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.