Bo Peep Was Wrong

New Rule: Bo Peep Was Wrong – Be a Good Shepherd Instead

The Bo Beep style of management has to be eliminated for a more active and energizing form of leadership. Show up and be a presence or find another line of work. Leaders who manage by ‘leave them alone and they will come home’ (they are professionals and they will figure it out), must wake up, model organizational development and be a force for learning.

As Hall and Hord (2014) said, there are three levels of leadership. The first level was the ‘reactor.’ The leader reacted to every problem from all stakeholders. They are the firefighters. Yes, we need to put out fires (Cuban 1985). The trouble is when you are really good at putting out fires, some leaders become arsonists.

The second level was a leader as ‘manager.’ Cuban called this fireproofing. Getting systems in place so fires don’t start. Yes, we need to develop systems so crises don’t start and detract from learning. Professional staff wants to be in this kind of organization because learning environments must reduce chaos and have orderly cultures to maximize learning.

The third level is the ‘initiator.’ The leader not only puts out fires and fireproofs the school or district but they initiate new ideas, innovations, and keep the adults learning. They make the case for adding to the teaching and leading repertoire to increase their influence. They keep the focus on learning and by widening strategies, they deal more effectively with the increased complexity in schools and communities.

Referring again to Cuban’s article, his third point was leaders need to start fires. Igniting the fire of learning can engage and excite students and adults. Adding flexibility and widening repertoire gives us more competence and confidence. Of course, knowing which fires to start and where to start them is critical in getting the most energy out of new ideas.

Shirley Hord and I added a fourth level of leadership to Hall and Hord’s model. In our book Leading PLCs (2008), we call it a ‘collaborator.’ The goals of the collaborator are to increase leadership at all levels – administration, teachers, students, ancillary staff. Without this step, a leader who puts out fires might be moved to another school that is on fire. The former school, without developing sustainable leadership rekindles and a fire starts again. We start wearing out really good leaders this way. By modeling and training others we benefit from more people with more skills.

All of this is to say principals need to be visible, active as a learner, teaching others about leading and learning, and to help with succession planning and transitions that will continue to face our staff and schools. It is important for people to see leaders teach some classes so they know leaders can handle thirty plus students. And so leaders know what it feels like to have sweaty palm not knowing what might be happening next in the class.

So, let’s be Good Shepherds who take care of the flock, find ways to bring strays into the community, protect people from external threats, and keep calm. Being a Good Shepherd knows that individual and group learning will increase under respectful and ethical leadership.

Send Bo Peep away and embrace the Good Shepherd in all of us.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!