There’s a great speech by Dr. Henry Cloud about the power of necessary endings. Necessary endings are those that help us grow and thrive, much in the way that pruning a rose bush allows the best buds to bloom. A necessary ending might be letting go of a project that no longer makes sense for the business, or letting an employee go who isn’t performing well and isn’t happy in his or her role. In some ways, according to Dr. Cloud, leaders are like hoarders, who hoard projects and people that may once have been healthy and vibrant, but have long passed the point of no return. We get attached to things, and when others try to throw them out, we fight—“I might need that!” we cry—and in the moment are more committed to hanging on to what we knew as opposed to taking a chance on what we don’t. We also hang on to people, because we are nostalgic for the good old days when Johnny had great performance, before he stopped coming to work on time, starting checking his Facebook status every 5 minutes, and started taking lunch breaks that lasted the whole afternoon.
By hoarding, our organizations get cluttered and lethargic, and can’t seem to move forward because we are dragging a sack full of old projects, rules and procedures that no one can remember the purpose of but are committed to nonetheless. Sometimes it takes an outside force—like a recession—to force us to make the tough choices, to clean out the garage so we have the space to do good work.
Dr. Cloud’s best example of hoarding was the auto industry. Ever wonder how GM, an organization filled with the smartest, best-compensated people in the world, from the best universities with decades of business experience nearly killed their own company? Because they, like the rest of us, are hoarders, and were convinced they might need Pontiac in case the good old days of the 1950’s and 60’s came again. It took a bankruptcy judge with no experience running a car company to make the decision GM couldn’t: it’s time to clear out the garage so we can get back to work. It was a necessary ending—not an easy one, and not an inspirational one—but a necessary one. It’s part of seeing things as they are, not as we wish them to be.
And where’s GM, in 2013? Selling cars again.