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BW Businessworld

PI TALKIES: Lessons From The High Jump

Being a leader is simple really. Just think like a high jumper! Keep your eyes on the hurdle, on the challenge ahead

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The Rio Olympic Games are behind us now. And while the three Indian superwomen made us all proud, it is the less fancy High Jump event I want to talk about. Not because of any record set, but because of two less-obvious lessons that I thought leaders would find interesting.

For the first lesson, let’s flashback to 1968. Remember Dick Fosbury? He won the Gold at the Games in Mexico that year. But that’s not his real claim to fame. Fosbury is the man whose technique changed the way athletes jumped over the bar. Till then, athletes ran straight in, came face-to-face with the bar and jumped with their feet up first, and then the body and head followed. Dick did the opposite. The exact opposite. He ran towards the bar, turned his back to it disdainfully, and then launched himself over the bar, head first. People watching could hardly believe what they saw. It looked odd. Weird. But it worked. And today, every jumper does what’s now come to be known as the ‘Fosbury Flop’.

Every leader should be doing it too. Sometimes when a problem seems difficult to solve or a challenge appears daunting, maybe a good idea to change the way you go about trying to crack it. Do the unusual. Defy the norm. Are you only doing what everyone else does? Only doing what you’ve always done? Maybe time to try a different approach. No matter what your line of business, no matter how successful you’ve been, think of Fosbury and try something different. Think different. Do different.

For lesson two, let’s take a quick look at the format of the high jump event. Every competitor gets three tries to clear the bar, and if they can do that they get to take another shot after the bar is raised. If they can’t clear it in three tries, they get knocked out. The elimination continues till there are fewer people left after each round — until there are three — then two — and finally one — the winner. Does it stop there? No it doesn’t. Even after the winner has been identified, the bar gets raised again and the winner jumps to see if he can clear the bar. If he succeeds, the bar gets raised again — and again — until such time as he tries and fails after three attempts. The high jump is also about seeing how high can the finest athlete jump. And it’s an event where the winner has to fail — before he wins.

Winning in high jump — and indeed in business and in life — is not just about being better than the other guy. It’s about going beyond, and testing yourself to see how good you can be. It’s a good mindset to adopt. A mindset that urges you — nay compels you — to strive for excellence. John Buchanan — the two-time World Cup winning Australian coach built his all-conquering team on a philosophy of “Good is not enough if better is possible”.

Too often, as leaders, we are scared to fail. We hesitate to attempt something we are not sure we will be successful at. We play safe. The truly great leaders get comfortable with failure. A loss is never the end of the world. Try till you fail. Push yourself till it hurts. Stretch your limits, or else you will never know how good you might have been.

Being a leader is simple really. Just think like a high jumper! Keep your eyes on the hurdle, on the challenge ahead. Believe in your ability to jump over the bar, to overcome. After every success, raise the bar. Dare to think different — do the Fosbury flop.

And yes, one more thing. Remember, you haven’t really won until you’ve failed.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Prakash Iyer

Iyer is an author, speaker and leadership coach , and former MD of Kimberly Clark Lever

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