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  • Writer's picturePeter Miller

Bell Cow leaders provide us a model from whom we can learn deeply and meaningfully about coaching. The term “bell cow” is not just a catchy reference to Wisconsin’s proud dairy heritage, but a useful metaphor for leadership.

Tradition has it that farmers have been known place a large bell around the neck of the “lead cow” in a herd. Knowing that the other cows tend to congregate around the lead cow, the herd can easily be found by the farmer, even in the biggest of fields or roughest of terrains. The farmer listens for the clang of the bell and knows that by finding the bell cow, they’ll find the whole herd.

What’s interesting to note about bell cows is that the other cows naturally follow them. They watch, learn from, and follow the bell cows. Bell cows pace the herd and model the way to go. In a similar fashion, we can each benefit from “bell cows” in our own lives. We can observe, listen to, learn from, and in some cases, emulate leaders we admire. Bell cow leaders.

The Wisconsin Coaching Project is identifying and honoring several Bell Cows throughout the 2021-22 academic year. These leaders change lives. They grow the good around them.

UW Sports Leadership faculty and graduate students traveled to Milwaukee to honor Victor and Dawn Barnett, the leaders of the Running Rebels community organization, with the Bell Cow award on December 7, 2021. Victor founded the Rebels in 1980 in order to give youth a range of positive life opportunities. From modest beginnings, his organization grew into a mentoring organization that impacts thousands of lives every year. We recognize Victor and Dawn not only for the impressive outcomes that they've achieved, but also for the way they go about leading. They embody humble, collaborative, visionary leadership. Through the ups and downs that every community faces, they've remained steadfast in their commitment to the youth of Milwaukee. Congratulations, Victor and Dawn, for all that you've accomplished. And thank you for being a Bell Cows for us all.

To learn more about Victor and Dawn, listen to our interview on the Sport on the Growing Good podcast:


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