It may be the toughest part of leadership. It would at least seem to be toughest part of leadership because it is often the area most avoided by leaders.
Many leaders avoid endings.
We believe we must perpetuate the one area of our organization that is no longer effective because it has done so well in the past. If we just gave it one more chance it would be okay. But we have given it many chances, and it continues to be ineffective. We just find endings difficult.
There is a person hurting the organization with his poor performance. Everyone around him knows he is ineffective. The leader knows he is hurting many for the mythical good of one. Indeed, the leader desires to raise the bar, but this person is holding him and the organization back. He decides to avoid the short-term pain of making a change.
Endings and the Organization
I recently met with the leader of a large organization. He shared with me many good developments in his organization. But he said there were two major roadblocks that kept the organization from truly moving to the next level. Both of them were related to endings.
There was an area that continued to decline. It was once the heart of the organization. But today it is ineffective. Indeed, it is being subsidized by the rest of the organization, much to the resentment of others who are not connected to that legacy area. The leader knew what needed to be done, but there was such a sentimental attachment to the area that he could not bring himself to do it.
Likewise, the leader was having difficulty making a move on a high-ranking executive who was not effective in his position. He simply liked the guy too much to hurt him and his family. But his ineffectiveness was hurting others in the organization, and it was hurting the organization itself. And he also knew that the ineffective executive was miserable because he was such a bad fit for the position. Still the leader procrastinated in the decision he knew he had to make.
Endings and Us
Endings are not only difficult for leaders; many individuals often have difficulty bringing things to an end in their own lives. The abused wife continues to go back to her abusive husband. The worried dad continues to enable his drug-dependent adult son. The miserable employee continues to hold on to his job because he is fearful of losing his paycheck; or his pride prevents him from admitting that he is a bad fit for his job.
Many of us have continued harmful habits. We know they are not good for us, but endings are not easy for us either. We thus keep doing the bad things we have been doing.
The Difficulty of Endings
Why do so many leaders have difficulties with endings? Why do so many individuals have challenges with their own personal endings? Let me suggest a few reasons:
• There are political repercussions for bringing about the ending. The objections will be so loud and so painful that the leader avoids the pain and the conflict despite the obvious need in the organization.
• That which needs to end has strong sentimental attachments. Leaders instead let sentiment rule over the best decision for the organization.
• Some leaders feel that endings reflect lack of compassion or lack of Christian concern. But in reality, one often sacrifices the good of the whole organization for the perceived good of one person.
• Other leaders want to give an area of the organization “just one more chance.” Despite multiple chances, they live in a fantasy world that refuses to see reality.
• Some individuals are fearful of bringing endings to phases of their own lives. I remember well leaving my comfortable corporate job to go to seminary many years ago. The fear of the unknown held me back for a while. But if I had not brought that ending to my own phase of life, I would have never known the blessings I have experienced since then.
Great leaders have the wisdom and the courage to know when to affect endings. And no organization can ever move to the next level unless its leaders are sufficiently willing and courageous to lead toward those endings.