The Bull Looks Different: Leading with Faith and Religion

by | Nov 2, 2022 | blog | 0 comments

I just interviewed author, Rose Ann Forte for my Best Boss Bootcamp podcast, calling the episode “Ya Gotta Have Faith” (to be released in a couple of weeks). I asked her to be a guest not only because I have enormous respect for her and her work, but also because she pisses me off, challenges me, and patiently waits for me – as I patiently wait for her. She’s a practicing Christian who puts her faith at the center of her life. Which is pretty much exactly NOT me.

What is it about religion and faith-based values that bother me so much? 

Rose Ann is the author of the book, The Plans He Has For Me – a daily Christian devotional for going alcohol-free for 12 weeks. She speaks clearly and confidently about the power her Christian core belief system gives her. On the other hand, however, I am a self-proclaimed “recovering Catholic”, liberal gay man. I think I still have a bit of PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) from 8 years of Catholic school bullying and teasing (not just by students either, teachers too), admittedly while receiving a quality education and having a lot of fun (Go Saints!). 

My hackles are raised when I hear about Christian conservatism and religiosity. It brings me back to defending over and over again that Leviticus 20:13 — a sentence in the Old Testament English bible that says “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (never mind that also contained in this part of the bible, we are warned not to eat shellfish or have sex with a woman who is having her period) — is insulting, frightening, and just friggin’ wrong. For me and for many LGBTQ+ people, Christianity is the enemy.  It is the bully. It is the oppressor. The dogma has created suffering, violence, and deep scarring for many.

And yet, I am a firm believer that the best person — the best leader and manager — brings their full and authentic selves to their work. This authenticity gives leaders the edge that fuels their impact and influence. We need that! So what to do with this tug-of-war? How can I understand the pull between oppressive religious ideology and being a fully authentic leader? 

I coach and train my clients to lead and manage their people with kindness, empathy, conviction, humor, and integrity. These qualities are the hallmarks of my BEST BOSS avatar. I believe in them as … well, as the word of god (with a small “g”). They are the truth and the light — at least as far as the world of leadership and management is concerned.

And therein is where Rose Ann and I are deeply aligned and passionate in our work — and in our living. In the podcast, we comment on how delving into and uncovering our deeply held personal values — identifying them with agnostic words and descriptions — was supremely helpful and nurturing for our friendship and collegiality.

I recently heard a powerful expression in my new favorite book, This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism, by Ashton Appleton (order it and read it now – you can thank me later) that helps me understand Rose Ann. The expression is, The bull looks different once you enter the ring.”  Apparently, this is a Mexican saying referring to a matador in a bullfighting ring (an activity hopefully going the way of the dinosaurs), whose point of view with the bull is very different in the ring, than the point of view of the bull from outside of it. 

I’m in the ring of my life now, and all the experiences that brought me to this place in my life, have led me to see the bull of Christianity as a bull to keep some distance from. I may never see the bull the same way Rose Ann sees it. She is in her own ring and sees her own bull. That said, our rings can still overlap even with two different bulls. And that is where the real gold is … specifically, finding where our deeply held values intersect.

In the podcast interview, you’ll hear Rose Ann talking about the importance of “touching, inspiring, and moving” others. As with some podcast conversations, there were easily what we could both agree on as critical qualities in a leader. But the real gasoline-on-the-fire insight that Rose Ann crafted with me was that one’s faith and religion can be the personal foundation of those values, and that deeply help held personal religious conviction doesn’t have to be part of one’s external other-leadership. It is in fact, part of one’s inner self-leadership. 

I don’t need to see the bull the same way as Rose Ann and she doesn’t need to see mine, either. But what we can see together is that strength and conviction are the foundation of leadership and inspiration — and we all need that. Let’s work and leverage those values.  Religious conviction and practice start with values, and those values tend to be universally desired and shared. Conversations and leadership that harness those shared values will be much more productive and effective than those that put us at odds with each other — those irreconcilable differences. That’s where our bulls look the same. That’s where we stand together.

(Special thanks to Rose Ann Forte)

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.