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Baroness Sue Campbell, Chair, UK Sport Trust on culture change, leadership lessons and not just sitting on the bench

From PE college to a key figure in the London2012 Olympics, Baroness Sue Campbell reveals some of the leadership lessons she had learnt along the way that enabled her to drive culture change through UK Sport, and then down into 40 further organisations, resulting in the outstanding success of the UK teams.

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Video – 10 mins plus

In this funny and insightful video, Baroness Sue Campbell, Chair, UK Sport Trust, reveals the leadership lessons that gave her the toolbox to affect culture change in UK Sport, “not a bad organisation, but it wasn’t a great one.” Between 2003-06, Sue and her team, including Wavelength speaker John Steele, shifted the culture of UK Sport from an organisation “that understood what it was to be good, to one that had an ambition to be great.”

In this introduction, and in the workshop which followed, Sue focuses on three key areas to explain how she achieved this:

1. How to set a world-class vision?

Inspired in part by US football coach, Vince Lombardi, who believes that what you are trying to do when producing the best team is to seek perfection – “you will never find perfection, but on the way you might find excellence” – Sue set about trying to enable her team to understand what their world-class organisation could look like. She finally found a way to express this after a visit to an F1 race where she was a guest in Michael Schumacher’s pit. There she saw the tyre change team practice and practice to reduce their time by 0.01 of a second and met the man who’s highly valued job it was to keep the floor of the pit crystal clean. Ironically not an Olympic sport, it was through this external piece of stimulus, and thus the questions Sue asked about her own organisation, that her team were finally able to hook onto her vision.

2. How do you unlock the creativity and potential of your people

At Loughborough University, where she was sitting on the coaches bench just telling her team what to do, she learnt the power of asking questions instead: “coaching isn’t about answers, it’s about questions and the way you really get the best out of people, and the way you help them to learn to make great decisions, is to not make them for them.”

This insight became the listening and communications skills that served her so brilliantly when trying to unlock the potential of her team at UK Sport. Here she asked three key questions of all of her staff:

  • What do you do?
  • What could you do?
  • What’s stopping you from doing that?

The answers to those questions enabled her to give her team the freedom to do what was often the same job but in a completely new, innovative way – and with it unlocked the passion and drive for them to seek perfection in their role.

3. How do you drive cultural change across a system

UK Sport is the hub of a 40 further organisations, each dedicated to a specific sport and in receipt of investment from UK Sport. Sue talks about how she drove culture change down into each of those separate organisation using both the inspiration of what she had achieved at UK Sport as a model and a tough investment strategy to force each oganisations to take her expectations seriously.

A simple, yet key part of her strategy was to ensure that the different organisations shared their best-practices and learnings. By being open and supportive of each other’s triumphs and failures, each organisation strove to achieve the best culture, as well as achieve performance success.


Baroness Sue Campbell is part of the Wavelength Speakers Bureau. To view her full biography, find links to video’s and to book Sue to speak at your own event go to Wavelength Speakers Bureau Baroness Sue Campbell.

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