Why Good Leaders Would Rather Lead a Pack of Wolves than Herd Sheep

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Did everyone agree with everything you said at the last meeting of your top executive team? Did everybody agree to follow the directions you gave, without objecting or contributing different ideas? And did you feel nice and calm when the session ended, as though not much had changed?

If you answered yes to those questions, you have probably fallen into the common trap of confusing agreement with progress. If you’re not sure if you’re suffering from this problem, consider how much better you might do if you brought in some nice unruly wolves who bring the force of positive disruption to what you do.

How did you fall into this pattern in the first place? Here are some probable causes.

Problem One: You Are Surrounded by People Who Are Just Like You

You hired or promoted them because they have skills or outlooks that are just like yours. This happens in many companies, sometimes when an engineer/entrepreneur who is bringing a product to market surrounds him or herself with other engineers. It can also happen when an entrepreneur obtained funding by selling his business idea energetically and who then assembles a team of only salespeople to get the company off the ground.

To replace these sheep with wolves, have the courage to hire people who can do what you do not like to do, or for which you are not experienced. If you’re a great marketer who can’t become completely involved in building network of retailers to sell your new product, for example, you need to bring in some merchandising and retailing experts to get your enterprise off the ground.

Problem Two: Your Team is Made Up of “Yes People”

These are people who find it easiest to agree with whatever you say. Not all yes people start out that way. It is possible that you caused them to behave that way by shutting down their ideas and causing them to self-censor and never speak up.

To replace these sheep with wolves, practice high-level listening skills in which you listen constantly for what other people are saying that is right, not wrong. Also have the courage to question your own assumptions and let people try things they really believe in, even if you believe they might not work. One example? Maybe you don’t believe that offering free samples will attract new customers because you tried it before and it did not work. But if you let someone run with an idea that he or she really believes in, surprising success often happens.

Problem Three: Your Team Is Other-Directed

This happens when the people you lead are only going through the motions of supporting what you want to achieve. They attend meetings and do the minimum, but are actually eager to find jobs at other companies, start companies of their own, pursue personal agendas or even subtly sabotage your progress because they think they are smarter than the other members of your team. You try to energize and motivate them, but you feel like a cheerleader without a team.

To replace these sheep with wolves, ingage their best thinking by listening to them and letting them take authority and “own” initiatives of their own within your organization. Other activities to get them genuinely invested in your company include inviting them to help define your company’s vision and mission. But let’s end this article with a special note. If you conclude that some members of the team are engaging in subtle sabotage, perhaps it is time to cull the herd by letting some of them go. Herding meek sheep is difficult, herding evil sheep is a waste of time.


Evan Hackel
Evan Hackel

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