I’ve read through Proverbs dozens of times before. I’m not sure whether it was reading the verse in a different translation or just the thoughts on leadership going on in my head recently, but this stopped me in my tracks.
“Be sure you know how your sheep are doing. And pay attention to the condition of your cattle.” —Proverbs 27:23, NCV
Sheep don’t communicate.
Cattle aren’t sending emails.
Whoever is caring for them needs to regularly go out to the field and check in on them. See how they’re eating or if they’re getting lost or feeling sick. If the leader isn’t checking on them regularly, individuals or entire flocks could wind up injured, sick, missing or even dead.
I’m not sure what the person who wrote this proverb intended for his audience hear. Obviously he lived in an agrarian society and more than likely is talking about ACTUAL sheep and ACTUAL cattle.
But in the 21st century, leadership looks a bit different. With our office spaces, work-team cultures and git ‘er done enterprises, I can’t help but see this proverb as a metaphor for pastors and managers, directors and team leaders.
The modern leaders translation might be as simple as this: Pay attention to the condition of the people under your care.
We’d love to assume that if something is wrong or if our people are hurting that they’d come to leaders directly. More often than not, that’s not the case. Leaders are often the last people to find out something is wrong—and usually end up hearing it from someone two or three people removed from the person with the issue.
It’s easy to get caught up in deadlines, meetings and the dailyness of completing the tasks required by our work. It’s even easier to forget that one of our primary jobs as leaders is caring for the people that help us get the job done.
And this is not OK.
Just think about that verse from Proverbs. These are STRONG verbs. The verse says, “Be sure.” Not just kinda look out the window and assume things are OK … ish. And, “Pay attention!” Why, because our attention is so cluttered with other things—phone (or smart watch) constantly dinging, impromptu meeting, parents who want advice—that means you have to carve out time, and specifically have a plan and actually figure out what is the litmus test for team morale and health.
That being said, here are five ways to care for your team:
1. Initiate standing meetings: I get it; we all hate meetings. But think about this. Having a rhythm to check in will allow you to see your people through the good and the bad. I once worked for guy who only met with me when something was wrong. I knew that if I got an invite to Boston Market I was in for it—and not just because of the food. Regular check-ins are important to keep your working relationships healthy. They give you a chance to celebrate the good and improve the bad in a safe environment.
2. Ask specific, open-ended questions: “How’s it going?” is not a good question. It’s too easy to answer with a “Fine” or “Good.” Rather, ask questions that give way to dialogue and keep the conversation moving with follow up questions. Ask for input and suggestions; however, don’t write the person off if they can’t think of something right away. Some people need more time to process these sorts of questions. The right, open-ended questions allow your team to not only feel like you care for them, but they will ultimately feel valued as owners of how the ministry gets accomplished. When your team feels like owners, they will give more than 100 percent to the organization.