Steering the Flock

Written By Wensdy Von Buskirk

In business, knowing your management style helps you recognize your strengths and weaknesses and how they can be applied to maximize the performance of your team.

A large field of study is dedicated to identifying and analyzing management styles, from authoritarian (“do as I say”) to democratic (“what do you think?”) and everything in between.

Enter Shepherd Leadership.

It’s a management style that longtime Walsh Professor Dr. Phil Fioravante has been researching — and espousing. As he explains it, the Shepherd Leader steers from the back, assessing threats and opportunities, encouraging and orienting the team and directing the organization toward a common goal.

As a longtime academic and entrepreneur, Fioravante became intrigued with the concept, but could find little information about the management style outside of a Christian frame of reference. That’s when he formally launched his own research.

Fioravante gathered all the references he could find, embarked on case studies and interviewed 15 CEOs in various industries about how they apply the principles of Shepherd Leadership.

He compiled his work in a seminal paper, “The Shepherd Leader: Orienting, Harnessing and Adapting the Collective Intelligence of the Team.” It was published in the Journal of Scholastic Inquiry in fall of 2020.

“I’ve always been keen on understanding the importance of leadership and how we lead,” Fioravante says. “Having leadership styles or approaches that fit the specific organizational culture is essential for success.”

Defining a Shepherd Leader

According to Fioravante’s model, the Shepherd Leader has a back balcony perspective in that she is able to see the entire flock in front of her, as well as the landscape the organization must navigate as the team moves toward a common goal.

As the Shepherd Leader drives her flock forward, she keeps an eye out for risks and adjusts course accordingly. The Shepherd Leader allows the most nimble to run ahead, makes sure the weakest don’t fall behind and constantly shores up the fringes of the team.

Despite their elevated vantage point, Shepherd Leaders are very much part of the flock. The management style most closely aligns with the Servant Leader, but Shepherd Leaders are more action-oriented, Fioravante says. They provide cohesiveness, clarity of direction and reassurance in uncertain times like those of the COVID pandemic.

A Leader with Style

In his 20 years at Walsh, Fioravante has taught many marketing and management classes. He is best known for the Creativity and Innovation course in Walsh’s Master of Science in Marketing program, and for a class he teaches in sustainability and ethical business practices.

Like most Walsh professors, he is a business leader outside of his role at the college and sits on the board of several industrial manufacturing and service-based businesses.

And he considers himself to be a Shepherd Leader.

“I have always provided encouragement, allowed people to take calculated risks, learn from their actions and be accountable,” he says.

Fioravante cites famous figures throughout history who took the shepherd approach: Genghis Khan, Madam C. J. Walker, Nelson Mandela and Ernest Shackleton among them. He hopes his work defining the concept allows other leaders to recognize and maximize their management style.

Fioravante’s groundbreaking work on Shepherd Leadership has been lauded by his peers at Walsh. He also says he is grateful to be part of a college that encourages scholarly research like his own.

“Scholarship is one way that my colleagues and I can make relevant and timely contributions in our respective areas, and at the same time bring current insights into the classroom environment for the benefit of our students,” he says.

In his personal life, Fioravante divides his time between homes in Michigan and Florida. His wife of 31 years, Barbara, is a nurse and graduate of the Walsh Master of Arts in Business program. Fioravante likes spending time with his two grown daughters and his extended family and friends. He also enjoys golf, bird hunting and fly fishing.

He says he is excited to see where his research on Shepherd Leadership takes him, and what the future brings at Walsh.

“Our new president is an exceptional visionary and the right person at the right time in Walsh’s history. Our new provost’s passion, vision and camaraderie is ever-present,” Fioravante says. “This college is about providing best-in-class experiences for our learners, and the faculty and administrative teams are highly collegial and supportive of each other.”

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