Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Why Leaders Need to Finish the Race

Like most people, I’ve been enjoying watching the latest edition of the Winter Olympics (hard not to when it’s your own country that’s serving as the host nation). While it’s certainly fun to watch the competition among the world’s best athletes, there’s also some interesting insights to be gleaned about human drives; insights which can be applied to both leadership and business practices. One such example came from watching the snowboard cross qualification runs at Cypress Mountain in Whistler, BC.

As with other skiing events, the goal in the snowboard cross qualification is to get through the course as fast as you can, navigating through the various jumps and turns that stand between the snowboarder and the finish line. Unfortunately for some skiers, this would prove to be easier said than done as they’d find themselves crashing down after some of those jumps and with it, dashing any hopes they might have had to move to the finals.

Some of these athletes dealt with this outcome by taking off their snowboard and walking off the course, seeing how they now had no chance of reaching their target. But other skiers in this same situation chose instead to dust themselves off, get back on their board, and work their way down the rest of the track so they could at least cross that finish line. In both cases, these were athletes who have spent years training for this event – honing their strengths, pushing their limits and themselves in the hopes that all this effort might translate into a place on the podium.

While some of these athletes thought it was pointless to complete their run because they were no longer in contention to win, those who got themselves back up to keep going realized that they had even more to lose by not making the effort to finish the race. These athletes recognized that the act of simply finishing the race would show that, even though they fell during the competition, they were still able to find a way to finish what they started. They understood that success can’t be reached by giving up. Rather, it’s achieved by persevering in the face of such setbacks.

Also, those athletes who did go on to finish the race understood that this wasn’t just about them; it was about all those people in the stands – their coaches, their families, their fellow countrymen who came there to cheer them on. They understood that even though they didn’t have a chance to win a medal, they could still show those who were cheering them on that they had what it takes to finish the race. More importantly, they were also letting those in the stands know that their efforts and support were appreciated and valued for helping them reach this far in a global competition.

As leaders, this is an important lesson to remember, particularly if we get so caught up in the pursuit of reaching a desired outcome that we forget the value of completing what we started. We have to remember that like these skiers, we have our team members and employees supporting and aiding us, with the expectation that even if we don’t look like we’re going to reach the desired goal, we’re still going to pick ourselves up and keep pushing to finish the race.

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  1. On February 22nd, 2010 at 7:42 AM Frank Dickinson said:


    Excellent as always – love the analogy.

    I'm a big NASCAR fan. I remember watching a race last season where Carl Edwards (fellow Midwesterner!) was racing for the win when he was involved in a horrible accident. Undaunted, Carl crawled out of the wreckage and ran the rest of the way to the finish line – crossing with arms held high in celebration.

    Asked why he did this Carl simply said: "It was such a great race, I just wanted to finish."

    Finish the deal no matter what. Great advice for all leaders in every field.

  2. On February 22nd, 2010 at 12:58 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Frank; I'm glad you enjoyed the analogy.

    Too often, people tend to dismiss sports because there's no 'intellectual' element to it. However, what we can find in sporting events are valuable insights into teamwork, interpersonal dynamics, leadership, and human drive. That alone makes it a useful tool to learn from, if not also something to be entertained by in watching the human spirit for healthy competition soar in an environment of mutual respect.

    Hmm, I sense another post coming on. 🙂

  3. On February 22nd, 2010 at 5:58 PM Paul Kiser said:

    Nice article. People get caught up in the goal and forget that all learning is accomplished on the way to the goal. The education we receive on the way to the goal is much more valuable than the glory of success of achieving the goal. Success lasts only for a moment. The winner of the Gold Medal in 2010 has no place to go but down.

  4. On February 22nd, 2010 at 8:04 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that there’s so much to be gained from walking down a path toward a specific goal beyond simply achieving that milestone. I disagree, though, that those who win whatever we define as the gold medal have no where else to go but down as it really comes to down how we perceive that moment. In other words, when we reach that goal, will we see it as – ‘Mission accomplished’ or ‘That was great – what’s next?’. Two different perspectives that will lead to two different outcomes.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this, Paul. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  5. On February 22nd, 2010 at 8:17 PM Elad Sherf said:

    Great post. Respect yourself. Respect others. Respect and enjoy the game. Know how to lose and how to enjoy the participation and just the honor of taking part in such an amazing event. It is not only a recipe for leaders but for each and everyone of us everyday. If we will focus on enjoying more of what we have and achieved instead what we don’t and haven’t achieved we will do a lot for ourselves and our surroundings. Thanks for reminding me that!

  6. On February 23rd, 2010 at 7:20 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Elad. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm a big believer of the concept that there are lessons to be learned all around us and from all forms of human endeavour. As I hoped to show in this piece, the field of sports should definitely be counted among them.

  7. On February 23rd, 2010 at 12:32 AM Bruce Lynn said:

    Reminds me of my favourite poem by Dee Groberg, The Race.

  8. On February 23rd, 2010 at 11:45 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Bruce for sharing Groberg’s poem “The Race” in this discussion. It’s a wonderful piece that I always enjoy re-visiting to be inspired by again.

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