Leader, Manager, Predator, Shepherd

(A Lection Reflection on Mark 6 and Psalm 23) (also part of the Leadership series)

Fire up the Google machine and put in “sheep without a shepherd,” “Jesus as shepherd,” “the Good Shepherd,” or “the Lord is my shepherd.” You’ll find a gazillion sermons, blog posts, and web pages talking about church members as sheep, Jesus as shepherd, why us poor humans need shepherding, and so on.

This post isn’t one of those.

Instead, let’s take a different approach. Let’s answer two questions:

  1. What are the differences between leader, manager, predator, and shepherd?
  2. What does being a “good shepherd” mean? And should we try to emulate that?

I’ve got two different blog threads going here, and I’m going to take this opportunity to weave them together. Let’s see if it works — join me below the jump.


Some of you have come here because you are working through the Leadership series I’m doing, and you didn’t expect to stumble into a Sunday School lesson. Others of you are looking for Lection Reflections, and don’t really care about an MBA lesson on leadership.

But without going down the unfortunate rabbit hole of “Management Lessons from Jesus,” I do think there is a connection, and one that helps us understand the distinctions in our first question.

As noted in my introduction post on “Leading versus Managing,” the two primary sides of leadership are lead the people and manage the work, also known as Focus on People and Focus on Results. A simple corollary of this is that leaders have followers, and managers have resources. If you are a leader in any sort of organization, be it a for-profit company or a non-profit, you have to do both and have both.

What, then, is a predator? The word “predator” comes from the Latin praedat, meaning “seized as plunder.” So, a predator is someone who is looking to take something from you for their own benefit: your money, your property, your work, your trust, your love.

Can a leader or a manager also be a predator? Certainly. We’ve all known people like that. You may have worked for a predator, or been married to one, or been pastored by one. They are out there, and they don’t usually wear a sign saying “I’m coming for you.” In fact, they may look perfectly caring and trustworthy. Often, you only discover that they are a predator after you’ve been fleeced. (Sorry.)

Let us also note, just quickly, that some leaders are unconscious or unexamined predators. They are not consciously making evil plans in their corner office to steal from their team — but when they take the credit, or harm someone’s career, or damage someone’s self-esteem, they are taking from that person.

Now that we’ve outlined leader, manager, and predator, we’re ready to look at shepherd. And before we do, we need to talk just a moment about sheep. (Just a bit, I promise!)

While wading through the hundreds of sermons and such on the Google machine, I did come across a couple of straight-forward sites on real sheep, not metaphorical ones. One good one is Sheep 101, and another is An Introduction to Sheep Behavior. Here’s a couple of points to keep in mind from those sites:

  • Sheep have no protection from predators except to bunch up and hope the predator only takes one sheep.
  • Because of this, sheep are afraid of anything unfamiliar, and will run from it.
  • Sheep are gregarious, and will move toward another sheep, or toward other living things that are familiar to them.
  • Sheep will follow each other, even into trouble.

If sheep are such scaredy-cats (!!), how then does the shepherd get them to follow him or her? By gradually establishing a relationship of trust. The sheep come to recognize the shepherd as someone who can be trusted, as a friend, and they come toward the shepherd. By getting the lead sheep to follow, the shepherd can then lead the entire flock.

So, for our first question, here are the basic definitions:

  • Leader — someone with a focus on the people and their growth and development
  • Manager — someone with a focus on the tasks and their accomplishment
  • Predator — someone who sees others, including their followers or team, as things to plunder and take from
  • Shepherd — someone who has built a relationship of trust with followers

OK — we’ve laid some groundwork. Let’s do some application.

For those in leadership: By now, I’m sure you get the basic point — be good at both leading AND managing, do both for the good of the people and the organization, and check yourself to make sure you don’t have any predator tendencies. (What’s your motivation for being in leadership?)

Should you, though, also try to be a shepherd? Should you try to build a relationship of trust? If you accept the point I’m making about shepherds, then the answer is Yes … with some qualification. We’re not talking about “shepherding” your people in the religious sense, unless that is truly part of your job. Most employees don’t look to their secular manager for religious guidance.

The best teams, though, are built on trust. And trust is earned, over time. The truth is, any employee with a new leader is at least a little like a sheep with a new shepherd. Is this person going to be a good leader and a good manager? Or, are they actually a predator? As the leader, part of your job is to build that trust, over time, between you and your team, and across your team. So in that regard, Yes, you should work toward that end.

For those studying the Biblical passage: It says that Jesus had compassion for the people, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Based on what we learned above, what can that mean?

For one thing, it means they have no one to protect them from predators — including predators masquerading as shepherds! Someone can gain their trust, get them to follow him, then use them or plunder them or even kill them. And because they follow each other, it only takes a few people to follow a bad leader for a whole lot of people to get hurt.

One of our calls as people of faith is to protect the weak and powerless against predators, including those who look like friends. It’s not an easy task, and it’s not a quick task; we have to be proven trustworthy, time and again, and we have to have our own predator-radar up and working. But just as the people of Jesus’s time deserved compassion because they had no shepherd, no one to look out for them, so do many people in our own day. They need the Good Shepherd, and they need some under-shepherds as well. (That’s us!) They need trust, and they need protection, and they need safety. May we see them just as Jesus did, and act to keep the predators away.

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