Copy the Leader: Myltin Bighorn
Myltin Bighorn, d’22, is co-founder of a new non-profit to support American Indian youth. We sat down with Myltin to learn what leadership means to him.

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Jayhawks in leadership positions are everywhere you look, including through the Jayhawk Career Network. KU Alumni, in partnership with SumnerOne, is highlighting Jayhawk leaders who are models for others in their industries with our “Copy the Leader” program.

What do you do in your work?

Throughout my higher education journey at the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk Jayhawk), there was a passion instilled within me to give back to my community. More importantly, a passion for providing a top-tier support system for American Indian Youth across all tribal nations. I have since co-founded a brand called Shades of Thorpe. This upcoming 501(c)(3) non-profit organization was inspired by the greatest athlete of all time, Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox). Shades of Thorpe will support all American Indian Youth while staying dedicated through three pillars: Athletics, Leadership, and Education. Every American Indian Youth can pursue their Bright Path with the necessary assistance and guidance from Shades of Thorpe. A saying puts this vision into words “Be the person you needed when you were younger”.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

In the Dakhota Sioux tradition, there are 12 traits we stand by as people. Although each individual will have strengths and weaknesses in any quality, I believe there are three foundational traits that every leader needs to be successful. 1) Respect- your team, colleagues, and friends may have different perspectives than you and that is okay. You may not agree with them but understand that there is a need to be considerate while standing firm in your beliefs. 2) Bravery- a great leader will do what is necessary to accomplish a goal that will benefit the organization, even if that means they will stand alone. 3) Culture- as a leader, it is your job to create an environment where your team has the passion to wake up every morning and have the privilege to be a part of something great.

How do you practice leadership at your job?

“Comfort is the enemy of progress”. I stand by the value of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have created a daily routine that allows me to excel in my career and personal wellness, but I also push myself to learn and move in a way that is out of my comfort zone. Originally, I was never an early riser and was afraid of public speaking. After practice, failures, and self-critique, I now meet the Morning Star and become ecstatic when I have the opportunity to speak in front of a group for the first time. Currently, I create the time to visit with relatives (young and older) that will challenge my skills and knowledge. I understand that there will always be something new to learn and gaining the trust of others is a need. I believe this can be achieved by visiting not only with the target audience but with colleagues and your team- one by one. Also, understanding that there will be hard conversations with people you trust. It’s just a matter of knowing that you are confronting the problem, not the person.

What makes a team or group successful?

I have had the privilege to be a part of great teams in the past. With my journey entailing a path with the KU Spirit Squad in 2022 and the inaugural LoneBear/H. Roe Bartle Internship with Kansas City Chiefs Football Club in 2023, there was everything to learn from a championship culture. A successful team will find solutions to the problems and will continue the progression of moving forward. This team will have a strong leader who will guide all members as one and vision the value that everyone at the table is equal. All members will understand that it’s the leader and team vs. the problem, not the leader and problem vs. the team. A successful team will understand their individual strengths and weaknesses. They will adapt to a system that allows each member to grow and reach the needs and goals of an organization to strive to new levels. This team should have a sense of family belonging. There is trust, love, and strong communication every day. There will be time for laughing and enjoyment but the job will always get done on time.

How can leaders in your industry help their organizations adapt to change?

There was once a time when we could blame our problems on others, but we now live in a time where we are creating our own problems and degrading ourselves from within. We need to reconnect with the old ways and reconnect with our traditions. At the same time, we need to adapt to the new generation, our Native Youth. They are the answer to creating the solutions to our current problems. We will invest in them, we will be there for them, we will visit with them, we will help them accomplish their goals well after they graduate high school, and we will do that on their terms which they will understand. We are all equal, no one is above, and no one is below. One person can only do so much, and that is why a team with the same vision will solve the major issues. Do the research and embrace the change that will benefit the land, the youth, and the people for generations to come. Wówakiš’ake Wóikhuwa.

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