Making the Hard Decision to Stop What Isn't Working

Why is letting something go so difficult?


Why is it so difficult to let things go? There often comes a point when, as a leader, you realize that something you are attached to is “sick” and is not going to get well.

Whether the season has passed, or the investment made in a person or project isn’t paying dividends, leadership expert and best-selling author Dr. Henry Cloud discusses how leaders face the difficult choice of a necessary ending.

The second scenario is the branches that are sick and they're not going to get well. You know, I live in California and I watch the gardeners and they do all this stuff, they water the plants if its sick and they give them fertilizer, and they give them plant food, and they give them medicine and a 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 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's 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 10 and 12. I was telling her about this group of guys that go into schools and churches called the Power Team and they're all these He-Men who do all these stunts and I said, "Olivia, they could 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 that they can take a phone book and rip it in half." She looks at me and she's 12 years old, she looks at me and she goes, "Dad what's a phone book? You mean a Kindle?" Unbelieveable. Talk about a season that's passed.

The next day, I'm at JFK Airport standing in the line waiting for a car, I've talking to this lady and say, "So what brings you to New York?" and she says "Business" I said, "What kind of business are you in?" and she says "Phone books." I said, "Oh I bet it's really cool what you all are doing. The Yellow Pages and getting all that digital." She goes, "No, we still make phone books. That's our business, the digital stuff, we're into the books." I said, "You should talk to my daughter."

Sometimes leaders get so invested in something and it may be for a lot of reasons. There is ego, you poured so much time and energy into it, you poured so much heart into it but sometimes that season is passed and its over and you've got to take the hard step to pull the plug.

Let me ask you a question, General Motors, why did it take... now think of this, these are the smartest executives in the car industry, right? For years and years and years, why did it take General Motors, after four decades, why did it take a bankruptcy judge to shut down Pontiac? A brand that hadn't made a profit in like four decades? You've got all these smart executives but why did it take a bankruptcy judge to pull the trigger on that? That's what happens to us in leadership. We get attached to things that we can't pull the trigger, because there's a lot of stuff involved. Sometimes, and the hardest ones of these, is when there's a person involved.

What I'm about to tell you is a true story. A man who owned a big manufacturing firm that he had started was getting near retirement. He was working on succession, and he was grooming his son to take over the business. He was going to retire in a few years and he had a succession planned for him and he was working on it for a few years. And one day he was walking through the factory floor and he sees his son angrily berating an employee in front of a group of other employees. So he was angry at this guy and shaming him and all this stuff and just an ugly scene.

So he motions to his son to come up to his office and he sits him down and he says, "David, I wear two hats around here. I'm the boss and I wear the boss hat, but I'm also your father and I wear the father hat. Right now I'm going to put my boss hat on. You're fired. You're done. I will not have that in my culture. I won't have my people treated that way. I will never let that take route. I've talked to you about this. We've tried to get you help, I've tried to get you to change. So you're fired, you're done. I won't have it. Now let me put my father hat on for a minute. Son, I heard you just lost your job. Is there something I could do?"

When that story was relayed to me, there's so much right with that, I don't even know where to start. Because what that leader realized is sometimes it is not best for anybody that they continue in a position or with the investment that has been made or whatever because the collateral damage of people around them, or that they become a log jam, and by and large, do you know what we find 99.999% of the time is when somebody is not performing and it's a wrong fit, the best thing for them as well is that there be a necessary ending. And these are the hard decisions for leaders to make.
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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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