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The “Pigness” of the Pig

Are you as suspicious as a goat, or as street smart as a tiger? Maybe you’re a real stud, like a rooster, or a dud, like a donkey. These metaphors are probably not familiar to you unless you happen to be from the Dominican Republic, one of many cultures that draw heavily from the animal kingdom to describe human traits and characteristics. For native English-speakers, using animal-based descriptions on people is a good way to get yourself in trouble, but don’t be a busy bee or a frightened mouse. Put on your thick rhino skin and read on.


Several years ago, my path intersected with a man named Joel Salatin, whose name you might recognize if you’re agriculturally inclined. Part farmer, inventor, spokesperson, and philosopher, Joel is one of the leading lights of the “beyond organic” sustainable agriculture movement in the US and has been featured in a wide range of books, articles, and films on the subject. He graciously agreed to host several of our Mongolian staff members at his farm in Virginia, orienting them to his innovative farming methods. Joel believes in respecting the “pigness of the pig,” working with, rather than against God’s design for each creature in order to bring out its best qualities. Joel works hard to understand the needs of his animals and their unique roles within the natural order, and they return the favor by making both his farm and his business thrive.  


It turns out this simple but profound idea makes Joel a revolutionary in an industry that often puts the needs of the business at odds with the needs of animals. But Joel’s management methods are not naïve, nor are they anti-progressive. When we applied them in Mongolia, minds were blown as the local people saw how a tiny herd of just five happy cows was more productive, profitable, and ecologically sustainable than 100 of theirs.


You wouldn’t expect a pig farmer to be successful without a basic understanding of ungulates, nor would you hire a cowboy who was unfamiliar with bovine behavior, yet today we can find many leaders who are not particularly studied about the complex creatures in their care. What metaphors would most accurately describe the leadership model in your organization? Are the staff like passengers on a bus (please sit quietly in your assigned seat)? horses in a race for a podium? a den of thieves and snakes? babies to be pacified and coddled? or cogs in a machine, changed out as needed? How do these metaphors honor the unique design of those created with the Imago Dei (image of God) or is a disservice being done?


While it might seem unfashionable to many in our society today, the scriptures unabashedly make use of agricultural metaphors to describe what godly leadership looks like. Consider this passage from Isaiah 40:11, “He tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young.” What might this kind of “shepherding” leadership look like in your context and how might the norms in your industry or organizational culture be creating a false choice between business results and staff care?

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