The Way of the Shepherd: The Staff of Direction

I hope you have enjoyed this journey through the book, The Way of the Shepherd so far. If you are just now joining us on this 8-week series, I would encourage you to scroll down and read the previous blogs. 

This week’s lesson begins in Dr. Neumann’s office. Ted arrives early and is waiting for his mentor to join him. He can’t help but notice the incredible photos and knickknacks from all over the world. As Dr. Neumann enters, he points out two of his most valued treasures, two sticks. One of which was longer than the other (around 5 ft.) and it had a large curve, like a question mark – the shepherd’s staff. 

The staff has been around for thousands of years. They were the forerunner to the ancient kings’ use of the scepter because they were viewed as the “shepherds of their people.” For the shepherd, there was not a greater and more important tool the shepherd could have to lead his sheep.

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


Know where you’re going, get out in front, and keep your flock on the move.

The shepherd would use his staff to lead the flock from one pasture to the next, or to help them find water. It was imperative that the shepherd know where he was going, because with the knowledge of the land and terrain, one shepherd could move a hundred sheep for miles.

There is another way to move sheep, and that is to have a barking dog push the flock. This method is chaotic and can lead to sheep getting hurt or killed as they are moving in a certain direction out of fear and panic. As leaders, we have the choice to be a shepherd who leads from the front, or to be the barking dog that pushes from the rear.

When directing, use persuasion rather than coercion.

Often when directing, whether we intend to or not, our efforts take the form of coercion, intimidation, or compulsion in order to get something done. Instead, choose to persuade in such a way that you are able to communicate clearly the desired outcomes. For example, “Tom, we will be working on Project X this week. Here are our desired outcomes for this project, this is why I feel this project is important, and here is what I see your role in this project looking like.” The opposite of this sounds like, “Tom, if you don’t drop what you’re doing and work on Project X, I’ll find someone who will. I’m the boss and I have spoken.” OK, so that’s a stretch…or is it? 

Give your people freedom of movement, but make sure they know where the fence line is. Don’t confuse boundaries with bridles!

Establishing boundaries is a critical element in leadership and in life in general, yet it’s something that we often do poorly. It can be very easy for our boundaries to become bridles, and because of this, as leaders we constantly have to be discerning and reflecting on our practices and how we are leading.

One of the biggest mistakes new managers make is to micromanage their people. They think teamwork means that everyone has to do everything the same way. You want to make sure your people don’t get too far ahead of you, but you don’t want them to feel like they’re incarcerated, either. You provide direction and set expectations, then let your people decide how best to get there. If they stray too far, give them a tap and let them know it.

When your people get in trouble, go out and get them.

Sheep are notorious for getting stuck in rocks or fallen trees and underbrush. It is the responsibility of the shepherd, as he is looking forward to where they are going, to also look back and make sure everyone is still on board and accounted for. When one sheep is lost or in trouble, the shepherd will leave the other 99 sheep to go after the one.

It’s not if you people get into trouble – it’s when. Things happen and mistakes are made. Dr. Neumann says, “When a member of your flock gets in trouble – you go and get them out! Sometimes you’ll be amazed at their ingenuity at getting into trouble. Maybe they’ve screwed up an order, ticked off a vendor, alienated an important customer, or overstepped their bounds. It’s up to you as their shepherd to get them out of trouble. When you do, you’ll be amazed at their loyalty to you and the trust they’ll place in you.”

Remind your people that failure isn’t fatal.

Like it or not, failure is part of life. We call them mistakes, missteps, “dropping the ball,” and host of other words that don’t feel as fatal as failing or worse yet, being a failure. For some, past failures still define them, and often find it impossible to move on from the memories of the past.

When members of your team fail, they need their leader to come-alongside them to restore confidence and to help them navigate through the situation. Once you both are out of the muck, that is when a leader uses this opportunity to take what could be a backwards slide into an opportunity to fail forward and even grow as a leader and person through the experience.


  • Be a leader who leads your team from the front with vision, direction, and clarity. 
    • Are you the shepherd who leads from the front? Or are you the barking dog pushing your team with fear from the rear? 
  • What boundaries have you created that helped your people to grow and even flourish? 
    • Or have you bridled your team members and micromanaged the creativity and passion right out of them? 
  • Is there anyone on your team right now that is in trouble? 
    • What do you need to do today to “go out and get them?” 
  • In the last week, have there been any poor decisions that have resulted in failure? 
    • Make the effort today to come alongside this person and encourage them that failure isn’t fatal, and do whatever you can to help them navigate the situation with the goal of growth in mind.

Lead with vision, direction and clarity.