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Sheep without Sheep Dog

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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I believe the world would be a better place if high achieving professionals accepted setbacks and challenges to their careers as Wake Up Calls to embark on a Journey where their empowered course correcting actions create a New World Order that encompasses achieving their career aspirations & potential with authentic life balance.

I work with driven, passionate, talented and ambitious professionals who’ve hit a speed breaker in their business or career create their desired breakthrough reclaiming control of their situation with customized strategies and tactics that deliver results.

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Their professional problems are playing havoc with other areas of their life. They know they need to take radical steps to change the status quo but they also know they need support and accountability to get them their desired result.

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I’ve struggled with and won battles of stress management, corporate politics, life balance and career decisions to emerge in a place where I can confidently say that I live my desired life according to my personal Manifesto and have created a business that provides me with a platform for my desired lifestyle and self-expression for myself. I want that for you too!

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Email: Vatsala(at)karmicallycoaching(dot)com Phone:91 9818517664
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