Are you a Shepherd or a Pioneer?

It’s popular today for people’s success to be judged by how many people report to them.  “How big is your organization?” We use the number of people under us as a badge of honor.  “I manage 500 people, it’s like a small country!!” What about the person with the groundbreaking idea who is 10 levels below, down in the bowels of the organization?  They seem pretty important to me too.

Let’s establish some common definitions:

Shepherd:  Skilled at managing people, gets large groups of people to align and produce results.     

Pioneer:  Thinks differently, solves problems in new ways, discovers things.

Which is better the pioneer or the shepherd?  Neither is better, we need both. Both are leaders. Today’s society tends to revere Shepherds, but Pioneers are building the future.  Which are you?

For many years I was a Shepherd, building a consulting practice and trying to create a bunch of little “mini-mes”.  One day I realized that if I took the energy I was putting into managing and directed it toward thought leadership I would be much happier.  I am now a Pioneer!

Pioneering Leaders.  If you are a Pioneer, you have the gift of seeing the future and setting direction.  Pioneers disrupt, provocate and generally shake things up. Being a pioneer doesn’t mean that you are relegated to a life of individual contribution.  You can still manage people, start a company or lead a movement. You just need to be conscious of where you might need some shepherding. Here are some tips:

  • Delineate between ideating vs executing.  The biggest confusion people have with Pioneering leaders is that they don’t know when we are ready to take action vs when we’re hypothesizing.  I often would think the team was in execution mode and nothing was completed. The team would say “well we figured you’d change your mind anyway.”  Be very clear when you are exploring ideas and when you expect them to execute.

  • Find a Shepherd.  If your team grows past 10 people, you will need a Shepherd.  But individual contributors might also need to pair with a Shepherd to help people understand the value of their ideas. Someone to clearly communicate the direction. Someone who can filter through your ideas and help the team prioritize work.   

Shepherding Leaders.  If you are a Shepherd, you have the unique gift of organizing people. Shepherds often find themselves in operational roles, because they can really make things run smoothly.

  • Take a Systemic View.  Find ways to make the whole operation better.   Some Shepherds fall into the trap of playing whack-a-mole or herding cats.  Rise above the daily emergencies and make improvements to the system.

  • Empower your Team.  Shepherding leaders have an opportunity to become Servant Leaders by putting thinking and decision making in the hands of their teams.  

Let us know what you think!