Knowing When to Concede Defeat

I’ve been defeated more times than I can count. I’ve been fired from at least 5 different jobs in my life. I’ve been dumped. I’ve been kicked out of a band. I’ve been dropped from a major record label. I’ve had ideas, products, and entire companies fail.

But, the more successful I’ve become, the less clear defeat has become. When you’re working for someone else (or perhaps you’re working for the American people), they will usually make it clear to you when things are over. But if you’re an entrepreneur working for yourself, it’s usually not as cut-and-dried. We need to fire ourselves. Often, we need to step away to get some perspective. We need a sabbatical or a break. We need to talk to other people and gain some objectivity. We need to gauge the market — or perhaps just check in with our gut — in order to know whether it’s time to move on. We need to Marie Kondo ourselves and our project. Does it spark joy? Is it moving forward?

In a sense, we need to move on in order to know if we need to move on. Objectivity comes in hindsight.

Leadership qualities such as tenacity, vision, and the ability to rally people behind a cause usually help us move our projects forward. But what happens when there’s no moving forward? This dedication to our ideas can keep us going beyond what’s necessary or even sensible.

I don’t mean to say that moving on is easy. You’ll probably need to go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s best to try to find some emotional maturity and move through these efficiently. It’s never a good look for a leader to be stuck in the early stages of grief — whether you’re running a coffee shop or you’re the President of the United States. Stop whining and move on.

And maybe defeat isn’t really defeat. It’s not an absolute end. It’s an opportunity to do something new. Venture capitalists call it a “pivot.” Maybe you’ve got your next thing lined up already. But maybe that next thing is nothing at all. Aristotle says, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Sometimes doing nothing is just creating space for something else to come along. This has certainly been my experience.

Are you holding onto something that you need to let go of? If you’ve had one good idea, you’re probably capable of coming up with others — especially if you open yourself up to the possibility. Or maybe you can just sit on a beach for a bit; figure out how to relax; and see what comes along next. But recognizing defeat and moving on gracefully is not only good sportsmanship, it’s also great leadership.

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Jeff Robbins is a business coach, mentor, and virtual business partner who works one-on-one with company owners and leaders to help them build vision and direction for their companies while building productivity, stability, and happiness for their employees and themselves. You can work with him too. Reach out to set up a free consultation session.

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Jeff Robbins

Cofounder at @Lullabot. Executive Coach at @jjeff. Rockstar at @Orbitband.