An army of sheep led by a lion will always defeat an army of lions led by a sheep. This statement captures the spirit of this book. This concept became real to me during one of my trips to the continent of the cradle of humanity, Africa. It was there, deep in the village lands of the African bush, that I heard a story that encapsulated what I have come to understand as the missing link in the leadership development process.
An army of sheep led by a lion will always defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
It was a sunny but cool day in the bustling, modern city of Harare, the capital of the southern African nation of Zimbabwe. I had just finished speaking in the conference center of the Harare Hilton to over 5,000 leaders. As the guest of one of the largest community organizations in the nation, I had been invited to provide leadership training and motivational sessions for aspiring and seasoned leaders. This was our last session after over seven days of presentations. At the end of the session, my host asked if I would consider going to another town to speak to an additional group of leaders who had asked if I would come to them. I gladly consented, and arrangements were made for my driverówho also served as my interpreteróand me to leave at first light the next morning.
We started out at six o’clock, and after driving for almost two hours, we finally left the modern city lights and were greeted by unpaved roads, dusty villages, and dense green forests. Just when I thought we were about to arrive, my driver indicated that we still had another two hours to go before we arrived at our village destination. Suddenly, I realized that we were headed for a safari experience. After another bumpy two hours through what seemed to be jungle, we finally entered a clearing. There stood a group of children who suddenly broke into wild, excited chanting, as if they had just experienced the end of a long anticipation.
AN ARMY OF SHEEP LED BY A LION WILL ALWAYS DEFEAT AN ARMY OF LIONS LED BY A SHEEP.
As we came to a noisy stop, a group of happy men emerged from a large thatched hut. They were led by a gentleman wearing a welcoming smile and simple clothing. We embraced, and he invited me into the grass-roofed building in which over three hundred men and women sat eagerly waiting for us to begin the teaching session. I was deeply humbled by the hunger and patience of these beautiful people, and I gave them my best. It was a joy to be so well received. After the session, the chief of the village invited me to a special dinner in my honor where I was treated to cuisines traditional to village life and cultureósome familiar to me and some not. It was during this meal that the chief told me the story that taught me a lesson in leadership I will never forget.
A LION AMONG SHEEP
There was once a farmer who lived in this village and also was a herder of sheep. One day, he took his sheep out to pasture, and while they were grazing, he suddenly heard a strange noise coming from a patch of grass, which first sounded like a kitten. Led by his curiosity, the old shepherd went to see what was the source of this insistent sound, and to his surprise, he found a lone shivering lion cub, obviously separated from his family. His first thought was the danger he would be in if he stayed too close to the cub and his parents returned. So the old man quickly left the area and watched from a distance to see if the mother lion or the pack would return. However, after the sun began to set, and there was still no activity to secure the lion cub, the shepherd decided that, in his best judgment, and for the safety and survival of the lion cub, he would take him to his farmhouse and care for him.
THE LION HAD BECOME A SHEEP BY ASSOCIATION.
Over the next eight months, the shepherd hand-fed this cub with fresh milk and kept him warm, safe, and secure in the protective confines of the farmhouse. After the cub had grown into a playful, energetic ball of shiny muscle, he would take him out daily with the sheep to graze. The lion cub grew with the sheep and became a part of the herd. They accepted him as one of their own, and he acted like one of them. After fifteen months had passed, the little cub had become an adolescent lion, but he acted, sounded, responded, and behaved just like one of the sheep. In essence, the lion had become a sheep by association. He had lost himself and become one of them.
One hot day, four years later, the shepherd sat on a rock, taking refuge in the slight shade of a leafless tree. He watched over his flock as they waded into the quiet, flowing water of a river to drink. The lion who thought he was a sheep followed them into the water to drink. Suddenly, just across the river, there appeared out of the thick jungle bush a large beast that the lion cub had never seen before. The sheep panicked and, as if under the spell of some survival instinct, leaped out of the water and dashed toward the direction of the farm. They never stopped until they were all safely huddled behind the fence of the pen. Strangely, the lion cub, who was now a grown lion, was also huddled with them, stricken with fear.
While the flock scrambled for the safety of the farm, the beast made a sound that seemed to shake the forest. When he lifted his head above the tall grass, the shepherd could see that he held in his blood-drenched mouth the lifeless body of a lamb from the flock. The man knew that danger had returned to his part of the forest.
Seven days passed without further incident, and then, while the flock grazed, the young lion went down to the river to drink. As he bent over the water, he suddenly panicked and ran wildly toward the farmhouse for safety. The sheep did not run and wondered why he had, while the lion wondered why the sheep had not run since he had seen the beast again. After a while, the young lion went slowly back to the flock and then to the water to drink again. Once more, he saw the beast and froze in panic. It was his reflection in the water.
While he tried to understand what he saw, suddenly, the beast appeared out of the jungle again. The flock dashed with breakneck speed toward the farmhouse, but before the young lion could move, the beast stepped in the water toward him and made that deafening sound that filled the forest. For a moment, the young lion felt that his life was about to end. He realized that he saw not just one beast, but twoóone in the water and one before him.
His head was spinning with confusion as the beast came within ten feet of him and growled at him face-to-face with frightening power in a way that seemed to say to him, “Try it, and come and follow me.”
HE FELT STIRRINGS THAT HE HAD NEVER KNOWN BEFORE.
As fear gripped the young lion, he decided to try to appease the beast and make the same sound. However, the only noise that came from his gaping jaws was the sound of a sheep. The beast responded with an even louder burst that seemed to say, “Try it again.” After seven or eight attempts, the young lion suddenly heard himself make the same sound like the beast. He also felt stirrings in his body and feelings that he had never known before. It was as if he was experiencing a total transformation in mind, body, and spirit.
Suddenly, there stood in the river of life two beasts growling at and to each other. Then the shepherd saw something he would never forget. As the beastly sounds filled the forest for miles around, the big beast stopped, turned his back on the young lion, and started toward the forest. Then he paused and looked at the young lion one more time and growled, as if to say, ìAre you coming?î The young lion knew what the gesture meant and suddenly realized that his day of decision had arrivedóthe day he would have to choose whether to continue to live life as a sheep or to be the self he had just discovered. He knew that to become his true self, he would have to give up the safe, secure, predictable, and simple life of the farm and enter the frightening, wild, untamed, unpredictable, dangerous life of the jungle. It was a day to become true to himself and leave the false image of another life behind. It was an invitation to a ìsheepî to become the king of the jungle. Most importantly, it was an invitation for the body of a lion to possess the spirit of a lion.
After looking back and forth at the farm and the jungle a few times, the young lion turned his back on the farm and the sheep with whom he had lived for years, and he followed the beast into the forest to become who he always had beenóa lion king.
LASTING CHANGE CAN OCCUR ONLY WHEN IT TAKES PLACE IN THE SPIRIT OF THE MIND.
As I sat there listening to this fantastic story, I was engulfed by the revelation of the deep principles it communicated relating to leaders, leadership, and the critical process involved in discovering and becoming your true self. I went away from that village with a deeper understanding of why it is so difficult for many individuals to make that transition across the river to their true selves. I suddenly understood that lasting change could occur only when it took place in the spirit of the mind. Without this metamorphosis, no amount of training, study, or education could transform a follower into a leader. In essence, a converted attitude is the key to a transformed life. Until this attitude change happens, the lion will still think, act, respond, and live like a sheep instead of the king of the jungle.
A DECISION AFFECTING THE FUTURE
Just as the young lionís genuine growl revealed his inherent strength, you can release the inherent leadership strength within you when you come to understand your true self. Just as the young lion watched the beast walking away and knew that he had to make a decision about his future, you have a choice to make about your own future. Just as the young lion looked back at the farm where the sheep were and then looked toward the forest where the lion was heading, you have to evaluate your past and your potential and step toward one or the other.
Just as the young lion knew that to become his true self, he would have to give up the safe, secure, predictable, and simple life of the farm and enter the frightening, wild, untamed, unpredictable, dangerous life of the jungle, you will have to leave the safe confines of being a follower if you are going to become a leader.
Just as the young lion turned his back on the farm, crossed the river, and walked into the forestóleaving behind his old life as a sheep and embarking on the life he was born to liveóso this book is designed to challenge you to cross your own river of intimidation and fear and enter the forest of the spirit of leadership, which you were created to manifest.
As one who has had to cross that river myself, my desire is to be a catalyst, as the beast, roaring an invitation into your life and heart and hopefully helping you to enter the adventure of discovering and releasing the leadership spirit within you.
An excerpt from “The Spirit of Leadership” by Dr. Myles Munroe.