The Last 15 Minutes of Anything!

Accountability Contribution Courage


Key Point: I think there is great value in preparing for work and life in the context of playing a sport or being involved in another competitive activity. Participating in these moments teaches us so much about ourselves and positions us for the many challenges we confront in daily life. Learning how to finish is something we can learn and practice in play. 

When Alex Ferguson took over as the manager of Manchester United, a world famous English football team, they stunk. It hadn’t won a league title in nearly 20 years and faced the real possibility of being relegated to a lower division. 26 seasons later, under Ferguson’s leadership, United won 38 domestic and international trophies, giving him nearly twice as many as any other English club manager. United became one of the most valuable franchises in all of sports. Harvard Professor, Anita Elberse, studied Ferguson’s “formulae” and published a superb article in the Harvard Business Review. I recently re-read it because I was trying to recall Ferguson’s philosophy on finishing. Here’s what he told Elberse: 

“I am a gambler – a risk taker – and you can see that in how we played in the late stages of matches. If we were down at halftime, the message was simple: Don’t panic. Just concentrate on getting the task done. If we were still down – say, 1–2 – with 15 minutes to go, I was ready to take more risks. I was perfectly happy to lose 1–3 if it meant we’d given ourselves a good chance to draw or to win. So in those last 15 minutes, we’d go for it. We’d put in an extra attacking player and worry less about defense. We knew that if we ended up winning 3–2, it would be a fantastic feeling. And if we lost 1–3, we’d been losing anyway.

Being positive and adventurous and taking risks – that was our style. We were there to win the game. Our supporters understood that, and they got behind it. It was a wonderful feeling, you know, to see us go for it in those last 15 minutes. A bombardment in the box, bodies everywhere, players putting up a real fight. Of course, you can lose on the counterattack, but the joy of winning when you thought you were beaten is fantastic.

I think all my teams had perseverance – they never gave in. So I didn’t really need to worry about getting that message across. It’s a fantastic characteristic to have, and it is amazing to see what can happen in the dying seconds of a match.”

I just returned from the Labor Day long weekend where I had an opportunity to watch some of the best cyclists in the world compete in the Tour of Alberta. Of course, these riders are physically gifted. However in cycling, like life, so much success has to do with a mindset of grit and perseverance. The very best riders know exactly when to attack. They leave nothing left in the tank.

Character Moves:

  1. Are you a finisher? In anything you do that matters, do you have a mindset like Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams, or the great cyclists? Do you put up a real fight? Like Ferguson notes: “You can lose on the counter attack but the joy of winning when you thought you were beaten, is fantastic.”
  1. Almost everything in work or life has a “last 15 minutes.” It is always surprising what can happen in those closing moments. Push yourself in the “last 15 minutes.” Of course you may lose, but you know what you did to leave it all on the field.
  1. Practice finishing with greatness. Even cleaning up after yourself when a meeting ends is a symbol of completion. Watch how many people leave without even paying attention. End your evening with a wrap up of what you did well that day. If you’re going for a fun run or ride, end with a strong close. Finishing up strong on the little things leads to having the same mindset when the big, significant events come our way.

Last 15 in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Seeing that I’m in the office around 5 a.m., I’m not the best when it comes to making my bed first thing in the morning. My morning routine is very quick. It’s rushed, I wake up and I’m out-the-door ASAP. It normally involves me putting on shoes with the assistance of a cell phone flashlight, to put it in perspective. Is that the best way to start the day? Probably not. I do believe in that whole “make your bed first thing because it means you’ve already accomplished something” theory… It makes sense. In this case, we’ll refer to that as the “first 15 minutes.” But you and I both know that when I do get to the office, my messy bed doesn’t really affect anything I do that day. However, my “last 15 minutes” in everything I do for the rest of the day, certainly does.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis