Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud

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Henry Cloud sets out the argument that in your business, the tomorrow that you desire and envision may never come to pass if you do not end some things you are doing today.  He states there are different kinds of endings and learning how to tell one from the other will ensure some successes and prevent many failures, ending the pain and turmoil that your business may now be encountering. 

There are reasons why you may not see the endings that are right in front of you, and reasons why you have been unable to execute the ones that you do see but feel paralyzed to deal with.  However, following Cloud’s advice, there is hope for us all if we invoke necessary endings.

Endings: The Good Cannot Begin Until the Bad Ends 

In business, endings are necessities for a turnaround or growth. Businesses must let go of product lines or areas of business whose day has passed. To sustain their companies’ current levels of health, business leaders must shut down yesteryear’s good ideas or strategies to have the focus to take their organizations to tomorrow. Sometimes it means that employees have to be let go too. We need to bring things to an end. But its hard, isn’t it?

Why We Avoid Endings 

Here are some reasons why we avoid endings.

  • We are afraid of the unknown. 
  • We fear confrontation. 
  • We are afraid of letting go and the sadness associated with an ending. 
  • We have had too many and too painful endings, so we avoid another one. 
  • When they are forced upon us, we do not know how to process them, and we sink or flounder. 
  • We do not learn from them, so we repeat the same mistakes over and over.
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The Real Reason 

Something about the leaders’ personal makeup gets in their way. 

We are not prepared to go where we need to go. We do not clearly see the need to end something, or we maintain false hope. As a result, we stay stuck in what should now be in our past. And it is not only the endings that we must proactively execute that are problematic. There are also the endings that are forced upon us, endings we do not choose but that we cannot work through very well either. As a result, we remain in pain or stuck. 

When we fail to end things well, we are destined to repeat the mistakes that keep us from moving on. Yet endings are a part of every aspect of life.

Pruning: Growth Depends on Getting Rid of the Unwanted or the Superfluous 

Definition – Pruning: A function of cutting away to reduce the extent or reach of something by taking away unwanted or superfluous parts. The areas of your business that require your limited resources—your time, energy, talent, emotions, money—but are not achieving the vision you have for them should be pruned. Examples are:

  • If an initiative is siphoning off resources that could go to something with more promise. 
  • If an endeavour is sick and is not going to get well.
  • If it’s clear that something is already dead. 

The pruning moment is that clarity when we become responsible for making the decision to either own the vision or not. If we own it, we have to prune. If we don’t, we have decided to own the other vision, the one we called average. 

Jack Welch’s standards illustrate many components of pruning. Being number one or two in the market clearly demonstrates the reward of clipping some of the buds that are alive and growing but are not the ones that will make it to the top.  His “fix, close, or sell” standard addresses the second ending above: There will always be sickness. Our responsibility is always to “embrace the negative reality,” The “fire the bottom 10 percent” mantra is a clear pruning idea that encompasses all three categories—good but not best, sick and not getting well, and long since dead. 

Prune with a proper purpose

You can’t prune toward anything if you don’t know what you want. You have to figure out what you are trying to build and then define what the pruning standards are going to be. That definition and those standards will bring you to the pruning moments, wherein you either own the vision or you don’t. 

Sometimes people equate the concept of pruning with cutting expenses or “reducing head count.” But cutting costs is not what pruning is about, and when someone says that, they are thinking more like a manager than a leader. We are talking about defining what the business is going to look like and pruning everything that is keeping it from realizing that vision—be it good, bad, or dead. 

Make Endings Normal 

Make endings a normal occurrence and a normal part of business, instead of seeing it as a problem. Then and only then can you align yourself well with endings when they come. It has to do with your brain and how it works. 

Accept Life Cycles and Seasons. 

Your seedling business is launched – Season 1. Your business takes root – Season 2. Your established business grows rapidly – Season 3.  Your mature business normalises – Season 4. It is fairly easy to see different actions are necessary at each stage both to progress and transform from one season to another. However, without pruning, Season 5 may well lead to “shark jumping”  if you are not handy with your business secateurs.

Accept That Life Produces Too Much Life 

The truth is that high-functioning people have many, many relationships, and many, many activities. That is a good thing. But it is also true that the high-functioning people who have extensive networks and relationships that really work well are also very, very good at not having some, as well. They prune them. Smart companies prune their customers, focusing on those who deliver the most profitability with the fewest resources. 

Accept That Incurable Sickness and Evil Exist 

Some people are not going to change, no matter what you do, and others have a vested interest in being destructive. Accept it, and it will get easier to take the necessary steps to make an ending. You will go from being in shock or in denial to asking yourself the right question: what am I dealing with here? Similarly, some businesses, strategies, visions, tactics, or products are too sick to recover and need to be scrapped. Don’t keep beating the dead horse, or worse, riding the one with the broken leg. Call it quits, wave the white flag, and go forward. 

Getting to the Pruning Moment

Not only is facing reality one of the biggest requirements of success, it is also a significant step in arriving at the pruning moment. Fully embracing reality is not only the “Aha!” of the pruning moment, it is also the fuel that can give one the courage to execute the difficult decisions. It can empower you to do what is otherwise difficult. 

Getting past denial to the “full embrace of reality has enormous energy and power to move you into the actions you might have been avoiding, past the avoidance that might have been keeping you stuck. After the initial shock and discouragement, seeing the bare truth that what we are doing is leading nowhere will get us to change something. 

The Big Change Motivator: Get Hopeless 

Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. With hope, we can endure almost anything, and certainly more than if we don’t have hope to begin with. In short, hope keeps us going. And that is the problem.  Hope is always about holding on when it looks bad and being able to hold on sometimes for a long time. 

False hope can ruin everything. If we realise this, we can find a real way that will work, one rooted in things as they really are, to get what we desire. It is imperative that you give up hope if your hope is not hope at all but just an empty wish. To hold on to “hope” when what you really have is merely a wish is to fail to grasp reality. Here are seven factors to help you determine whether you can have hope that tomorrow will be any different from today.

  1. Verifiable Involvement in a Proven Change Process – Is there in some sort of change process that you can verify a sustained commitment to? 
  2. Additional Structure  – By and large, people do not change without new structure. 
  3. Monitoring Systems – How do we know this is all happening? 
  4. New Experiences and Skills  – People change not only because of new information, but also by gaining new experiences that teach them what they need in order to make the future different. 
  5. Self-sustaining Motivation  – How do you know when to have hope for the future of someone’s changes? Look at the degree to which you are having to drive the process
  6. Admission of Need – To have hope that people are truly going to change they must see that they have a problem and own the problem. 
  7. The Presence of Support – Change takes place when we are surrounded by people who support our desire for change and growth.

Resistance: How to Tackle Internal and External Barriers 

Getting unstuck is a big felt need, and for good reason. Many times we are stuck because of incompatible wishes. Here are some examples:

  • I want to get the team moving, but I don’t want to have to deal with the conflict that it is going to bring up. 
  • I want the margins that we need, but I also love the old product line that has the lower margins. 
  • I want a high-performer in this position, but I want Suzy’s people skills. 
  • I want to meet with the team regularly, but I want to work from home. 
  • I want to have the highest performance in the company, but I also want time at home with my kids. 

To win, we have to give up some things for others. So if you feel resistance about executing a certain ending, figure out what two or more desires are in conflict, admit to yourself that you can have only one, and then ask yourself this question: Which one am I willing to give up to have the other one? 

The Magic of Self-Selection 

In getting to a necessary ending, many people do not want to be in the position of being the bad guy, rejecting someone or saying that person is not “good enough”. It makes them feel bad and is a horrible dynamic in a relationship. 

Self-selection is a better way. What it does is set a standard for what you want, regardless of what individual you are dealing with. Then the person gets to choose whether she wants to meet that standard or not. She self-selects. When we establish a standard, we have drawn a line in the sand for people to deal with. Whether or not they will is up to them. It is unknown and hopeful because sometimes they do. Other times, they don’t. Either way, the pruning has happened, and you did not reject anyone. 

Taking Inventory of What Is Depleting Your Resources 

if you are doing something that is using you or your resources in a way that is depleting you or damaging you, you can’t keep it going. The reason? In short: you will run out. Some examples:

  • A CEO or boss drives his people toward a strategy that stretches them past their abilities to keep going, so they get depleted and lose heart. 
  • A business owner pushes herself day and night to get her startup going and begins to get sick more and more. 
  • A CEO or manager allows a toxic employee to make the culture negative for others, to the point where the entire staff becomes demotivated as time goes on. 
  • A business initiative has a great start, but costs are greater than planned, and the cash burn grows faster and hotter. 
  • A business keeps hoping for a profit, and takes on more and more debt, always thinking that the turnaround is coming, even as debt grows. 

All of these scenarios are examples in which continuing to spend yourself or other resources diminishes or does damage to you or them. That is not sustainable long-term, which means that you are on a path to an end of something, a part of either you or your business, and not by choice. And that is a fact that you cannot ignore. 


Cloud suggests we become business gardeners, pruning the dead wood of our businesses. Ending the inertia that consumes resources: time, money and energy.  Pruning gives substance to new growth and new growth brings fresh life into the enterprise. Get snipping!

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