From a high vantage point, there is a completely different perspective. Though all the minute details cannot be seen, there is a larger view of direction, perspective, and a bigger overall picture of what is happening below. One of the most foundational truths that I have ever been taught about discipleship is a bit of an interesting word picture at first. It is that a good leader needs to be able to “fly at 35,000 feet and still smell like the sheep.”
Before we dig into this unusual quote, let us first address that not everyone in a leadership role is a good leader. Some leaders are still too inexperienced, some are arrogant, and some others have been leading for so long that they become inflexible and so accustomed to their way of doing things that they have lost sight of the vision. Leaders should always be teachable and open to new ideas. Sometimes people are thrust into leadership positions or they climb to the top, and sit up there making all the decisions without ever really knowing how it will affect the workers on the ground. We all know examples of blue-collar workers complaining that the white-collar guys upstairs only care about making their money. In movies and in real life, there are endless stories of how out of tune the executives are with their employees.
FLY AT 35,000 FEET
For leaders to truly be in touch with and to set their employees, and themselves, up for success, a great leader needs to “fly at 35,000 feet and still smell like the sheep.” To “fly at 35,000 feet” means that leaders need to be able to see the big, all-encompassing picture. They need to know what the vision is and the direction the team must go to get there. They need to look out for obstacles and dangers and foresee what is coming, then present clear goals back to their team to direct in the best way and simultaneously avoid disasters. This may be the easier portion of being the boss. The harder, but perhaps most essential aspect of leadership is for the leader to experience the later part of the quote, “and still smell like the sheep.” A great visual of this is in the TV series “Undercover Boss.” The premise of the show is for the CEO or CFO to go undercover in their own company and see what is really going on at the personnel level of their company in hopes of adding insight to improve their company. When a leader gets into the trenches with their team and experiences what is happening on the ground level of their business, as well as on a personal level with their workers, leaders are more holistically informed of the finite details that are not as easily seen from up top. Knowing the condition of the work environment and the attitude of the people is vital to making decisions that will affect the company as a whole. Hopefully this also inspires compassion and camaraderie that unites the entire company and motivates everyone to work harder and be happier in their employed circumstance.
STILL SMELL LIKE THE SHEEP
This same principle should be applied to all of ministry. Leaders in ministry must be able to clearly present a vision to their volunteers from their overall perspective (being at 35,000 feet) but it is vital for them to also be side by side in the trenches of doing ministry with their teams (smell like the sheep). Now sheep do not always smell nice. Sheep can be stinky and dirty and it is easy for leaders to want to stay in the executive offices, instead of getting involved in the lives of team members. But when leaders get involved, when they get dirty, they get to see the hearts of their team members. This includes knowing and bearing the hurts and wounds of the individuals, some of which even leadership may have caused. Team leaders can either plow through the mission and allow their people to be cast aside to do the work or they can partner with their people to most benefit them and in turn, see the ministry be the most effective in is complex, multifaceted purposes. Let us not get so busy doing the work of the Lord that we overlook the journey or bypass the people, recipients and volunteers, that should all be blessed by what we are working to accomplish. May we fly at 35,000 feet to see the big picture, but still smell like the sheep enough to know what our teams need and how to serve them.
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. - 1st Peter 5:2-3