Shepherds and Storytellers Part 1: The Shepherd

In December, I had the pleasure of attending a conference related to my day job in utility management. Most conferences are set up in the same way. There’s usually a big plenary session that contains a keynote address, followed by a variety of breakout sessions. Sometimes hundreds of people attend, maybe even a thousand.

This one was different. Less than a hundred attendees. There were no breakouts, no plenary. Everyone heard the same thing.

One of the biggest differences was its format. All sessions but the keynote were panel discussions where the moderators were called shepherds and the panelists were storytellers. The conference leaders also asked us who had been a shepherd to us during our careers. In other words, who had been a mentor to us?

That got me to thinking. How is a mentor like a shepherd?

In the lands of ancient Israel and Judah, shepherds were herders of flocks of sheep. This was a critical role because many of the lambs in that flock were used as sacrifices in the temple. Their wool was valuable as well for clothing, as was their meat for food.

When thinking about the role of shepherds, how does that relate to the role of mentors? Here are some ideas.

  1. Older shepherds taught younger shepherds the job. No shepherd ever stepped into a role knowing everything needed to keep sheep alive and well. Each young shepherd needed to learn about shepherding from taking care of sick sheep to where the best pastures were. So it is with mentors. In my job with the utility management industry, I’ve been very fortunate to work with colleagues and bosses who have taught me much, not just about my sector but also about leadership and working with others.
  2. Shepherds guide their flocks. One of the biggest tasks related to shepherding sheep is to guide them from pasture to pasture. They ensured the flock made it from Point A to Point B without a problem. Mentors are like that too. They guide the younger generations coming up behind them by giving more and more responsibility to them. Recently, as many of my mentors retired, I’ve come to realize how I’ve stepped into their shoes. It’s a bit daunting, but looking back over the years, I can see how they prepared me.
  3. Shepherds protect their flocks. Flocks of sheep wandered in the wilds of ancient Israel, and it was not a danger-free wandering. Wild animals like lions and wolves would attack the flock. Shepherds risked their lives to save them. While the utility management industry isn’t fraught with that kind of danger, we still can mess up on occasion, on a project, a presentation, or something else. Mentors are there to correct, guide, and maybe even take the fall if needed. With good guidance, I’ve learned to fly on my own, even if I stumble and fall on occasion.

All in all, mentors do function a lot like shepherds. Regardless of what sector we work in or even in life in general, mentors play a critical role in our lives by showing us the way, guiding us, and protecting us.

Which are you? Maybe a mentor to someone or maybe someone who needs mentoring. If you’re a mentor, remember that you play a valuable role for someone who is following behind you in life. If you’re younger, maybe you need mentoring, be it on the job or in life or both. Look around you. There are people out there willing to come alongside you and guide you. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot from them.

Like shepherds in ancient days, mentors play a critical role in our lives by teaching us, guiding us, and protecting us. #authenticity #encouragement Click To Tweet

Question: Who is a mentor for you and why?

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