My career journey: Jacob Leak

Three states. One goal. Jacob Leak shares his career journey in the feedlot industry. He’s evidence that you can be a great leader while needing a helping hand with your own development.

Jacob Leak, Operations Manager at Teys Australia Jindalee Feedlot, NSW

Jacob Leak doesn’t mince words when it comes to his advice to individuals starting out in the feedlot industry; “As leaders, we don’t always have the answers, this is okay.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” But like the best leaders, Jacob also walks the talk.

Operations Manager at Teys Australia Jindalee Feedlot, Jacob is fresh out of the Training Rural Australians In Leadership [TRAIL) program. We caught up with him just two days after its conclusion –  where he was one of two feedlot industry professionals sponsored by the Australian Lot Feeders Association, in conjunction with Meat and Livestock Australia, to attend TRAIL. The scholarship is worth $10,450 per position.  

Learning on The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation TRAIL

TRAIL is a cross-sector, challenge-based leadership program set in Canberra and region, for Australia’s future emerging rural leaders. The week-long program takes diverse people from different occupations, communities, and backgrounds and expands their leadership skills.

“I’m really looking forward to applying some of the leadership practices developed on the TRAIL program to be able to better understand and guide employees, motivating them to achieve the best possible outcomes within a team environment while keeping things running proactively,” Jacob said. 

Describing himself as an ‘approachable leader who tries to get the best out of his team’ Jacob said the TRAIL program helped him understand how to balance approachability with authoritativeness. 

“I try to lead by example and show my team that I’m willing to get in and do the less appealing jobs because I won’t ask my staff to do something I won’t do myself,” he said. 

“But as a leader, it’s also really important to be firm with staff to ensure a productive work environment so it’s a balancing act of those attributes.” 

Following the cattle tracks 

A career in the cattle industry was always on the cards for Jacob – and he’s crossed more than a few thousand kilometres making his ambition a reality. 

Growing up on the family’s cattle property near Cootamundra, NSW, Jacob worked on one of the region’s largest sheep and cattle enterprises after finishing his schooling. 

After a few years, the call of the Northern Territory grew louder and he packed his bags and headed north. Jacob spent five years honing his skills – both with people and cattle – and worked his way up to head stockman.

In 2019 Jacob headed home to run the family farm but as dry conditions prevailed, a job in the Jindalee Feedlot as a pen rider opened the door to a career in the feedlot industry. He soon became Livestock Manager and has now been Jindalee Feedlot’s Operations Manager for 18-months. 

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable 

Jacob is a current participant in the ALFA Margin and People Management (MPM) program – Course 13. The course is specifically designed to help lot feeders and industry professionals gain a greater understanding of managing a modern feedlot. It covers a range of topics from managing finances to crisis management. 

Jacob said getting out of his comfort zone, challenging himself, and networking with like-minded individuals has been invaluable. 

“I’m not the best public speaker but the skills and techniques I’ve gained around planning public speaking and presentations to better cope when I’m up in front of people has been a real game changer,” he said. 

Jacob said all staff at Jindalee Feedlot are encouraged to continue to add to their skill set through the various courses now available to the lot feeding industry through Feedlot TECH. 

“It’s been a challenging couple of years with staffing, COVID 19 and environmental issues, but we’re now coming to a point where we’re now in a position to put people through the courses online and they’ve been really well-received,” Jacob said. 

“The interactiveness with the videos and questions keeps staff engaged and we’ve had good feedback, particularly on the Antimicrobial Stewardship in Feedlots course.” 

Cattle at the core 

A typical day for Jacob can see him looking after all aspects of the feedlot, from maintenance, to the feedmill, to the livestock. 

Jacob communicates with each supervisor from every team to ensure they’re best placed to perform their daily tasks effectively. But at the heart is his commitment to caring for cattle. 

“In a nutshell, everything I do is to serve the cattle,” Jacob said. “Making sure they’re fed, that sick animals are treated, and that any maintenance required gets done is crucial.

“And that’s the goal for everyone in the feedlot industry, so for anyone new to the industry, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re all here willing to help you.”

Professionals in the Australian lot-feeding industry who are required to apply specialised leadership and management knowledge and skills are encouraged to undertake ALFA’s Margin and People Management (MPM) program or the Training Rural Australians In Leadership [TRAIL) program. The Leadership Essentials virtual learning series is available on the industry’s dedicated online careers and training hub, Feedlot TECH, by the Australian Institute of Management (AIM).