Is It Ever Okay for Leaders to Let Go of Their Goals?

In leadership, there is a temptation to be successful in every single pursuit that we take on. We are, in a way, not allowed to fail. Because we know we are being watched, either by an audience or by our team, we feel as though giving up on a pursuit or a passion is a failure. We've let down not only ourselves but those we feel we're supposed to be leading in our footsteps to successful lives and careers. If we not only fail in our efforts but give up on them completely, what kind of message does that send?

We know how challenging it can be to keep at something that just isn't working. So is it ever okay for Leaders to throw in the towel?

Yes. And I'll tell you when and why.


4 Signs You Should Walk Away from a Goal

Even if you start with the noblest of intentions, a good goal can turn bad if left unchecked. There are situations where it is appropriate to walk away. Being able to discern when you should step back from a pursuit is challenging, but it is a valuable muscle worth developing. It will save you lost time, money, and stress.

Here are four signs it's time to let your goal go.

1) It's detrimental to the big picture.

In our pursuit of our goals, we can become so enamored with achievement that we lose sight of what we're really trying to do. This can look like a lot of different things: the pursuit of side-projects, perfected new systems and ideas, or even just trying to get something to work so hard that other important tasks and goals begin to slip out of focus.

When your new goal takes over and you want to make it work at the cost of everything else, it's time to let it go. When the desire to make something work begins to harm your true pursuits, it's a sign that your new goal has gotten too big, costly, complicated, or misguided. Wherever you started is not where you ended up, and it's hurting your path to success.

2) The cost is too high.

Most of us have heard of the “sunk cost fallacy.” This is a logical fallacy that most of us fall into from time to time. It's what keeps gamblers gambling and investors investing in failing projects. It's the idea that you've already spent the money, you're in too deep now, and you have to see it through to the end. You keep throwing money at it because you've already thrown money at it, and it would be a waste of the money you've already spent to give up now.

See the problem?

When evaluating our goals, we can't fall into a sunk cost fallacy. Where are your limits? When the cost is too great, give up. Know what is and isn't worth it to you anymore. There is no shame in giving up to preserve your resources and try again with a different approach later. It's far worse to keep throwing your time, money, energy, and resources into something that isn't working until you have nothing left to give.

3) It's bad for your health and relationships.

Typically, the pursuit of a new goal is meant to improve something. Whether it's in the office improving systems, profits, outcomes, or personally improving something in ourselves, these are good attempts and good things. Our goals and pursuits are noble. However, when they don't work out and we continue to try, obsessive behaviors can develop in our attempts to troubleshoot. We can grow frustrated and fixated in our desire to make things work.

One way you can know when to stop your pursuit of a goal is when it damages your health and your relationships.

The relentless pursuit of a new goal—when we become obsessed with making it work—can cause lack of sleep, irritability, and the neglect of self and important relationships. When this happens, you know it's time to pull the plug and move on.

4) It doesn't best serve your purposes.

We change over time. There's no denying that our personal and professional goals evolve. As we pursue our goals, we have to constantly reevaluate their role in our overall purpose. What started as a good goal, months or years down the line, may no longer line up with what you're trying to do and where you are in your life. Letting go of your goal may be appropriate when you're at a new juncture.

You have to be willing to recognize when your pursuits no longer serve who you are and what you need to accomplish.

What every leader must recognize is that giving up on a pursuit is not a sign of weakness but immense strength. You have to have the tenacity and bravery to step back, regroup, and try another approach.

It makes you far more relatable to suffer a blow and come back stronger—so don't fear your own failure just because you're in a position of leadership. Instead, embrace the trials by fire that are molding you into the visionary you were always meant to be.

What project do you remember having to give up on? Share your experience in the comments.