“Who’s not a sheep here?”

Posted by jlubans on April 29, 2014

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When I visited a sheep farm near the University of Latvia’s conference center, Ratnieki, my eye was drawn to this sign up in the barn rafters. It asks, in Latvian, “Who here is not a sheep?”
No doubt, there’s some bucolic humor that eludes me, but the sign triggered my taking a picture or two of untypical sheep, in the background, not going along to get along.

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Caption: Not us!
It’s one of the slides I used in last week’s webinar (recorded).
My purpose was to introduce a dose of skepticism to the many management theories and concepts that all too often are presented as gospel, even by agnostics like me.
Now, I am partial to Robert E. Kelley’s follower theories.
To me, Kelley’s followers taxonomy conforms to the at large demographic of the American workplaces. There are few if any not touched by his theory.
Kelley’s chart is bounded on the top by independent critical thinking and on the bottom by dependent uncritical thinking. On the sides, Kelley assigns a passive or active orientation toward taking steps, moving forward, or not. Very briefly, Kelley’s effective followers (aka “Stars” or “sparkplugs”) manage themselves well and they are leaders in their own right. They require little supervision. And, they are committed to the organization and to a purpose or person outside themselves.
Then there are the aforementioned Sheep – passive, dependent thinkers. But, as the above picture suggests, not all sheep are sheep-like followers. The two in the back have baleful disdain written all over their faces. 20140429-close up elliptical sheep.png
They are above this scrum behavior; they have some pride! These two may even be independent thinking and action-taking sheep! So, there’s hope that followers can shift from passive to active, from passively waiting to be told to taking action; that’s my point. Even “Yes people” - dependent thinkers - fearful of standing up to the boss can become like the young man in Wodehouse’s classic story, The Nodder. The young man - in love - is fired and then rehired for his independence and that he knows too much about corporate shenanigans. The worm turns!
The one group of followers with the greatest promise (given a quintessential supportive and encouraging organizational climate) is the one in the middle of Kelley’s chart: Survivors/Pragmatists – somewhat independent, somewhat active – but neither “deadwood” nor incompetent. They keep a low profile and do their job. In my experience, Survivors include some very good librarians, potentially effective followers and leaders. In any business you will need to win over the Survivors to counter the highly articulate alienated followers, opposed to the effective follower and inertia’s champion. Remember, the alienated are very good at stampeding Sheep.
I always conclude my talk about followers with a question, “Where are you on this chart?” I let this question hang for a few moments before plowing ahead.
Let me be so bold as to suggest something similar for your next staff meeting. Ask yourself, “Who is not a sheep here?”

Leading from the Middle Library of the week:
George Fox University, 
Murdock Learning Resource Center, Newberg, Oregon, USA

Real Deal: Order your library a copy of Leading from the Middle from the publisher, ABC-Clio, half off!

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

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