The best leaders don't always win. (Sometimes, accepting defeat can be the most strategic play.)

Musing for:

The best leaders don’t always win

I must disagree with a well-respected leadership expert.

Referring to what he called “the greatest leaders,” John Maxwell made a claim in chapter 15 (“The Law of Victory”) in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. He wrote, “I think victorious leaders have one thing in common: they share an unwillingness to accept defeat.”

On the contrary, an unwillingness to accept defeat was often one of the biggest hindrances to my own leadership development.

❌ I valued being right more than learning what was right.

❌ I stopped people from experimenting with ideas I thought might fail.

❌ I stepped in too often to give detailed direction based on my personal experience.

❌ I viewed minor disagreements on trivial topics as crucial battles that must be resolved – in my team’s favor.

Of course, the problem wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to be victorious. The problem was my understanding of victory itself.

Victory for whom?

Victory at what cost?

💡The greatest leaders are willing to accept frugal defeat rather than stubbornly pursue a Pyrhhic victory.

💡The greatest leaders are willing to accept small, local defeats to support a larger, broader victory.

💡The greatest leaders are willing to accept short-term defeat to realize a long-term vision.

💡The greatest leaders are willing to risk bold failure over the comfort of timid ventures.

One of my mentors used to say he was “playing chess” with a decision. This meant, he was trying something that might not work. He was willing to take a loss to something our team valued so that we could achieve an even greater victory down the road.

So, I think the most victorious leaders have one thing in common: they know when to accept a strategic defeat because they’re unwilling to give up the most important victories.

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