John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, is an executive coach and the author of many books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership. This blog appeared first at Forbes.
“Some guys made heroes out of [bulls].,.. In their mind they become impossible to ride.”
That is Gary Leffew, owner of a bull riding school that bears his name. As he explains in a New York Times documentary by Joris Debeij that kind of talk is self-defeating. “I tell my students not to hang around with people who make a bull sound impossible… tell you all the reasons why you can’t ride him.”
Rather Leffew advises, “Walk over to a winner and you ask him about the same bull and he goes, ‘Oh man you got him, that’s one I wanted.’” According to Leffew, 95% of people who opt to ride bulls fail at it chiefly because they cannot handle the mental aspect of bull riding.
Leffew knows of what he speaks; he won a world championship in 1970 at the age of 26 and is now in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. As a California kid his first love was motorcycles, but after seeing a rodeo he switched to riding bulls, something his father thought was safer.
A secret to Leffew’s approach is meditation, a practice he has being doing since his early twenties. “The goal is to dance with [the bull]. When you are dancing, you become one with the person you are with.” Same with bull riding. As Leffew told Caitlin Ryan for the blog The Last Word, “You’re so mentally in tune with [the bull] you go there together… The rankest bulls I ever rode… were always the easiest rides.”
Meditation is core to Leffew’s teaching. Students learn to meditate so they can prepare themselves mentally along with preparing themselves physically through their technique. His school has groomed more than a dozen World Champions. “If you’re willing to suffer through the temporary setbacks, there’s nothing you can’t achieve,” says Leffew.
While few of us will every climb on the back of a two thousand pound animal that has been bred for generations to buck and pitch whatever or whoever is on its back to the ground, Leffew’s lessons have meaning for anyone facing long odds… or any odds at all.
Mental preparation is critical to success. Too often the temptation is to prepare externally for a challenge while ignoring internal preparation. That is, executives go to great lengths in doing the work – doing research and marshaling resources – that they ignore their own mental state. Sometimes it does not matter; you are on the winning team. But when adversity strikes you are at a disadvantage because you have not strengthened your inner self. You may buckle at the first sign of resistance and like some bull riders overestimate the challenge.
One way to prepare is through the practice of mindfulness, which is the state of being fully present in the moment. You are aware of self and situation as well as what you can do or not do. As a leader mindfulness focuses also on situational awareness, being focused on the environment you are in and preparing yourself to deal with it.
Meditation is one method for learning to become more mindful but not the only way. What is required for mindfulness is learning to take stock of yourself regularly as a means of gaining perspective on your performance and your interaction with others. It is a form of self-discipline that requires commitment, the willingness to reflect and rigor to do it regularly.
Such mental prep may not ready you for the rodeo circuit but it will enable you to ride the bulls you face in your business.
Learn more about leadership from John Baldoni in his SoundviewPro course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.