Leadership: the strength to say good-bye

publication date: Jan 6, 2014
author/source: Janet Gadeski

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to laugh, a time to weep.

Ecclesiastes, from which that quote is taken, wasn't conceived as a guide to doing business - but maybe it should have been.Janet Gadeski

Leadership coach Henry Cloud starts there, says The Globe and Mail writer Harvey Schachter, to claim that we need to become as good at ending things - products, services, projects, relationships, or even organizations - as we are at starting or innovating. That's a sobering thought as the New Year begins. But it's also a path to greater effectiveness.

In many ways it's harder to end things than to begin them. It's even harder to end them fully, professionally and well. We're afraid of the unknown: what will our organization be like without this staff member, that working group, those partners? We may not want to let go of a process or commitment that has served us well in the past. Life brings us enough painful endings without going out of our way to create more.

Wisdom from the garden

Leaders often overlook or underestimate the impact of ending the right things, Cloud believes. But in the garden, correct pruning helps a bush or plant reach its full potential. The same is true of organizations.

He notes that branches or stems should be pruned for three reasons:

  1. They're not the strongest ones. They're taking up just as much light and nutrition as the healthiest branches, but they're not producing the same amount of fruit or flowers in return. What parts of your organization aren't doing as well as the others?
  2. They're too sick to recover. They're so badly damaged or diseased that more water, more fertilizer and more hope won't help. They must be removed to protect the rest of the plant. Where are the "unfixable" projects or processes in your organization?
  3. They're already dead. They're taking up space needed for healthy branches, and blocking the sunlight from strong twigs and new shoots. What aspects of your organization interfere with communication, productivity and new ideas?

To sum up, we can't have great new beginnings without necessary, natural and beneficial endings. But there are good reasons why endings are so hard. Acknowledging the emotions behind our reluctance to end anything will help bring us to the point where we can finally take pruning shears in hand for the benefit of our own well-being and that of the organizations we serve.

Read the full article in The Globe and Mail. Send Letters to the Editor; follow Janet on Twitter.

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