Servant Leadership from a “Babe”

Kent Keithby Dr. Kent M. Keith
Chief Executive Officer
Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership Asia
Thursday, April 25, 2013

Babe Pig - SheepWho can resist a movie about a cute talking pig who learns to be a sheep dog? In Babe, Farmer Hoggett wins a little pig in a contest and decides to keep him around his sheep farm. One day, Hoggett looks out the window and sees that the little pig, named Babe, has divided up the chickens into white and brown groups. Hoggett gets curious. Shearing the sheep one day out in the field, he calls on Babe to move the sheep out of the pen.

Babe is being “raised” by the female sheep dog, Fly, who gives Babe quick instructions on what to do. She tells Babe that the sheep have to know who’s boss. Babe has to dominate them. So Babe tries, but the sheep laugh at him. Fly tells him: “You’re treating them like equals. They are inferior. We are their masters. Let them doubt it for a second and they’ll walk all over you. Make them feel inferior. Abuse them! Insult them! Bite them! Be ruthless! Bend them to your will.”

Babe tries again. He calls the sheep buttheads, and even bites one of them. The sheep want to know what has gotten into him—he used to be such a nice pig. When Babe explains that he is trying to be a sheep dog, Maa, one of the sheep, replies: “There are enough wolves in the world already. All a pig like you needs to do is ask.” So Babe asks them, and they line up and leave the pen in perfect formation. “Thank you very much,” Babe tells them. “It was very kind of you.”

Later, on the way home, Fly wants to know how he did it. “I just asked them and they did it,” Babe replied. “I just asked them nicely.” Fly wasn’t happy. “We don’t ask sheep, we tell them,” she responds.

Fly is a perfect example of someone who believes in the power model of leadership. She assumes that the sheep are dumb and lazy and won’t do what needs to be done unless she threatens them (or, “they are threatened.”). One has to be ruthless. Babe discovers the service model of leadership. He treats the sheep with respect, listens to them, and then leads them in the way that is most effective for him and for the sheep. He does what servant-leaders do, and it works. What a great reminder for us humans!

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