There are few things in life that are as satisfying as finishing something that you started. In my life, the two feats I am most proud of finishing were graduating the US Naval Academy and completing Ironman Austria. I don’t confuse those two things with the most significant milestones or my proudest moments in my life, but they do in fact represent finished projects, where most other things remain works in progress. It’s difficult to describe the feeling that accompanied throwing my cover in the air at graduation in Annapolis or crossing that finish line in Klagenfurt, so I won’t even attempt to. Finishing is fun!

As a child, I distinctly remember doing puzzles with my Mom and brother. My brother and I would start strong and then fizzle out about the time that we had all the border pieces in place. She would plug away on her own as my brother and I migrated in and out of the living room, doing little more than distracting her. Once the picture was really taking shape and the remaining pieces were in the low double digits, the three of us would complete the puzzle together and my Mom always let one of us put in the last piece (Truth be told, sometimes my brother would hide the last piece so he could be “The Finisher”.). We started together and we finished together, but she was the constant contributor. Deserved or not, we all took pride in the finished product as we unveiled it to my Dad.

As a parent, I find myself framing most of my son’s accomplishment in terms of effort and outcome, with finishing oftentimes being the most significant aspect of the outcome. Whether it’s swimming, academics, thank you cards, or chores around the house, the satisfaction for him at this time in his life is not necessarily in the doing, but in the “done’ing”. Don’t get me wrong, the doing sometimes takes a healthy dose of prodding and when it comes to cleaning his room, I sometimes feel like my Mom did doing puzzles with her boys, as he swoops in and takes the project across the finish line. My hope is that in time he will connect the doing with the becoming and the growing, but in the absence of that, I am happy with him finding satisfaction in finishing.

As a leader entering the final 60 days in Command, I find myself looking for things to make sure I leave unfinished. Where others might be focused on sprinting to the finish as they close out their To Do List, I’m holding back on purpose. Sure, there are things that I would have fun helping the team see through to completion, not because my personal involvement will deliver a better end result than my relief’s will, but because I love what I do and am having so much fun doing it. And yes, I do enjoy crossing the proverbial finish line, especially with valued teammates. That said, there is a time when a leader must stop short and afford others the opportunity to feel the dopamine rush that accompanies completing the task, finishing the project, and achieving the desired outcome. And as a leader, the oxytocin rush that accompanies seeing another reach their potential is even more gratifying than doing it yourself. When you finish something you feel ownership and for some, it’s difficult to own something that you didn’t have the opportunity to shape.

Not everyone is equipped or willing to start something and even fewer are able or committed to seeing what they started all of the way through. But sometimes, the challenge is not in the starting or the finishing, but in the willingness to stop short, leave things unfinished by design, and allow others the opportunity to be the finisher.

  • When is the last time you did a puzzle start to finish?
  • What was the last thing you started and have yet to finish?
  • What are you currently committed to finishing that you probably should allow someone else to?