On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Out of step for Canada

Canada appears to have fallen far short of its goal of "Owning the Podium" at the Vancouver Olympics. How can leaders know the difference between a "stretch" goal that inspires people to reach new heights and an unattainable goal that winds up demoralizing people?

When you create a seemingly distant goal for your organization, you also have to provide a pathway. You can't give your people a glimpse of the Promised Land without showing them how they're going to get through the Red Sea. Both the goal and the method for attaining it have to be grounded in reality.

In the case of Canada's Olympic team, this means providing the athletes with all the necessary training and resources. Otherwise, you set the bar too high by saying you're going to "own the podium." Stretch goals are supposed to be inspirational, but if they're unreasonable, then you'll end up frustrating and demoralizing the people in your organization.

I've lived and worked in Canada, and I would say that it's out of the norm for Canadians to make such a brash declaration. The goal of dominating the Olympics doesn't match the usual style of our neighbors to the north. Canada cannot match a nation such as the United States in terms of money, population, and other resources.

The lesson for leaders is that goal-setting must be within the culture of the organization. And once you set a goal, make sure your people have the tools to turn the vision into reality.

By Yash Gupta

 |  February 25, 2010; 3:47 PM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Don't strive like Toyota | Next: Right aspirations, wrong definition


Please report offensive comments below.

Sadly, Yash's article appeared a week too early as, apparently, we did "have the tools to turn the vision into reality."

Then again, those that can, do. Those that can't, teach.

Posted by: thetroubleboys | March 1, 2010 10:14 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Canada's Olympic effort is hardly a flop, with the hosts winning their first-ever gold medals (8 at last count) on home soil. But the "Own the Podium" effort has neither helped, nor hurt the Canadians, as it seems they'll end up with roughly the same number of medals as they did in Torino.

What everyone is missing in this discussion: Americans are so often descibed as brash, over-the-top nationalists. But the fact is, Olympic and other international success matters a lot less to U.S. folks than it does to people just about anywhere else, even the so-called "polite" Canadians. People in the States only really care about their domestic leagues. The Olympics are a mere appetizer before the important stuff (NCAA tournament, baseball, etc..).

Posted by: pitchtorobert | February 26, 2010 5:20 PM
Report Offensive Comment

A little misapprehension of Canadian character by the author. Another stereotype. For a little more insight, my advice: Watch a hocky game.

Posted by: malafry | February 26, 2010 4:44 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Many of the responses to the professor’s position correctly speak to the grounded nature of Canadians (competitors and the rest of us). We place such claims, as "own the podium"in perspective,and not as an absolute, personally defining end. As a nation, we are reflective realists not unreflective idealists, driven by opinion polls and slogans. We celebrate results, as well as the effort and pursuit of better results. The recent Gold medal performance by the Canadian Womens’ hockey team and subsequent Bronze medal finish in the Ladies Figure skating attest to the reality. The Canadian resolve is not undermined by a far reaching market strategy. What is missing in the professor’s academic arguement is recognition of the unique Canadian character -our resolve to persevere. Our athletes commitment to achieve goes beyond external slogan rhetoric. The ongoing Canadian successes debunk the professor’s inference that our athletes are despairing and lacking in confidence.

Posted by: davepatterson1 | February 26, 2010 3:22 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Dean Kash:

After reading your poorly-thought out article, I would be demoralized if I was one of your students. Your ignorant article was clearly not medal-worthy.

Perhaps John Hopkins Business School should adopt its own "Own the Podium" program, and hire more world-class leaders. Or is this an unreasonable stretch goal for John Hopkins?

Posted by: mwolfe9216 | February 26, 2010 2:08 PM
Report Offensive Comment

As a Canadian, I am impressed and moved by the American posters on this site, who seem to understand Canada and Canadians, and what Canada, VANOC, the Canadian organizing committee, and the Canadian athletes are trying to do at these Vancouver Olympics.

Perhaps you Americans are not as ethnocentric and arrogant as we "polite" Canadians always thought you were.

Give me a hug, you kind and compassionate American cousins.

Posted by: mwolfe9216 | February 26, 2010 1:53 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I always find it a bit rich and frankly condescending for a foreigner with very limited knowledge of Canada to critique another country. Would you ask the same question to the US? Is the US aiming too high?

To hear this coming from a management professor is even more surprising. We can use the same argument towards countries in their economic development ergo, is India aiming too high? Similarly, would you make the same comment to your children - are they aiming too high academically? Should they wallow in mediocrity?

Aiming too high is never a bad thing - we don't say that to 90% of the Olympic athletes who have no chance of winning a medal. It is not aiming at all that is the problem. This professor would have us all to limit our potential and never push ourselves to strive to the next level. Very unamerican, isn't it?

Posted by: mtlyorel | February 26, 2010 12:55 PM
Report Offensive Comment

A bit of bravado by the host nation is not out of line, even from the usually stoic Canadians. I would be more concerned about the disappearence of the Russians from the podium. They are hosting the next games and have been hammered by drug testing at these. Watch for big trouble in 2014, unless they get their act together.

Posted by: MHawke | February 26, 2010 12:49 PM
Report Offensive Comment


Owing the podium isn't a big audious goal, it's a marketing slogan, and a government funded one at that. It's the sort of thing falls into the background noise of Canadian lives. We all want our athletes to do well. And BC would like as many of us (and everyone else) to visit the games as possible. But do you think any Canadian thinks we'll own the podium? That's just silly. In the last winter Olympics five teams were bunched as the top winners. Germany was first with 29 medals (11 gold). The US was second, 25 medals (9 gold). Canada was fifth with 24 medals (7 gold). Most of us feel that was a spendid performance. If our teams beats that record, we'd be deligthed. If they doesn't, well who will care in a week?

Posted by: HankToronto | February 26, 2010 12:35 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The United States used to be an also-ran in the Winter Olympics (in 1968, Peggy Fleming's gold medal in figure skating was the only one we got). The USOC has carried out a carefully crafted program to recognize and support excellence in individual sports. The programs that achieve international recognition within their own federations have received extra resources. The addition of extreme sports such as halfpipe benefitted the U.S., but the achievements in categories such as Nordic events have been extraordinary. The U.S. program seems to be very well thought out and gracefully executed, whereas Canada's "own the podium" slogan smacks of the arrogance usually attributed to Americans. Lesson: don't promise more than you can deliver.

Posted by: dicklobb | February 26, 2010 12:21 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I am curious about this notion of Canadians not being brash. Anyone who has visited Europe cannot help but notice the legions of Maple Leaf-clad nationalist running around boasting about peacekeeping (D-Day?) and their medical system (the one that their own provincial officials eschew?). Everyone loves their country, but this endless circus is a bit sad.

Posted by: boog44 | February 26, 2010 12:12 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I applaud Canada's program to encourage more striving to win medals. They already have to hear the constant boasting from their neighbor down south about the medal count and their awesome country - why not allow Canada some justified pride of their own? Also - seems like Canadians are actually doing OK with medals so way to go Canada!

Posted by: PWChomeowner | February 26, 2010 11:25 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I agree with others who have commented about Canad being tied for the lead in gold medals. By the time it is over, Canada may well have the most golds and rank third in overall medals. This is a huge accomplishment for Canada, a country that has a successful public health care system, an actual Minister of Culture in its Cabinet, and a history of diplomacy and peacekeeping that would make any citizen proud. We as a nation could learn a lot from our neighbors to the north.

Posted by: topperale | February 26, 2010 10:50 AM
Report Offensive Comment

canada and india are mentally ill precocious cultures on thin ice. the promise of appanage is not extended to slumdog worshiping blue raman allahs or vulgar redneck white trash.

"owning the podium" goes to beautiful, elegant, and talented korean, japan, and far east asian american figure skaters.

vive le bona fide leadership

Posted by: therapy | February 26, 2010 10:41 AM
Report Offensive Comment

While I'm not a big one for nationalism generally, I think a lot of Americans are thrilled for our cousins to the north. With only a little more than a tenth the population of the US, Canada is an outsized winner.

Posted by: cellmaker | February 26, 2010 9:44 AM
Report Offensive Comment

You know Yash I have to agree with the Canadian posters here. There's nothing at all wrong with 'pounding the chest' and inspiring your fellow athletes to aggressively compete. I don't know who the "angry Americans" are, but I'm not one of them. I'm glad for our Canadian neighbors, and hope they continue to do well.

Posted by: DPoniatowski | February 26, 2010 8:58 AM
Report Offensive Comment


I think your article is out of touch with what is going on in this country.

After reading countless articles from the U.S., it seems as if this "own the podium" has upset mnay Amercians. We actually laugh at that here in Canada. Are you folks realizing that we can pound our chests, wave our flags and sing the national anthem just as loudly?

We are tied for the lead in gold medals. According to the IOC, the country with the most gold medals is considered to have the most success at the games. In a country with 34 000 000 and very little funding, I think we are doing a great job.

It seems to me you were fishing for an article here and it didn't work.

Posted by: craigwilson1 | February 26, 2010 8:24 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Have you looked at the medal count recently?
The "Own the podium" program is a huge success. Canada is now tied with the USA with 8 gold medals. This is from a country that has never won a gold medal at an olympic games it has hosted. Professor this is a textbook case for a course on leadership. Set the goal(no pun intended), get your organization behind it and work to achieve it. Hooraay "O Canada". Bravo

Posted by: richiedread | February 26, 2010 7:36 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Boasting about ourselves isn't in our nature. But here's what is: we take care of the hindmost in our nation; we consider medicare a human right, we don't much like paying taxes but we accept them as the cost of building a humane society; we have allowed gays in our military for more than a decade but still gave a good account of ourselves in Afghanistan; We'll settle for fewer gold medals. You might try it.

Posted by: JohnAMacdonald | February 26, 2010 3:46 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Nonsense. I'm Canadian and I don't feel a bit demoralized. We all understand it was a bit of the old Americann "we're number one!" that we hear at every U.S. sporting event.

Posted by: malafry | February 25, 2010 11:04 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Few things have done more damage to the nonprofit organizations I work with than Jim Collin's declaration at the end of the last decade that "built to last" organizations are characterized by BHAGs. The Canadian angst over renting the podium out this month is just the latest example of how destructive "big, hairy, audacious goals" can be. My team of consultants is saying Ban BHAG's now. http://www.arenewalenterprise.com/2010/02/ban-bhags-now.html

Posted by: kfryer | February 25, 2010 10:48 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company