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 leader’s 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 okay…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:
- 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.
- 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.
What are some of the “wins” you’ve seen in your area?
Share a few God-moments you’ve experienced in the past month or so.
What are the areas of frustration you face when it comes to your work?
If you knew everything you asked for would be a “yes,” what are the first three things you would ask for?
What are your goals for this season of ministry? How do you plan to accomplish them? What does success look like?
- Don’t freak out. Chances are that your people aren’t telling you what’s really going on because they’re scared of how you might react. As the leader, listen to them and offer to work together to fix the issues they bring up. By not freaking out, you’re keeping the door open for further conversations. People appreciate approachable leaders they can trust to remain steady even when the job gets tough.
- Encourage healthy morale. Thank people and celebrate them for the specific role they play in your organization. Even if they are behind the scenes and out of the spotlight, let them know their contribution to the team is valuable. Have fun. What you do is serious work, how you work doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Break out a 30-dance off. Surprise your team with donuts. Have soup week! Let your team know they matter as people not just cogs in your organization.
- Balance truth and grace. Not everyone will always perform well. If they need help, be honest and talk to them about it. People can’t improve what they don’t know is wrong. It’s better to talk them through the situation, get them help and set improvement goals. Hopefully, they will respond, make necessary changes and continue adding value to the organization. But it may not work, and unfortunately, sometimes it’s just a bad fit. If it’s time for them to discover other opportunities, let them go gracefully and generously. Continue leading them as you cheer them on and give them a leg up on finding their next position.
I’d love to hear how you care for the people you lead.
What’s the most creative way you’ve cared for your team?
What is the most challenging thing you face when it comes to paying attention to the people under your care?
This article originally appeared here.