In an ancient book of wisdom, two stories detail two different styles of leadership demonstrated by two kings. Studying these two kings, it becomes evident that each led his kingdom differently. If you go back to the first recorded details of their lives, you quickly see that each king’s style of leadership was shaped by his occupation before he assumed the throne.
The one who reigned first was what we today might call a muleskinner. Very likely this man carried a whip in his hand to drive his mules or donkeys. It’s easy to imagine the “crack” of a whip in the air or against the hides of his animals. Clearly he saw that these animals were subject to him and expected them to carry his heavy loads or pull his wagons or pull his plows. The animals were to serve him. Studying his tenure as king, it’s worthy to note that he treated his subjects the same way, particularly in the latter part of his 40-year tenure.
The other man was a shepherd before he became a king. And the contrast is striking. He carried a staff and led his flock from the front. He didn’t drive them. He served his sheep, and their needs came before his own. His sheep didn’t pull a wagon for him or carry his supplies in saddlebags. Rather he took care of them and was willing to die for them.
On one occasion, this shepherd heard one of his sheep in distress. He ran to the commotion and saw a lion dragging off one of his sheep. This shepherd bravely saved his sheep from the paw of the lion then turned and killed the lion. Then sometime later, he repeated a similar feat to save one of his sheep from a bear.
Clearly his herd of sheep knew that he wouldn’t run when things got tough. He had earned his flock’s trust. They knew that he loved them. The sheep felt safe with him. They would follow his lead by listening to his voice. No whip cracking or as some have called “leadership by intimidation.”
When this king assumed the throne, it’s clear that his subjects loved him. He continued to demonstrate having the heart of shepherd even after becoming king.
Fast forward in time to two different men, whose leadership styles others have studied and chosen to emulate. One was Niccolò Machiavelli. Care to guess which of the two historical examples he emulated. Just one of his quotes provides the clue:
“If you have to make a choice, to be feared is much safer than to be loved. For it is a good general rule about men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain.”
The other was Ignatius Loyola. He developed a leadership philosophy which called for his followers to demonstrate love for those they led. Not an attitude of superiority toward those they led. Rather, they looked for the potential in others and helped them unlock that potential.
Having seen many Machiavelli types (or whip crackers) I’ve recognized I don’t want to be that way when given the opportunity to lead. Rather, I want to continue to cultivate the Loyola style (or shepherd style) that puts those I’m privileged to lead first and myself second.
What about you? Have you ever considered these two styles and compared your own methods to them? Likely those you lead would appreciate it if you did—and you became more like a shepherd.