Career

Don’t lead a pack of sheep. Herd cats instead

“Don’t lead a pack of sheep. Herd cats instead.” When I first read this statement it took me a while to understand its true meaning.

In modern-day corporate life, leaders often have the flexibility to pick their own teams. Most of them stumble at this roadblock. Mediocre managers don’t often realise the enormous ability this gives them to define their own career. They end up choosing team members whose intellect and capabilities are limited by their own bandwidth. Mediocre managers often end up picking members who do not challenge them, who do not threaten their position. They pick team members who would fall in line easily.  In other words they end up picking a pack of sheep. Have you ever seen a pack of sheep? All of them huddle together and meekly follow instructions of the shepherd. A small stick wielded efficiently keeps the whole pack together. In such teams, where leaders hire sheep, a bulk of the leader’s time is spent in doling out instructions , tracking and managing individuals and if any time is left post this, to strategically think about the organisation’s future.  Make no mistake, for a weak leader, the benefit of a team full of sheep is immense.  Sheep do not dissent. Do not challenge. Do not question and, most importantly, do not contribute to the team’s cause intellectually. So the leader is able to wield his personal authority, unchallenged. Their insecurity and lack of faith in their own abilities leads them to pick a herd of sheep as their team.

Cats, on the contrary, are a completely different breed. They are animals with minds of their own. Put three cats together and you will find them doing their own thing. Each one will be jumping around, pulling in different directions. Have you ever considered what it will take to manage a team of cats? Looks impossible , doesn’t it?

However, in a group or out of it, cats are fast, intellectually stimulating and managerially challenging. No wonder that when we refer to smart outstanding individuals in a team, we call them cats. Many leaders are often scared by the challenges they will have to face in case they hire cats on their team, and end up settling for sheep. For these individuals, I would like to point out one aspect of cats you can derive solace from. Cats, if they get comfortable , start trusting and become extremely loyal. Sheep, on the other hand, can be herded by almost anybody.  It all depends on how you treat cats and get them to build trust in you.

The message for managers in companies is simple — If you want to succeed in the long term, are desirous of building equity in the organisation and want to be known as someone who is capable of building teams which have great execution skills, then ‘sheep’ will not get you there. Hire cats in your team. Getting the right team is half the job done — efficiently leading them to accomplish the mission is the other half. Cats ensure the first half and also guarantee a fun-filled second half.

After all this, do you still want to hire sheep? If so, you are definitely not one I would have in my pack.

4 replies »

  1. In my career span of almost 2 decades,I came across majority of leaders who were insecure bout themselves and wouldn’t allow their subordinates to open their wings and fly in the open sky…they were insecure,intimidated by new thoughts,challenges to their decisions…that made me realize what NOT to be done as a leader..it’s been a decade since I’m in a leadership position guiding juniors and subordinates into keep challenging the decisions of the seniors just not for the sake of doing it but for the betterment of the organization,the seniors and above all themselves as it will constantly lead to out of the box thinking that makes the ultimate difference in the market …

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  2. One can bring in analogy from the animal kingdom, places etc, but all suggest the same thing – Its the mindset that matters. People with a growth mindset will inquire,challenge and strive to do their best, and will hire people who push them to do these things. While people with a fixed mindset will delve on self validation. Most leaders have fixed mindset with the need of self validation,and will surround themselves with people who validate their “intelligence” and “leadership”. And the ” validated” leaders are quite successful in the business world, which is why recruitment function in most organizations have designed processes to hire “sheep”. What is ironic is that leaders who have a fixed mindset and hire “sheep” think of themselves as people with a growth mindset who hire “cats”. If everyone in your team calls you a “cat” then you havent hired cats but “sheep” in the guise of cats.

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