Sheep Will Never Wool The World

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

I encounter two dominant theories of leadership. The first theory is that of a shepherd herding sheep. Unfortunately for the sheep, they frequently get sheared and eventually become dinner. For the manager, sheep are incredibly frustrating, as anyone who has herded sheep will know. They do incredibly stupid things, usually led by their stomachs. Good managers, like good shepherds, take care of their sheep but never get too close. After all, these sheep will end up on the dinner plate, and there are always more sheep.

I love to use minimum wage jobs for the example of sheep and shepherds. In most cities, the minimum wage equals poverty. These employees are usually not making ends meet and are definitely led by their stomachs. They do not excel at anything but are driven by their hunger from greener pasture to greener pasture. These employers rely on a steady supply of sheep and never get too attached. They are, after all, preying on the sheep. When you run a ranch, minimize your feed costs and get the product to market as soon as possible. It's just good business.

The second theory of leadership is that of a teacher guiding students. Ultimately, the students should progress to the point they can teach pupils of their own. Companies who utilize this method are called "learning organizations." They understand that their most significant asset, educated employees, never appear on the balance sheet, except under the expense column for training and wages. 

Employees are not a business asset because the business does not own them. They partner with the owners. In return for compensation and growth, they grow the owners' enterprise. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, like that of sheep and shepherd, but the outcome is better for the student employees than the sheep. Oddly enough, the results are better for the owners too. 

Sheep produce more sheep. The sheep you have today are a good indication of what your flock will look like in the coming years. This continuity is excellent as long the demand for wool and mutton never changes. Unfortunately, we no longer use stagecoaches, steam locomotives, and typewriters. Moreover, the sheep market in the U.S. is one-tenth the size it was eighty years ago.

Students, on the other hand, produce the future. Jung was a student of Freud and built on his theories. Tesla was a student of Edison and built on his work. Students see the future just as their teacher's eyesight is failing. Students created the automobile, the diesel-electric locomotive, and the word processor.

If this is offensive, you are likely a sheep or a shepherd. To this, I have to ask, why are you still herding sheep? If you are a sheep, I want to point out that everyone starts as a sheep, but students and teachers obtain an education. Learners work in learning organizations, and knowledge has never been so freely available or affordable in all of human history. If you cannot be bothered to learn, that's OK too. There is always room at dinner for more sheep.

If you would like to learn more, I enthusiastically suggest you read "The Future of Employment" by Frey and Osborne, freely available online.