesson, but a life lesson as well. How many relationship issues begin by being a 10? In my years of counseling, it’s problems that are 2’s or 3’s out of 10 that are untreated, put to the side, and not engaged that inevitably fester into huge problems that lead to very serious conflict.


Take an assessment of the current environment that you have created, whether purposely or not, within your department or team. As a farmer takes time to check fences and inspect a field, take a moment and discover whether the environment your team operates under today is one that they can flourish in and grow.

Ask the following questions of your leadership:

  • Is there even a hint of fear within my team?
  • How well do I keep my team informed?
  • Have I communicated the importance for each person’s role on my team?
  • What could I do today to increase my visibility with my team?
  • Are there problems/opportunities existing today that need my attention before they fester?

Make your pasture a safe place.