Why You Need To Risk Failure To Succeed

I’ve noticed that many leaders, rather than trying to succeed, are trying to not fail. Doing so keeps them from achieving the personal and professional success they are looking for. Here’s why you need to risk failure in order to succeed. 

After yet another basketball game loss, the boy told his Dad, “It’s okay Dad, we knew we’d lose so we weren’t really trying anyway.” The boy and his team knew how to protect themselves, if they didn’t try hard, they didn’t really fail.

It’s not just kids who protect themselves from failure. How about…

  • The pastor who chooses not to preach that sermon that will “rock the boat.”
  • The manager that won’t allow her employees the latitude they need to get creative and experiment.
  • The nonprofit executive who follows donor interest trends, rather than a burning passion for a (currently) unpopular cause.

I sympathize with the disappointment of trying your hardest and still losing. Yet, self-protection can keep us from succeeding. In protecting ourselves from failure, we can fail to succeed. 

If You’re Not Risking Failure, You Won’t Succeed

Success in whatever endeavor you are working on, requires you to go all in. If there’s no risk of failure, you’re probably hedging your bets so heavily that you can’t really succeed either.

To risk failure to succeed means you must:

  1. Fully commit yourself. I see a lot of dabblers. People “try” this and “experiment” with that, but they don’t fully commit to a cause, strategy, or path. I get it, it’s scary to commit! I remember in 2010 fully committing to providing the best professional coaching training to Christian leaders. Fully committing meant saying “no” to many other ideas, client profiles, and topics I was interested in pursuing. It meant learning and doing tasks I wasn’t gifted in and didn’t want to do like building an organization, websites, bookkeeping, managing employees, marketing, dealing with a million details, etc. The commitment I made gave me the strength to push through difficulties and unpleasant tasks.
  2. Risk what you have. Risk isn’t risky until you have something to lose. Jesus challenged us to count the costs. In my 20s, doing something out of the norm like moving to Japan or risky like working in Indonesia, didn’t cost much. Now, in my 50s I have much more to lose. Responsibilities, reputation, and results give me pause when I count the costs. Again, I think of Jesus’ words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In the past 5 years I’ve risked everything, twice, with major organizational changes that I was convinced were needed, but might not have worked. We have to let go of the little success we’ve had, risk failure, to see a larger harvest. What are you not risking that you know you should be?
  3. Fully implement. We begin excited by all the possibilities. We feel our ideas are fantastic, visionary, in fact. Then, our ideas bump into the cold reality of implementation. It’s harder than we imaged. Reality doesn’t want to flex to accept our ideas. We have to modify our ideas in order to implement them, and that can feel like we’re compromising our vision. Some people stay in the purity of ideas and avoid implementation entirely. Others, start implementing and get lost in the details. They are not gifted in implementation, whether it be mobilizing people, selling, marketing, building systems and websites, etc. So they scale back their implementation to what they can do or manage or are comfortable with. They settle for “good enough.” You might be able to not fail with “good enough,” but you usually can’t succeed with it. 

What keeps many people from committing, risking, and implementing is a lack of clarity. They don’t know what they really want, so they don’t know if what they’re working on will get them there. So, they jump around from idea to plan and back to idea again. Or play it safe to keep what they already have. All this dabbling doesn’t bring greater clarity.

I believe that committing, risking, and implementing result in clarity. Our focus may shift – in fact it certainly will shift – as a result of our actions.

As we move forward, hearts engaged, hands in action, we find greater clarity and conviction. That’s how we succeed.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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