Why Bad Runners (and Leaders) Look Back At The Finish Line

One of the most noted running races in history is known as the “Miracle Mile”. This was a race that took place at the 1954 Commonwealth games in Vancouver. During this race the Australian John Landry lost to British runner Sir Roger Bannister by a fraction of a second … literally... (3.58.8 to 3.59.6).  But what made that race remarkable was the fact that John Landry was in the lead and fast approaching the finish line when he looked back over his shoulder.  A common runners taboo.

Good Leaders Look Forward

That brief gaze cost John Landry not only the race, but his place in history.  Both men had been competing for some time to break the four minute mark in the one mile race.  Some said at the time that it could not be done.  But both of them had broken the four minute mark on separate prior occasions.  The commonwealth games of that year was John Landry’s chance to solidify historic greatness, but ... John Landry looked back.

Looking back while trying to race ahead, is perhaps a greater metaphor for one of the mistakes that great leaders who possess incredible vision often make.  Leaders who like great runners are often in a class by themselves.  This is very true of our productivity.  We can often work on items that no one else within our company of peers would tackle.  And what gives us the opportunity for leadership, is the willingness to venture into areas others may not.  But if we are not careful, our  ability to be productive in that same position of leadership can be hindered by loss of vision for the intended finish line.

Steve's Android War

Steve Jobs who was perhaps one of the great leaders of our generation was a man of incredible vision.  But in November 2007 the appearance of Android devices on the scene caused him to have a shift in focus.  His actions were well intended and sought to protect intellectual rights of Apple products against infringement, but the words of Jobs penned by biographer Walter Isaacson really speak of his loss of “focus” : Steve Jobs said he wanted to destroy Android and would spend all of Apple's money and his dying breath if that is what it took to do so.

Unbeknownst to the many "Jobians" who worship at his feet.  His failure at the time to properly capitalize the market for streaming video content would come back to be something that the company would take many years to get back into (yes… 2007 was the same year that Netflix began streaming online content).  While some may blame the present leadership at Apple for not jumping on the streaming video bandwagon earlier, the reality is that this is a company that began to play catch up in a market that they once lead because their leader lost focus on the finish line and began to look at what others were doing.

Staying Ahead

One of the greatest lessons, we can learn about leadership which will thrust us to the front lines of any endeavour is to stay ahead.  When you are ahead in your field, there is always the temptation to worry about what “others” are doing.  

There are many times when in the midst of sticking to your plan of being productive that FOMO (fear of missing out) seizes an individual because some of their friends and colleagues are not as focused as them.  Or the mind becomes flooded with distractions of lesser importance than the actual task at hand.  True productivity in the aspect of leadership will always involve staying focused on the task until you cross the finish line.  There is always time to gaze at the competition from the victory platform.

*** The "miracle race" was immortalized that year (1954) in the first issue of a brand new magazine called Sports Illustrated.


1. Good Leaders Look Forward - dont worry about others, stay in your lane

2. Steve's Android War - energy can be used to build or destroy, but not both

3. Staying Ahead - leadership is lonely, don't be filled with FOMO

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