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Sheep without Sheep Dog

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Sheep rounded up by sheep dog


Time management tips are easy to find on the internet but what about time management styles that plays havoc with a career? This post is dedicated to every manager who has ever had to deal with a team member who couldn’t function without the leader playing the role of a sheep dog and the proactive steps we can take to make a difference.


How I became a Sheep Dog style Manager

A few years back, I had an assistant who, bless his heart was sincere and dedicated and was always willing to go the extra mile, worked the longest hours, could go without food and drink for hours at an end. He delivered on deadlines. He got a promotion to the next level because he had demonstrated that he was an ideal worker. My fellow managers and I were considering him for a fast track progression when signs of trouble appeared.

It was his first assignment as a Team Leader on an offsite location audit where there were hiccups due to the client’s unpreparedness and lots of long distance fire fighting back at headquarters.

We saved the day but when it came to appraisal time, I had to struggle with the Partner to whom we both reported to get him a 3 on the performance bell curve. My boss wanted to give him a 1 and then in an act of charity said 2 was his last offer.

I pleaded that the team member , whom I’ll  call John Doe be given some credit for his dedication, the circumstances of the audit and the client’s lack of co-operation and his commitment to the craft and employer.

I pointed out the fact that he had only been a year in his newly promoted position, needed time to transition to the responsibilities of field management and managing a team of juniors at client location. Matter was thrown open to the group managers who had also worked with him for consensus on grading.

Consensus agreed that John Doe needed more training in various project execution areas. We needed resources trained in our firm’s methodology for the particular time constrained project which was creating the problem on grading. The 1 would have been a boot out and a 2 was equally bad for pay increments and bonus. John Doe survived appraisal time based on benefit of doubt. He got a 3 on the bell curve.

I was relieved until John Doe decided that he had been side-tracked and felt he deserved a 5 and another promotion to Manager. No amount of counselling helped. His complaint to the Partner backfired. Instead he was cautioned to pull up his bootstraps. I moved on to a new venture soon after and John Doe was a thing of the past and his appraisal were left behind.

I recently heard was that John Doe had slipped through the cracks and was allegedly in therapy or at least had been advised to go for it. He was at boot out stage.

Sad news really, but when I look back at it objectively, I realise that his time management got him where he was. My experience had not been a one off based on an assignment. History apparently kept repeating itself and in a high pressured corporate environment where everyone is vying to get that promotion and career progression, that is professional hara kiri.


In other words, he was a Sheep without a Sheep Dog Time Manager

I learnt that as long as he was being directed and monitored, it was okay. As long as there was someone to get him out of his crises, it was okay.


Serenity prayer for sheep style time managers


The more I remember, I realize that the deadlines were met when I rolled up my sleeves and sat with him to complete the task at hand, when I delegated his work to others. Telling him to go home and rest and come back the next day to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes only to find he was not taking my advice.

I remembered getting irritated with him and telling him to take responsibility for his actions and prioritise his tasks since redoing areas of work inhibited my ability to review the work since I was doing work that I was meant to review and thus having to bring in the Partner for a senior review. This was a listed company as well as a global client. We had to manage our risks.

I remember his crying after that and my giving him something easy to do while his subordinate was delegated the task of doing the required work since I could not manage a project focussed on one person.

I remember that he had been passed onto me by another manager for my team and I in my naivety had believed the glowing praise with which he had been transferred to me. Now I knew why.

It was my desire to motivate him that made me give him a 3. It was my knowing that he had some good qualities and that the consequences of a 2 or a 1 would far outweigh his time management skills that reaching that decided things in his favor that time. Quite obviously his next boss who was a male did not have that feminine empathy or my gullibility!

Update: I narrated the story of John Doe in this blog post in January 2014, a good 7 years after I had last seen him. In June 2016, I learned the sad news from another colleague who had been part of the team that John Doe had passed away earlier during the year from health related problems.  It appears he was finally booted out because the pressure got too much for him and he was caught drinking during the daytime on client premises. His drinking took over control of his life and he couldn’t keep a job for any period of time. Did he ever get counselling or reach out for help? I don’t know but yes, this is an extreme case of a sheep that couldn’t get his act together.


Having painted a dismal picture, what exactly is this creature, the Sheep without a Sheep Dog?

It is a person who is constantly in a state of chaos, lacks focus and requires another person to direct him to enable action. His productivity is below par and he is behind deadlines because of his self induced chaos. The self esteem gets affected and a vicious cycle begins of becoming even more of a sheep.

The reasons for this style of time management include

  • not seeing the big picture,
  •  bad planning,
  • bad estimation of time required for completion of a task,
  • basing decisions on inadequate information or just simply ignoring information.

Worse yet, some people are addicted to chaos and start to like the buzz that it creates, completely oblivious to the stress levels that it generates for others for whom the delegated task is of priority and importance to complete their own work.

If you are a manager stuck with a Sheep without a Sheep Dog, what tips can I offer for managing the employee?


Tips for the sheep dog style corporate manager


For starters, review the work that needs to be done and the time limits and emphasize the same to the employee.

Prioritise the task and break it into chunks for the employee and let him run with it.

Encourage the employee to delegate the tasks that he can so that there is no overwhelm for him.

Brainstorm with him to see if there are easier alternatives that can be employed.

Taking initiative might bring the sheep back into the fold!

Be an active manager and observe your team members during the assignment. Take notes of who is performing and who is pulling the team down and do timely intervention without hurting the morale of the professional who isn’t performing at par. If necessary, do a spot of counselling and mentoring on the job. Sometimes there may be factors outside of work creating a distraction and the person isn’t really a sheep.

Make sure that there is a post assignment review where the team as a whole analyses and reviews the good, bad and ugly of the engagement and new strategies are brainstormed with team buy-in for the next assignment. The Big 4 firms where I worked had this procedure in place before audit sign-off but sometimes it would get delayed due to client commitments. This 1 step is important and should never be missed.

Make sure your team members know you’ll defend their honest mistakes and will not punish them but will look at these experiences as opportunities for growth and improvement.  But make it clear that they are responsible for their performance and need to seek guidance if required instead of covering up their weaknesses.

Lastly but not least, either review with the employee how to avoid crisis in future tasks or  enroll Human Resources help to counsel the employee.

If you are a Sheep reading this, then consider taking these actions on your own initiative before it’s too late.

Better yet, work with me for 90 days to become a Sheep who doesn’t need a Sheep Dog! Click Here to learn more about how I can help you.

Have you ever managed sheep or felt you were a Sheep Dog? How did you motivate your flock without hurting team morale?

This post was originally written in January 2014 and has been updated in July 2016.

Written By: Vatsala Shukla

Photo credit:  The Joke 3- Hahahaha by X posid



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22 Responses to “Sheep without Sheep Dog”

  1. Tanya Smith says:

    Wow Vatsala. It’s so interesting that I dealt with someone similarly very recently and I’ve been giving advice to another colleague who is continuing to enable the chaos. I will definitely send the link to your article.

    What is so sad is Sheep don’t often recognize themselves as such. Thanks for a great post!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks Tanya. Hope the post helps your colleague to stop the chaos in its tracks. You are right, the Sheep often do not realize what they are doing and many times, colleagues and supervisors who need to meet the pressurized deadlines in the corporate world don’t have time to stop, think and counsel. I was recently listening to a webinar where the topic was unhealthy thinking patterns and when I think about the Sheep personality, I think the tendencies are much deeper than what appears on the surface.

  2. Sometimes, no matter how devoted and well-meaning the boss, it’s time to realize the poor fit between employee and their intended job. The suffering endured by all parties is a real loss to the company – both in morale and productivity – as well as to the employee who knows s/he’s not succeeding while s/he might with a better fit elsewhere.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      A classic example of the Peter Principle where we do reach our level of incompetency and inefficiency. Unfortunately, sometimes, caught in the mad rush of deadlines in the corporate world, even a well-intentioned boss can miss out and the employee, for fear of losing a job will keep quiet until there is a crisis and then Human Resources will step in when they should have been aware of a possible mismatch to start with. Thanks for the precious insights, Andrea.

  3. Reba Linker says:

    This was such an interesting post. I had to read it, as I am procrastinating on getting my work done. In my defense, I did get some good insight into how to be my own sheep dog and gently corral myself into the needed work flow. Thank you!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks Reba. Severe time mismanagement aggravates stress and ultimately a challenge to cope with the normal stress and strains in our everyday life. Being our own sheep dog or transitioning from a sheep to a sheep dog is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

  4. Hi Vatsala, I am so grateful we have met through Reba. There are many important points in this post. It makes me sad when someone does not realize their potential and falls into self sabotaging behaviors. We all have it in us to be that incredibly person within and use our gifts but sometimes we do need that inspirational person to guide us and help us along the way. It is not a weakness but a strength to ask for help but many do not feel that way and fall into numbing behaviors instead. I am glad you brought attention to this and that you offer others tools to help them on their path. Sending blessings, Jenny

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Hi Jenny. I’m glad we met through Reba too! When I first wrote this post, it was to give an example of the consequences of time mismanagement on our lives both personal and professional. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would have been John Doe’s outcome. What makes it even more painful is that he didn’t have a drinking problem when he worked with me and has left a young wife and 2 daughters behind, the youngest being only a year old. May this be a wakeup call for all of us to seek timely help instead of behavior to numb pain.

  5. Natasha Botkin says:

    Lovely post that not all individuals are meant to lead. Some are meant to be the work horse and allow others to be the leaders. I know been there done that way too many times. So, if I do not allow someone to “lead” it is, because my intuitive sense says they need a sheep dog. xoxo

    • Karmic Ally says:

      You’ve mentioned a very important point, Natasha, about the difference in leaders and followers. Quite often under work pressure, the managers who should be aware of the personality and traits of the professional overlook this difference and in an environment where everyone works hard to rise up the ladder, they too get blind sighted to their own abilities. A case of Peter’s Principle.

  6. I love that you shine a light on differing learning and leading styles. I despair sometimes when I see how narrowly defined job descriptions can get, which creates expectations that can’t always let everyone shine and contribute their unique skill set.

    And you turned your lens to chaos addiction, which is so pervasive in our culture. Way to go, you! I’m sharing this.


    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks Sue. Part of the problem is also the perceived value of certain professions compared to others and a tendency to pursue careers that our parents want without considering our own aptitude and innate skills. I see it happen a lot and then chaos sets in. Times are changing though and I’m seeing more schools employ career counselors to guide students. This particular person didn’t know how to handle pressure and deadlines and in the process all of his other sterling qualities fell to the side. Organizations too need to test aptitude the way they do it in the Armed Forces.

  7. Tamuria says:

    It’s so sad when someone tries to cover up their inability to handle a job by themselves, creating a bigger problem that eventually they cannot hide. The consequences to their self-esteem can be catastrophic. It’s much better to admit when you’re out of your depth, seek help, and get the job done properly.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      It is sad, Tamuria. An early reach out for help can save the situation rather than create a salvage situation. The impact on our self-esteem can be shattering.

  8. Julia says:

    Such an interesting read and I love the way you really got behind your John Doe and supported him, even though you later claimed you were being gullible. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to take that chance and run with it and learn the lessons in the experience for him, but your steadfast support of him warmed my heart. Wish all managers were more like you! ♡

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you for the compliment, Julia. As a Leader, I always led from the front and my team knew that as long as they gave me their best and reached out for help, I was there for them. I’ve always defended my people but at some point, one cannot do more. John Doe had training needs that were not organized by the HR department and this one fell through the cracks once I left. Part of my big why for starting Karmic Ally Coaching was to reach out to other John and Jane Does who need that mentor to show them what is required if their employers and managers are being myopic to professional development.

  9. There are many types of workers and leaders and sometimes you get a misfit. John Doe needed promotions to support his family but wasn’t cut out to be a leader. I remember I had a co counselor in one office who never seemed as busy as me. We had an open counseling schedule that interviews posted into the next free spot. I was always booked & busy & was told by many they preferred I work with the client.
    I noticed she had people slotted into the appointment schedule but hardly seemed to have anyone at her desk. Often she said they failed to show up, mine always came. One day I looked carefully & saw she had written in the same name days upon days- no wonder the person didn’t show. I often said she wasn’t a bright counselor but was bright enough to hardly work & we got the same pay check.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      John Doe certainly wasn’t cut out to be a leader though he had other sterling qualities which the company didn’t tap into. Sadly at the time their leadership programs were meant for those being trained for partnership but not for transition into managerial or supervisory roles which was also a reason why they had high attrition rates.

      Your colleague was very smart to avoid having to work hard and yet show she was busy. 🙂

  10. Having been a manager for many years, I’m sure I have worked with this type of person more than once. I love the compassionate feeling in your suggestions. Very helpful, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      We’ve all had the sheep subordinate and played sheepdog, Sandra, without realizing what we were doing because we had to get the job done. Hindsight does provide 20:20 vision. 🙂 Thanks for appreciating my efforts!

  11. Joyce Hansen says:

    I remember years ago doing a temp job at a major investment firm. I would watch the reps come in early, eat at their desks and stay late. I figured that I was making more per hour than they were. That’s wen I decided not to go for my MBA. Being the ideal worker at that level is great if you’re excited about your job and looking to grow with a company. But not everyone is cut out to be good at management leadership which is a tough and demanding role by itself. And, that’s a hard business reality that workers striving for top positions have to face.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      So true, Joyce. In the same company where John Doe and I worked together, there seemed to be an unwritten rule that we came in early, stuck to our desks and left late, especially if the boss was still in the office. My Partner once told me that the partnership were aware of the fact that those staff members were being unproductive and yet nothing was done about it. As for me, everyone knew I didn’t work weekends unless it was important. Of course this rule got broken at times but only when really required.

      One of the saddest things about the corporate world nowadays is that people are not counseled early on about their abilities and how far they can go. Maybe its to avoid demoralizing the employee but then there comes a time when the employee quits or is asked to leave for lack of performance.

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