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Change: Lessons from a Sporting Great

Steve Smith

24 May 2023

I wanted to share my thoughts on a topic that’s really important to lots of our clients and a topic that weaves its way through all of our leadership programmes – and it probably will till the end of time, and that’s ‘change’. It’s something that’s really important, because we all have to face it at some stage, and we all have to deal with it at some stage in our careers. Before I got involved in learning and development, I was an international high jumper, and if it wasn’t for somebody who was prepared to think really differently about changing things, then I probably wouldn’t be here at all today.


Change is an inevitable part of life, and it’s our ability to react and lead through it that makes all the difference. One great example of this is Dick Fosbury, an international high jumper who challenged the norm and created a new technique called the ‘Fosbury Flop’ that changed his sport forever.

Dick Fosbury turned the high jump event on its head by generating different forces that propelled him over the bar headfirst. This new radical technique won him an Olympic gold medal and dominated his sport. However, many athletes at that time were resistant to this change, sticking to their old technique and movements, even though Dick Fosbury’s new technique was obviously the way to go.

Dick Fosbury’s response to this resistance to change was that most elite athletes had invested so much time and energy in their old technique that they didn’t want to give it up. This is a common problem in business as well. Many people continue to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, instead of looking for different ways to gain a competitive edge.

Change is always present in our lives, whether it’s changing budgets or leadership teams, the economy or business priorities, or customer attitudes. The key to dealing with change is having a mindset that challenges our processes and what worked for us before. We don’t have to throw everything out, but we need to understand what’s adding value and what needs to go.

Challenging the mindset of those within our businesses and different functions is especially important when people have multiple priorities, and the immune system of the organisation is fighting against it. It’s important to understand that change isn’t unprecedented. We’ve faced decades of change throughout history, dealing with technological advances, financial crises, different working patterns, war, political unrest, mass migration, and more. What’s unprecedented is the pace of change we face today.

Our reaction to change and how we lead through it is what will make the difference in the end. Are you going to stick to the old techniques and methods, or are you going to embrace change and try new things to gain a competitive edge?

One way to lead through change is by fostering a culture of innovation within your organisation. Encouraging your team to come up with new ideas and try different approaches can lead to breakthroughs and positive change.

Another way to lead through change is by being open to new perspectives and learning from others. Collaborating with different departments or seeking the advice of experts in the field can help you see things from a fresh perspective and identify new opportunities.


Change is an inevitable part of life, and it’s up to us to embrace it and lead through it. Whether you’re facing changes in your personal or professional life, challenging your mindset and being open to new ideas can help you stay ahead of the curve. So, take a lesson from Dick Fosbury and be willing to challenge the norm and try new things – you never know where it might take you!

Steve Smith


Steve Smith is one of the most sought-after speakers with extensive experience of working with leading corporate organisations Raising the Bar for clients across the globe for over 20 years. He is a former Academy of Chief Executives speaker of the year.

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