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Leaders know how to "shepherd their flocks"

Article-Leaders know how to "shepherd their flocks"

Key iconKey Points

  • One expert says many of the qualities that make a powerful leader are not about taking control and being the best, but rather listening, learning, teaching, inspiring and guiding.
  • Four leadership qualities that stand out are: being honest; being forward-looking; being inspiring; and being competent.
  • Mentoring is, in general, an important component of leadership.

When he lectured in South Africa in 2007, Gregory R. D. Evans, M.D., remembers touring what was once home to Nelson Mandela. In a February 2009 editorial in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, he describes the home, by U.S. standards, as meager with three rooms and a kitchen. One thing that stood out was a quote hanging in Mandela's auspicious living room, Dr. Evans writes. It read: "A like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."

Dr. Evans says that, in fact, many of the qualities that make a powerful leader are not about taking control and being the best, but rather listening, learning, teaching, inspiring and guiding.

Dr. Evans, who is professor of surgery and biomedical engineering and chief, Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery Institute, The University of California, Irvine, suggests that it is often not what the leader knows as much as who they know.

"Ideally, [as a leader] you want to surround yourself with people who are better than you are because that is the way that you keep things moving forward in the right direction," Dr. Evans says. "I think being able to choose people who are better at what you do is an excellent sign of...someone who is really looking after the best interests of the organization. It is really not about you, as an individual; it is about the organization and getting those people in it to help run and support the organization...."


In his editorial, Dr. Evans cites the four leadership qualities that stand out, according to the book Leadership Challenge (by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner):
1. Being honest
2. Being forward-looking
3. Being inspiring
4. Being competent

"I think [being a good leader is having] the ability to listen. It is the ability to have a global sense of what you are doing, and how your organization fits into the bigger hole," Dr. Evans says. "Sometimes, decisions have to be made that may go against...the general philosophy. But if it is in the best interests of the organization, then those decisions have to be made."

Making those decisions, he says, means listening to as many differences of opinion as possible.

"I think we all want to try to look at as much information as possible before we make decisions. Sometimes, you still have to make decisions that are against what the majority of people believe should be done, but if they are in the best interests of the organization...," Dr. Evans says.

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