The Way of the Shepherd: The Rod of Correction

The staff represents your responsibility to direct your people; the rod represents your responsibility to correct them. This is the part of leadership that leaders, particularly new ones, most commonly err on. 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 loyalty and trust of his people if you don’t get this right.
  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
  5. The Staff of Direction
  6. The Rod of Correction
  7. The Heart of the Shepherd

If you’ll remember from last week, Dr. Neumann had two sticks on the table, but only addressed the staff. This week, he explains the shepherd’s use of the rod.The shepherd’s rod had many uses. It was typically around 18 inches, built out of a root, with a knot at one end. The shepherd had three uses for the rod: to protect his sheep, to correct, and also to inspect.


Protect: Stand in the gap and fight for your sheep.

The shepherd’s job was not without tense moments. Out in the wilderness, there are incredible dangers and predators that threaten the lives of the flock, and even personal injury and death. The shepherd had to be prepared to protect his sheep in the event of a mountain lion or wolf attack. Often they would have a slingshot and rocks, but their last resort was the rod. 

As leaders, there may be times where your people feel or are threatened or endangered by circumstances or decisions made. In the business world, often decisions made by one department directly affect those in another. Dr. Neumann tells a personal story about one such decision that one of his team members made for the company, but the person who it affected had been working on that project for months and it was going to affect his performance bonus. The disgruntled employee bursts into the office and blows a gasket. Neumann steps in and stands in between the aggressor and his team member. He’s not going to let someone blow up on his team member for doing something HE asked her to do.

What does this communicate to this employee? Trust. It instills a greater understanding that my boss has my back. He’s not willing for me to be embarrassed or threatened. He’s willing to stand up and fight for me. Don’t you want to work for someone like this? Guess what, the people you are leading do too. Stand in the gap and fight for your people. 

Correct: Approach discipline as a teaching opportunity

Shepherds also use the rod to protect sheep from themselves. Now, sheep are not intelligent animals, and the point of this book has not been to equate your people to sheep! But maybe you are like me and you can think of a time where you made a decision, even one you thought through, and it back-fired big time. I have made choices and said things in the past that have caused problems and some that even warranted disciplinary action. If you have too, then you can relate. 

For the shepherd, not all sheep willingly follow the voice of the shepherd. In fact for some it takes extra effort and persuasion to keep them headed in the same direction as the flock. When leading people, discipline is often the hardest aspect of the role to grasp and to do well. Why is this true? 

Dr. Neumann tells Ted, “There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the purpose of discipline. It’s not about putting someone in their place or about beating the sheep to death. It’s not about giving them one last chance or cuffing their hands. It’s about course correction. It’s about sitting down with that person privately and saying, ‘Hey, there’s a bridge out ahead, and I don’t want you to get hurt.’ You see? You discipline your people, not to harm them, but to keep them from harm.”

“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. That’s far different than calling someone in because they ‘fouled up.’ In the final analysis, when the shepherd throws the rod at an errant sheep, it shows that he’s looking out for it.”

Inspect: Regularly inquire about your people’s progress

The third way that the shepherd uses the rod is to inspect his flock. As the sheep are coming in at night, the shepherd stands at the gate. If the shepherd is caring for his flock well, one of the signs of success is that their wool coats grow thick. They can grow so thick that they cover the eyes and other possible ailments or issues that can go undetected unless the shepherd moves the wool back to check the eyes and body, especially of sheep who have recently been wounded or sick.

This is not implying that you need to check your people for ticks! In your leadership role, you need to take time though to regularly inquire about your people’s progress. It is far too easy to leave a team meeting where directives are given for the next project, and for there to be questions unanswered and details that lack clarity to your team. Be proactive and follow-up, especially with the team members who are least likely to ask for help – they are often the ones who need it most.

Here is a great indicator for you: If you regularly inquire about a person’s progress, and they never indicate needing your help, it means one of two things: 1) they don’t trust you enough to be honest with you, or 2) you haven’t sufficiently challenged them to grow and it’s time to find harder projects that will further help develop them.


How well do you stand in the gap and protect/fight for your people when they are in difficult situations?

Think back to the last opportunity you had to stand up for an employee. How did you respond? If you allowed them to be disrespected or chose not to fight for them, why? While you might have damaged some trust with this person, make an effort today to check in with them.

Here’s a great way to deal with that conversation: “(Person’s name), last week,  _________ happened. As I have thought about that incident and I should have handled things differently.  Next time something like this happens, I want you to know that I will do better to fight for you. You are part of my team, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”

What is your current approach to discipline?

Are you disciplining because you want to put people in their place – to prove you are the leader? Or when you have the opportunity to discipline, are you able to do so with the desire to see that individual grow as a result?

When they know the message is coming from someone who has their best interest at heart, they’re much more likely to receive the discipline as coming from someone they trust. But you have to show them, first, that you are trustworthy.

 If you have a track record of being untrustworthy, know that it is going to take time and effort to build trust back with you team. I guarantee you though, that without a team that trusts their leader and trusts each other, neither you nor your team will ever reach its full potential.

How regularly do you inquire about your people’s progress?

In an effort to not micromanage people, it’s easy to get totally hands off. For even those who claim to prefer this method of “management,” it often communicates that the leader doesn’t care about: A) the project I am working on, or B) me.

Check in with your people. Find out if there are aspects or specifics of a project that you can bring clarity to for an individual or for the team. Create an environment where it’s okay to ask questions if you don’t fully understand every detail. More time and money is lost when people make-do with what they “think” they are being asked to do, and then having to go back and re-do it all over again. Along the way, you will also learn how to better communicate during meetings and when you inquire about progress, less time will be spent answering questions but you will still be communicating that you care and that you are available.