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Embracing Innovation and Continuous Learning to Face the High Hurdles of Leadership

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

"Every stumble is not a fall, and every fall does not mean failure. It's about learning, rising, and becoming better." ~ Oprah Winfrey

I had no prior experience running the high hurdles, but our track team needed some hurdlers and the points to be competitive, so I became a hurdler. I started by just trying to clear the hurdles the best way I knew how without crashing to the ground. One day while I was going through this painful process of running, stopping, and jumping over the hurdles before racing on to the next hurdle, Coach Dave Cathers approached me and asked; “Dortch, What are you doing? What’s your goal? I replied, “Coach, I want to break that school record” Coach Cathers smiled, almost laughed, and nodded while saying “It’s doable if you’re willing to put in the work and learn the process.” On that day, we committed to meet every day, after school in the upstairs hallway. Immediately, I began to question why we were meeting in the hallway, instead of on the track where the hurdles were. Imagine me showing up on the first day after our conversation and there was only one hurdle in the hallway waiting for me. I would soon learn why. For the next several months, Coach Cathers, the one hurdle, and I would meet every day. We would begin the process for me to learn how to hurdle the hurdle, not jump the hurdle. Coach Cathers encouraged me to attack the hurdle and not be afraid to fall. I would fall countless times. So much so that teachers would say that the hurdle experiment needed to cease ASAP because “Robert’s going to seriously hurt himself”. Every day for months and months we continued. Eventually, one hurdle became two hurdles to learn the three (3) step process which I needed to learn if I was going to be successful in moving from one hurdle to the next hurdle with speed and efficiency.

Through the hurdle experience, not only did I become a successful hurdler and the school record holder, but inadvertently through a journey of continuous learning, I stumbled, fell, and rose again, gradually honing my skills.

Learning to run the hurdles is a powerful metaphor for how we as leaders can cultivate innovation and continuous learning, within our teams to face challenges, while fostering a high-performing culture that embraces professional hurdles, as an opportunity for growth.

Some transferrable lessons I learned:

  1. Develop a process that works for you and your team. Coach Cathers helped me to develop a process of breaking down the hurdles into manageable steps with a focus on mastering each one.

  2. Be persistent. Innovation and continuous learning require persistent practice. I learned that progress comes from commitment and consistent effort to improve and achieve your goals.

  3. Embrace adaptability. Be willing to learn from every setback and adjust your approach accordingly.

  4. Don’t be afraid to fall. Each stumble and fall taught me something new. Learn to accept that failure is a normal and natural part of the continuous learning process. Life is not about perfection, but purpose and progress.

Sometimes we may be unsure about how to conquer the hurdles we may face when leading a team. If we’re willing to accept that continuous learning, innovation, and coaching are an important part of the process, we will increase our probability of discovering solutions and establishing processes that lead to success.

As leaders, it’s important to foster a culture that values learning and encourages creative thinking. When we create a space where innovative ideas thrive and continuous learning is appreciated, we can propel teams toward success and growth. Remember, it's not about avoiding falls but rather about the resilience to rise, adapt, and continuously improve. So, let's embrace the hurdles we encounter with a mindset of innovation and continuous learning within our teams. When you do, you will see you and your team can successfully face any challenge and soar to new heights of impact and success.


  1. Innovation Reflection: Take a moment to reflect on a significant challenge you've faced in your professional or personal life. Write down three innovative approaches or solutions you explored to overcome that challenge. Share and discuss your reflections with your team or peers, encouraging them to share their experiences as well.

  2. Continuous Learning Challenge: Challenge your team to identify one area or process where they can experiment with a new approach or technique. Encourage them to document their learnings and share their findings with the group. This exercise fosters an innovative mindset and encourages team members to embrace calculated risks and explore new possibilities.


  1. How can you incorporate innovation and continuous learning into your team's everyday practices?

  2. How can you create opportunities for cross-functional collaboration and knowledge sharing?


We would love to hear from you!

Share your experiences on continuous learning and innovation in the comments below

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