Boundaries for Leaders


Dr. Cloud shows us that when we repeatedly tell ourselves we’re going to do something and yet we’re not doing it, we’re never going to start doing it by maintaining our same patterns. Something has to change and many times this will involve letting go of something we have been hoping in for a long time.

Henry provides three boundaries leaders must set in order to create simplicity in our lives:

  • Necessary Endings
  • Focused Attention
  • Relationships

Hey guys! Everybody awake after the break? Now, I think you heard in the announcement, I'm a psychologist and you're wondering, why'd they bring the shrink here today. Well, the reason is, a bunch of you work with some really crazy people, and I know a lot of you have come with those people today. So I want you to turn to the person you came with and just say, "Hey, that guy's a shrink you really need to hear this." Okay. Just take a second and encourage each other.

Okay, little bit to put that in context, I am a clinical psychologist by training and it just so happened that when I was in training and got out of school and went knocking on doors to find a job, my first job was in a leadership consulting firm. And I found myself in those early years working predominantly with CEOs and their executive teams and kind of being the leader shrink and sitting there listening to their internal and inner personal worlds, the worlds of leadership.

And gradually started to work in their organizations and with their executive teams and what I'm going to talk about this morning is how simplicity from both the neuroscience perspective, the brain perspective and also from a leadership perspective is one of the most important things that you can do to get the people to be able to work the plan.

A CEO client of mine who runs about a $20 billion deal looked at me one day he said, "You know what's weird?" I said what and he said, "Everybody's trying to focus on the right plan. They think if we get the right plan that's all. You've got to get the strategy. Everybody's obsessing about getting the right plan." He said, "In reality," he said, "there's five different ways to get there." He said, "The real work is to get the people to be able to work the plan."

So what we're going to look at are some simple boundaries for leaders, and a boundary is basically a limit, it's a structure, it's a property line in the way that you lead so that people's brains can actually follow you and that's going to be our emphasis. Now I'm not going to stand up here and say this is easy to work with yourself and lead yourself and all in that.

In fact, I struggle with this. I shared with a group not too long ago, when I travel I get off my work out routine and I fly in late and I get up early and I fall off the wagon and I eat too late and I start getting fat and look like Dr. Buddha. So I kept telling myself, "Okay, I'm going change this, I'm going to change this," and I'm on the road but I'm going work out when I'm gone and all this. And I kept telling myself, "I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it differently," and I wasn't doing it.

And I read one of those stupid books I write and what it said was if there's something you're telling yourself you're going to do and you're not doing it, and you're telling yourself you're going to do it and you're not doing it, and you want to do it, and you're telling yourself and you're not doing it, you're not going to do it. That's what it said.

And then I kept reading and it said so that means you're not going to do it, so what you've got to do is get yourself some help from the outside. So I go to the gym and I hire a trainer, and they assign me this young, skinny, mean woman. So I get to get up at 6 in the morning and go meet with this trainer, but I'm proud of myself. I'm back on the program, I'm working it, I'm getting up early, it feels like five years, my wife says like a week and a half but I'm proud of it.

And so one morning I'm there and I'm doing all this and I stop in the middle, I looked at her and I said, because she is like really working me this young mini, young mean skinny woman and I looked at her, I stopped, and I said "Oh no." She said, "What?" I said, "We forgot to take the before pictures." She looks at me, and she says, "Oh we still can." Some of this is going to feel like that to you. You're going to get in the middle of it, but I'm going to tell you keep going. It works.

Okay, so let's look at some of these changes that leaders need to make to bring simplicity. The first one, the first boundary a leader brings to bring simplicity is a boundary of bringing necessary endings. Necessary endings. And what a necessary ending basically is, is when the leader realizes that the worst thing he or she can have is hope in this situation.

If you took a wrong turn, you're down a wrong road, the worst thing you can do is hope that road is going to turn into the right one. Or you've got the wrong person in a position or the wrong strategy or whatever it is, there are seasons that pass and when a season is over and its time is up, a leader to create simplicity and to create a lack of chaos that people can follow, must step up and have the courage to create a necessary ending with something that needs to be let go of.

A metaphor I use a lot when I'm working with leaders and executive teams is we go through a pruning process and when I wrote the book, I went and talked to people that actually grow things like rose bushes and plants and stuff. And here's what I found out about pruning, that the experts prune a rose bush basically in three contexts.

Number one, a rose bush produces more buds than it can feed, more buds than it can sustain. So what the gardener has to go is look at the bush and figure out which of the buds are the best and prune the rest of them because the best one, and here's the key, the best ones needs the resources of the bush, or the resources of the vine is another way you've heard this. The best ones, and so they have to prune really good stuff because the best ones need those resources.

The second context is there's some branches that are sick and they're not going to get well, and they have to be cut. And the third one is, there's some dead stuff that's just in the way.

Now I want to take a second and I want to walk through these as you think about your context and your business. More buds than you can sustain. You know, as a bush grows it just sprouts stuff and our businesses are like that. Our lives are like that. The longer you're alive, you're just creating more activities, more product lines, more departments, more committees, more strategies. And that's great if we're getting rid of the ones that are not the best because they're taking up the resources.

A friend of mine bought a company one time, it was about 25 million or so in sales when he bought it and within about five or six years he had taken it to 500 million and he was on the way to a billion and I ask him one day. I said how did you do this? He said, "Well, here's what I did. When I first bought the company I looked at everything it did," and he said, "and I realize," and here's the phrase. He said, "The life of the company was in about 20 percent of its activities." I said, "Oh, the rest of it was losing money." He said, "No, it was all profitable." He said, "But the life was in about 20 percent of it and the future was in that 20 percent. So I call my management team in in June." He said, "January one I want all this 80 percent gone, get rid of it, give it away, sell it, shut it down, whatever we've got to do because I want all of our people and time and energy and resources to be over here because that's where we're headed." And they protested. He said he had to walk through a lot of relationships, a lot of conflict to get to the best buds on the bush so they could have the resources. And he said, "That's what we did."

And what I find is when you get into the discussions with even CEOs and high level executive teams and you start to begin to do this kind of pruning, that's where it's the moment for the leadership courage to be able to clip some things that we might be attached to.

The second scenario is the branches that are sick and they're not going to get well. I live in California and I watch the gardeners and they do all this stuff. They water the plants if it's sick and they give them fertilizer and then they give them plant food and then give them medicine and little medicinal marijuana every now and then and they talk to them. But there is a point when you have to realize as a leader, that something that you're attached to, and it could be a product line, a strategy, or sometimes as we'll talk about, a person, and everything that you have done and everything you do and everything you will do is not going to change anything because the person or that business unit or whatever it is is resistant to change and it is sick and it's not going to get well. And sometimes it's because its season has passed.

I was talking to my daughters one morning, who are ten and 12, and I was telling them about this group of guys that go into schools and churches called the Power Team and they're all these he-men and they do all these stunts, and I said Olivia they can pick up a person and raise them up over their heads. They can take a block of ice and punch it and break it in half. But the thing that kills me is they can take a phone book and rip it in half. She looks at me, she's 12 years old, she looks at me, and she goes, "Dad, what's a phone book?"

Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud is an acclaimed leadership expert and psychologist who draws on his extensive experience in business, leadership consulting, clinical psychology, and church ministry to impart practical and effective wisdom for growing...

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