Are you taking the ‘Bull by the Horns’?

Courage | Mindfulness| Resilience

There is a leader in each of us. As a leader, how do you bring out your greatness and that of others?

In 2011, working in the remote Aboriginal communities of Mornington Island and Doomadgee, we asked this question as part of a leadership development program. At first, many people were a little unsure of the question and how to respond. Some felt if they didn’t hold an official ‘leadership’ position they weren’t qualified. We worked with local Aboriginal community researchers and facilitators to make the question their own asking:

  • If I were mayor for the day I would…..
  • Our everyday heroes are ……
  • I stepped up and took care of someone/something when…….

The response was moving and powerful.

We were supporting the communities to explore and develop solutions to some very tough issues like suicide and violence – described as the ‘hard yarns’. We were in awe of the number and range of people who stepped up into leadership with courage, mindfulness and resilience to take the bull by the horns.  Not suprising though, with these same values on show with gusto at the annual Doomadgee rodeo.

Our vision at Evolve is to bring the Wisdom of the Elders to the forefront of Australia’s innovation journey. We draw on Indigenous wisdom to create inclusive organisatons, connecting people to solve tough problems together through cultural awareness, community engagement and leadership programs. This Indigenous Wisdom includes the values of courage, mindfulness and resilience and from it we have much to learn as leaders.

So, what can Indigenous rodeo teach me about leadership?

Aboriginal people have played an important role in Australia’s pastoral industry with many becoming champions in the sport or station managers and CEOs of pastoral companies.

Although rodeo is relatively new to Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal people have drawn on traditional strengths within Indigenous culture, to stamp their unique brand (pardon the pun) on the sport and ultimately upon leadership.

Aboriginal people, and their life experiences and survival,
brings added dimensions of courage and resilience to rodeo. Collaboration and teamwork feature strongly among Aboriginal peoples while Dreamtime philosophy and practices like Dadirri (Deep Listening) teach Indigenous meditation methods that instil balance, inner harmony and mindfulness.

Although a dangerous sport, bull-riding has much to teach us about leadership.

“It’s a metaphor for life,” says Gary Leffew, world champion bull rider who has been training top competitors in the field for over three decades. It’s all about mindfulness, he points out and finding one’s balance. According to Leffew, bull riding teaches us courage and resilience and facing our inner demons.

“The battle in rodeo is not with the animal, it’s with the weakness within yourself” says the former world champ. And while bull riding is an individual sport, it requires the assistance of other people, reminding us of the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Ultimately though, bull riding requires fearlessness. As one young female rider remarked, “You can’t fear anything if you want to succeed.”

Bull riding as model for business leaders and entrepreneurs

Leffew runs a bull riding school in Pennsylvania in the USA where he has trained 13 world champions besides himself. Not all his students go on to become professional bull riders but several have become multi-millionaires in business. As he explains,
“The attitude and the philosophy they learned about riding a bull carries over into business as well because what is tougher to look  at everyday than an 1800 pound mad-as-hell bull?”

How are you taking the bull by the horns?

So let’s turn the spotlight back on you now. It’s quite simple. This year we (as Evolve Directors) are focussing on the values of courage, resilience and mindfulness. What does this mean in a practical sense? It means for:

  1. Starting and finishing the day with gratitude

  2. Living each day as though it were our last – asking each morning – if today were my last – how would I approach things differently?

  3. Being mindful during certain activities through the day –for example, taking a walk as though it were the last time

  4. Observing our fear, befriending it. If the action seems right, challenging ourselves to step through fear and do it

  5. Doing things outside of our comfort zone

  6. Challenging and supporting each other

  7. Persisting – to quote Mary Anne Radmacher “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” We try again tomorrow.

Do I have to ride a bull to be a great leader?

We have drawn from Indigenous wisdom and packaged our own ideas into two exciting, unique and disruptive executive leadership programs. Our day program is run in your workplace, the immersion program is out on Country where you attend rodeo – but bull riding is optional!

Benefits of the day program include:

  • A deeper appreciation and understanding of Indigenous culture and what it teaches us about leadership
  • Taking the bull by the horns to initiate Indigenous projects
  • Become a Champion and Ally for Indigenous peoples
  • Instil balance, inner harmony and mindfulness through Indigenous cultural practices
  • Connect with other leaders and strengthen business networks

The day program can run from 4 to 7 hours – we design and adapt it to fit your organisational needs. 


If you are interested in finding out more about our Executive Leadership programs, contact us to organise a call. 

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