Breaking the code – learning to unlock high performance

Jim Steele is an international speaker and business adviser who has worked with companies and sports teams for 25 years to inspire performance at the highest level and maintain resilience.

Following his debut at London’s summer event in June, KX speaks to Jim to understand what it takes to reach our best.

‘Change is hard; humans don’t like change…’

We’ve heard the mantras, listened to the seminars and probably resisted our fair share too. But in a world of high performance, change is a constant topic around the board table and pivotal to company survival. Our ability to adapt allows innovation, progress, self-development and growth – all things that sound great… on paper.

“There is a simple formula at the centre of all of this,” says Jim. “The event, plus your response, equals the outcome. It’s not what’s happening; it’s our response to what is happening. What you do reflects how you feel.”

That’s worth reflecting on. We often blame things around us for how we feel, but in truth our response is the only thing occurring in that moment. When something happens at work, one person could scream, while another celebrates.

“That’s what causes us to feel confidence or excitement,” he says. “If you can control those things, you have more chance of responding to the event in a resourceful way.”

But this can be challenging. Top-performing leaders appear to have it all worked out: listening, responding, delegating and reflecting. It’s like change flows over them like a warm summer breeze.

The reality is we all have years of conditioning, ways of responding and thinking patterns that don’t always serve. It takes conscious effort to learn, reflect and take a decision to change. This is the heavy lifting of personal development.

Jim offers some advice

“How do you focus on what you are thinking? One way is to externalise it, to write it down,” he says.

“Before challenging situations, what are you thinking about, what are you focussed on, what’s in your imagination then?

“Also, be aware of your posture and breathing. Anything about performance is about awareness; once you start, you notice things more.

He recommends, twice a week, writing down the answer to three questions:

What am I doing well?

What have learned about what didn’t go so well?

Based on what I have learned, what would I change?

“Over a few weeks, you start to see patterns of content. You feel better because you recognise your wins,” he says.

And this can be transferred into organisations, too. Faced with a set of behaviours or a vision, for example, people can reflect on what they can do to respond. They can collectively ask the questions above.

Jim adds: “Getting people involved in group discussions is a better way than running a course sometimes. I think in terms of embedding the learning, and confidence, the good work happens after the programme. How do we challenge ourselves to change our approach?”

But the environment must be conducive to this and that’s where culture comes in. If change is hard, and can be resisted, then what’s happening around us can help or hinder our ability to change.

“There is a lot going on in the culture and environment you are in,” says Jim. “You will generally become the average of the six people you hang around with.

“Right from the space you are in, the light, the pictures on the wall, the people you are sat with – and the way people engage with each other – all those factors will contribute to how you feel and respond to challenges.”

‘I want you to tell the truth in advance’

This is a story Jim shared at London’s Knowledge Exchange about belief, which often dictates our response to an event, and can be shifted.

“It’s not what do you believe, but what do you need to believe?” he says. “I was working with a group recently and a guy came up to me in the one of the breaks and said:

‘Jim, I am running a marathon in April, and I am beginning to freak out. I read in the paper that someone died last year. I’m no athlete, but I am in the marathon and it’s starting to stress me out.’

“Don’t do it,” offered Jim.

‘I can’t do that; I’m registered, it’s for charity - I can’t move the vision.’

Jim told him: “When you are out and about, add one more thing into conversation: by the way, I am a marathon runner".

‘But I haven’t done it yet.’

Jim said: “I understand that, I want you to start telling the truth in advance. You are doing marathon runner things… reading the magazines, buying the gear.”

Does your identity statement fuel the vision or past results?

Find out more about Jim Steele’s work at