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 leaders most avoid.
Many leaders avoid endings.
This may stem from inertia, accentuated by a clinging to the past. The leader believes he must perpetuate the one area of the organization (or church) that is ineffective because it did so well in the past. He reasons, If we just give it one more chance it will be okay. Yet, if he have given it numerous chances and it continues to be ineffective, the truth is that the leader just finds endings difficult.
There may be a person who is hurting the organization with his performance. Everyone around this individual knows that he or she is ineffective. The leader knows leaving everything in place is hurting many for the mythical good of one. The leader wants to raise the bar, but nothing will change as long as the ineffective person remains in place. Still, the leader 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. Although he shared with me many good developments, he said there were two major roadblocks that kept the organization from truly moving to the next level. Both related to endings.
One area in continuing decline once represented the heart of the organization. But today it is ineffective. Indeed, the rest of the organization is subsidizing it, creating resentment among others not connected to that legacy area. The leader knew what needed to be done, but had such a sentimental attachment to the area that he could not bring himself to take action.
Likewise, the leader struggled to make a move regarding an ineffective, high-ranking executive. He simply liked the guy too much to hurt him and his family. Yet this executive’s ineffectiveness was hurting others within, as well as the organization at large. Ironically, the leader knew that the ineffective executive felt miserable because he made such a bad fit for the position. Still, the leader procrastinated in the decision he knew he needed to make.
Endings and us
Endings are not only difficult for leaders; many individuals 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 five reasons:
1. There are political repercussions for bringing about the ending. Despite the obvious need in the organization, the objections will be so loud and painful that the leader avoids the pain and the conflict.
2. That which needs to end has strong sentimental attachments. Leaders instead let sentiment rule over the best decision for the organization.
3. Some leaders feel that endings reflect a lack of compassion or a lack of Christian concern. But in reality, one often sacrifices the good of the whole organization for the perceived good of one person.
4. 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.
5. Some individuals are fearful of bringing endings to phases of their own lives. I remember well leaving my comfortable corporate job to attend seminary many years ago. The fear of the unknown held me back for a while. However, 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.
The courageous step
Great leaders have the wisdom and the courage to know when to implement endings. And no organization can ever move to the next level unless its leaders are sufficiently willing and courageous to lead toward those endings.
Thomas Rainer is the president and CEO LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a church and denominational consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of nearly two dozen books.
Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a church and denominational consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 23 books, including his latest, "I Am a Church Member."