Remove Risk and You Remove Great Performance
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke

We hear a lot about “safe spaces” today, but the desire to avoid risk in life is found just about everywhere.  For university faculty members, “tenure” usually refers to job security. Essentially, it’s about a senior professor’s contractual right not to be fired without just cause.  More directly, it’s a guarantee that a teacher won’t be fired for speaking out or teaching controversial ideas.  Essentially, the core values of tenure are academic freedom, and it’s supposed to give teachers an incentive to stretch their thinking.  However, we’ve discovered that without an element of risk, most people do exactly the opposite.

Instead of pushing the boundaries, many tenured teachers seem more likely to relax or coast.  That seems particularly true when tenure is applied to high schools where the oversight is often incredibly lax.  California grants tenure after just two years in the classroom.  New York waits for a total of three years.  That means that after only 2 or 3 years, a teacher essentially has their job for life.

This makes it nearly impossible to get rid of bad teachers.  LA Weekly reported that in the past decades, LA Unified Schools spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven teachers for poor classroom performance.  The sad result was that just two were fired, two others were paid large settlements and one was reinstated.  32 other teachers were paid $50,000 each in secret just to leave without a fight.  One administrator told me there are nearly 100 separate steps to complete for the district to fire a single teacher, and it often drags on for years.  Sometimes the teacher sits at home for years with full pay waiting for the outcome.  With policies like that, is there any wonder California is a financial disaster and the schools are shameful?

Human nature being what it is, we tend to rest on our laurels. When the risk is removed, our drive is often removed as well.  When it comes to tenure, what started out as well meaning, has gone horribly wrong – to the point that many believe the entire tenure system needs to be yanked.

I love teaching and have many friends who are great professors.  Benefits are a wonderful thing, but whatever the job, when you remove all the risk, you also remove the edge that it takes to succeed. It’s the same with any job, project, or career. We’d all love to be “safe,” but speaking for me, I have to admit that teetering on the edge of failure or loss is what keeps me motivated, coming up with new ideas, and open to all possible solutions.

Tony Robbins encourages people to stop trying to eliminate problems and start embracing them. The truth is, in most cases, no matter how difficult it may be to understand,  your great problem is your great gift.

Maybe the biggest obstacle to your success is that you’re fighting risk instead of embracing it.


Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at

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