Book review: Leadership through the desert

30th Aug 2019
Book review: Leadership through the desert

The Modern Shepherd – Leadership Lessons from the Desert. By AlBaraa H Taibah. Pp 134. PB. Published by Constable. £12.99

The Modern Shepherd is a personal memoir, pegged on the lessons Taibah learned tending sheep in the desert. He claims all Prophets of the Holy Books learned the art of leadership from tending sheep, and so too would he. What resulted was a lesson in humility and the subtle art of caring for a creature before it is willing to be led. This book is Taibah’s philosophy on ‘care centred’ leadership peppered with stories about his achievements that serve as evidence of his proposed ‘Shepherding leadership.’

Taibah sets aside 10 days to survive in the desert – of which he survives 6 – coming out with a sense of profound personal change. The author sets up a challenge to learn the art of shepherding, but ‘the flock and I don’t speak the same language; I cannot become a shepherd before I connect.’ (p39). The sheep stay away from him and refuse to be led by him. It is only when he started caring, that they begin to gravitate towards him.

Taibah cites our human ability to care as a central theme in this book and states,‘Care is not asking how you feel…Care is understanding why and individual is behaving the way they do.  (It) adds value to the understanding of the current issues and empowers us to achieve higher results. Connect before offering care.’ (p 57).

Taibah credits all his successes down to this one idea. The shepherd leader cares about the people before leading them; which is genius in its simplicity, but I do question if it can be applied as a leadership principle across the board.

He uses the lessons learned in the six days to talk about his achievements, such as a national project to set standards and licence educators in Saudi Arabia which was previously met with a lot of opposition. However, when he flipped the organisational structure and put teachers at the centre of identifying and delivering standards, he was met with a lot more success.

Taibah also goes into his failures where he did not heed his lessons of the desert and damaged his team relationships in favour of meeting a deadline. He did not take the time to ‘care’ for his team, and although he met the deadline he damaged human relationships as a result.

These projects seem to be high profile projects but to me, they come across as abstract notions as Taibah does not give detailed descriptions nor does he go into how he achieved his professional positions. As a result, I found it superficial as an autobiography.

The only personal journey that we are given details of is the 6 days in the desert. It is, no doubt, a fascinating experience, but beyond that, the book lacks depth. There is no journey – except for his personal growth in the desert. As it is a biographical narrative, the entire journey of personal development is very important and has been grossly overlooked.

So if you wish to know what it feels like to spend (less) then a week in the desert taking care of sheep, by all means, do read the book. But if you are looking for ways to create a lasting impact into communities and societies that we live in, perhaps another book such as Karen Armstrong’s, Muhammed, a prophet of our time or Nelson Mandela’s, Long Walk to Freedom might be a better and more thorough alternative.

Aasiya I Versi

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