Training Industry

Leading a Team? It’s Time to Turn Your Sheep into Wolves

  • Leading a Team? It’s Time to Turn Your Sheep into Wolves

Did everyone agree with everything you said at the last meeting of your executive team? Did everybody follow the directions you gave, without objecting or contributing new ideas?

If you answered yes to those questions, you could be leading a team of people who like to agree with everything you say – in other words, sheep. You need some unruly wolves who can bring the force of positive disruption to what you do.

Why Sheep Cannot Create Progress

People who agree with everything you say stifle your progress for many reasons. Here are some of the biggest:

  • They don’t tell you what you really need to know. They could be filling you in about what is taking place in their work and the world. Instead, they self-censor. You never hear the critical information you need to make informed, reality-based decisions.
  • They agree to do things they know to be wrong. What’s the point of objecting when they have been shut down in the past?
  • On the flip side, they avoid doing things they know to be right. Why try to attack the big problems they know about when they believe you won’t listen, agree or give them permission to move ahead?
  • They start to look for ways to escape. Wouldn’t you? Although they look like they are part of your team, they are secretly looking for opportunities to move to other companies, where their ideas will be heard and they can get things done.
  • They start to form alliances to undermine what you want to do. This might not happen soon, but it will happen eventually. When people are blocked by top management and cannot move ahead, they become emotionally disconnected from their jobs. In extreme cases, they can even start to subtly undermine your plans just to show that they know better.

Why Do Some Top Executives Cultivate Teams of Sheep?

Let’s not spend too much time answering this question. After all, the point of this blog is to correct a problem, not psychoanalyze it. Still, understanding the human tendency to want to lead sheep could help leaders avoid the problem in the future. Here are two reasons why some leaders develop teams of sheep:

  • Problem one: Leaders tend to like and hire people who are just like them. A top salesperson who was promoted into upper management, for example, could like to surround him- or herself with like-minded sales professionals. What leaders really need is a balanced team of people who possess a broad range of strengths.
  • Problem two: It is faster and easier to led a team of “yes people.” Everyone agrees, and that feels good. But agreement doesn’t equal progress. Forward motion stalls when critical information and ideas are never heard.

Let’s Turn those Sheep into Wolves

Now we get to the good part. Here are some ways to turn a herd of sheep into a mixed team that contains some courageous wolves who have the guts to challenge you – and themselves – to dare greatly and accomplish miraculous things.

  • Consistently highlight and encourage people who bring new ideas or argue for a “con” position. In every meeting or other context, strive to open people up in this way, not shut them down.
  • Challenge the team to develop both pro and con thoughts on key issues that are under discussion. This allows people a safe and non-confrontational way to share opposing or challenging viewpoints.
  • Talk about what good teamwork really is: a process through which different perspectives are heard and stronger plans emerge. To explore this topic more, I recommend the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni. It offers deep insight into what a great team is, the importance of getting every member to play a role and the fact that trust is the foundation of productive teamwork. It’s highly recommended.

About the Author

Evan Hackel

Evan Hackel is CEO of Tortal Training, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm that specializes in developing and implementing interactive training solutions for companies in all sectors. In addition, Evan is principal and founder of Ingage Consulting in Woburn, Massachusetts. He is also the author of the book “Ingaging Leadership.” To learn more, visit, and follow @ehackel and @TortalTraining.

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