Depressed Bears, Elephants And Leadership

There are leadership lessons all around, in life, films, and books. What can bear baiting and circus elephants teach us about being leaders?


As any good social media specialist knows, you document what you are doing, rather than trying to come up with something new and original every time.

What I am doing, is reading Matt Haig's “How To Stop Time” 

Matt is a great writer, with immense experience of both anxiety and depression. It feels like on every page a new quote stands out to me.

Recently it was this one.

“I walked past bear garden – called the Paris Garden for some reason I never knew – and saw a giant black-furred bear in chains. It looked like the saddest creature I had ever seen.

Wounded and unkempt and resigned to his fate, sitting on the ground. The bear was a celebrity. A major draw of Bankside. “Sackerson” they called him. And there would be many times I would see or hear him in action over the coming weeks and months, pink-eyed, clawing dogs from his throat, his mouth frothing with rage, as the crowd roared in cruel and fevered excitement.

It was the only time the bear ever seemed alive, when it was fighting off death, And I would often think of that bear, and that pointless will to survive, through whatever cruelty, and pain life chose to throw in his direction”. 

Sackerson has the right idea. Keep going. Keep fighting. Every day. Through whatever cruelty and pain life throws at you. You can do this.

When I got married my speech consisted of five images. Triggers for stories I wanted to tell.

One was of an elephant 

And I told the story of how circus elephants are tied up by chains to start with. And the elephant cries, and pulls, and tries to get away. But can't.

It's a chain after all.

And it gives up.

So then the chain is replaced with a thin rope. But their view of the world is that they can't break the chain. They have lost hope.

So they never try. The tourists think, “well if the elephant wanted to escape, it could, it's just a thin rope”.

Why am I telling stories of bears and elephants? 

It comes down to leadership. Both internal and external.

You can endure far more than you think. Watching my wife give birth certainly made me realise this. But also reading Viktor Frankl's “Man's Search For Meaning”.

He was in a concentration camp, and realised he could survive on a piece of bread a day, or sleeping three people side by side on the wooden slats of a single bed.

You should test your boundaries. Regularly. Maybe the chain isn't a chain anymore. Maybe today you can achieve that goal.

Perhaps you now have the strength, skills, knowledge, connections, to crush it!

My wife broke my chains, and set me free.

Leaders inspire you to endure, but also to not accept your reality.

We are all leaders.

Whose chains are you helping to break?

Previously published on

Educator / Consultant / Motivational Speaker / Author & Writer / Media & Communications Specialist. My daughter was born in January 2016 and I developed post-natal depression (which I did not know men could get) and I realised I had been struggling with anxiety and depression my whole life. The fight back was intense, but I learnt many skills and techniques to manage it. I realised that I, like many of us, had been living a life of fear. We stay on the sidelines instead of chasing our dreams. My mission is now to help make the world a better place and encourage others to go from farm boy to Jedi.