CloNece 11-06-062

Necessary Endings

The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships that All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward


Dr. Henry Cloud

Harper Business, 2010, 238 pp.  ISBN 978-0-06-177712-7



Cloud is a leadership coach to business executives and a clinical psychologist.  He is well known for other books, including Boundaries.  In this book he argues that our personal and professional lives can only improve to the degree we can end some things as a step to something better.  Well executed endings correct the bad and make room for personal and professional growth. 



"In your business and perhaps your life, the tomorrow that you desire and envision may never come to pass if you do not end some things you are doing today." (Preface)


1. Endings: The Good Cannot Begin Until the Bad Ends

When the world and the market are changing, improving what you are already doing will not bring a bright future.  It will require some difficult decisions.  Some things die and some need to be killed.  The good cannot begin until the bad ends.  There is a season for things.  Although endings are crucial they are often difficult and we do not do them well.  Crises often bring to the fore longstanding problems that have not been addressed.  Leaders get stuck in the past because of false hope or they are simply unable to make difficult endings.  If we fail to end things well, we repeat the mistakes that hold us back. 


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

Gardeners prune the buds or branches that show less promise, those that are sick, and those that are dead.  Pruning is cutting away the superfluous parts and this is a central metaphor for necessary endings.  "The areas of your business and life that require your limited resources--your time, energy, talent, emotions, money--but are not achieving the vision you have for them should be pruned." (18) 


"There is a big difference between hurt and harm.  We all hurt sometimes in facing hard truths, but it makes us grow.  Harm is when you damage someone.  Facing reality is usually not a damaging experience, even though it can hurt." (21) "Positive is doing what is best and right for the business and for the people." (22)  "Reality sometimes makes us face things that hurt, and that can be a very good thing." (23)


Pruning has to do with focus, mission, purpose, structure, and strategic execution.  Just cutting back resources to do the same activities will yield less, not more.  Prune in three categories: things that are suboptimal, not working well, or dead.


3. Normalizing Necessary Endings: Welcome the Seasons of Life into Your Worldview

Endings are a normal part of business and life.  If you are uncomfortable with endings, it will be more difficult to see what needs to be done and you will recoil and resist.  Embrace endings as a good thing.  When it becomes clear that more effort will not bring about a different result, recognize reality and take action.  It is easier when you believe endings are normal.  Align with reality."  Am I hanging on to an activity, product, strategy, or relationship whose season has passed?"  (45) 


4. When Stuck Is the New Normal: The Difference Between Pain with a Purpose and Pain for No Good Reason

End misery that is going nowhere.  Pain is a signal that something is wrong: action is required.  Often we do not end something because of factors inside us.  We're stuck.  Our internal maps tell us we can't do anything about it.  [5 mental models are described.] Examine and change your mental model.  Assume there is opportunity somewhere.  Focus on what you can do.  Write down the things you can't control and the ones you can change.  Take action on the latter. 


"There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable, or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult…has to be responsible for: herself or himself."  (67)  Nonprofits often extend misplaced and excessive loyalty to such people.


5. Getting to the Pruning Moment: Realistic, Hopeless, and Motivated

Successful leaders are in touch with reality.  They recognize when something is hopeless: it isn't working and it isn't going to get better.  "Nothing mobilizes us like a firm dose of reality. … only reality gets us to do difficult things." (74)  We must confront the brutal facts to get to the pruning moment.  Living in denial, unable to face reality, leads to failure.  When you make a wrong turn and are driving down a wrong road, you turn around when you clearly see it's a dead end.  To get where you want you must make a change.  You must choose reality over comfort.  Delusional attitudes keep the old, inaccurate sense of reality in place.  A positive hopelessness can give us courage to stop doing what isn't going to work.  How is your eyesight regarding reality? 


"Hope … sometimes creates problems if we are not in touch with reality. … In a false reality, hope is the worst quality you can have!"  (85)  "Just as hope can conquer all, false hope can ruin everything…." (86)  We must distinguish between wishing and hoping.  Hope is based on real, objective reasons.  "While hope is a great virtue, hope in unreality is not." (90)


6.  Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What's Worth Fixing and What Should End

The past is the best predictor.  Project the past into the future. Unless something changes, that is what you can expect.  To see whether there is hope for change consider the character of the person.  "The person's makeup, is the future." (98)  Look at the reality of the person: are they capable?  Look at the character, the gifts, and the experience or the person.  People do wake up and change.  Look for objective reasons to hope for change.  Look in these categories: verified involvement in a change process, a structured path for change, monitoring systems to keep track, new experiences and skills, self-driven motivation for change, admission of need for change, external support for change, skilled help, and evidence of some success.  You can have objective hope if you are bringing some new knowledge, wisdom, or know-how to the situation plus some new energy for driving change.


7. The Wise, the Foolish, and the Evil: Identifying Which Kinds of People Deserve Your Trust  [When to keep trying with someone]

The most accurate predictions come from accurate diagnoses of character.  There are wise people, foolish people, and evil people.  Respond to people according to their behaviors.  Wise people welcome feedback and make adjustments to align with truth and reality.  Talking is helpful. 


Foolish people try to adjust the truth so they don't have to change.  They rarely see themselves as wrong.  They minimize, rationalize, make excuses, get emotional, and have little awareness of the ramifications of their behaviors.  They lack ownership of issues.  Instead of talking, establish limits (to protect from their damage) and consequences (to cause them to feel the pain).  You must recognize and bring an end to the effects of their refusal of responsibility.    


You must protect yourself from evil people with "lawyers, guns (police), and money."  They actually want to bring you down. 


8. Creating Urgency: Stay Motivated and Energized for Change

Endings are hard.  "You have heard it said that people resist change.  That is not always true.  It is more true that people resist change that they feel no real need to make." (150)  To create endings and get those around you to do so, you need to capitalize on the fear of the negative and the draw of the positive.  Because we get comfortable with our misery we need to visualize the threat in the future as real in our minds as it will be in reality.  Reality moves people.  Seeing the world as it is, its dangers and opportunities is motivating.  So play the movie of the future in your mind.  Make yourself see and feel it.  Is this what you really want?  Playing the movie of the future you desire is motivating as well.  See, smell, and feel your vision. 


Create alliances of influential people committed to change.  Surround yourself with those who create energy for change.  Who are your change agents for the endings you need to make?  They have to have enough fire to put an end to the old.  "Human brains are designed to create what they see in the future.  Our internal resources begin to align with that internal reality and create it." (161)  "When people see it, they can create it.  If it is communicated strongly enough and often enough, they almost cannot not create it!" (162)  "So make it real.  Write it down.  Talk about it and create reminders in your personal life and your organization."  (162)  Set deadlines, with consequences.  Create structures of time, plans, critical paths, milestones, etc.  Keep the misery alive in your mind.  Measure progress and evaluate.   


9. Resistance: How to Tackle Internal and External Barriers

Internal resistance arises from powerful wishes that are mutually exclusive.  You have to let go of something to get the other.  You must decide.  If you are attached to nothing more than doing the right thing, you have power. 


10. No More Mr. Bad Guy: The Magic of Self-Selection

People stall because they don't want to be the "bad guy," rejecting someone.  So set a standard for what you want, clarify the standard, and let the individual "self-select."  The standard creates the ending. This is similar to colleges setting admission standards. 


11.  Having the Conversation: Strategies for Ending Things Well

12.  Embrace the Grief: The Importance of Metabolizing Necessary Endings

Look at the past experience: break it a part, consider the good and the bad in the relationships, the learning, the skills you gained, new knowledge and strengths.  Consider the negatives, the things you will want to eliminate in the future.  Take the wisdom out of it, learn from it.  Consciously leave behind the pain, bitterness, feelings of failure, loss and grief and resentment. 


13.  Sustainability: Taking Inventory of What Is Depleting Your Resources

Sustainability means resources are not depleted or permanently damaged.  An ending is vital and urgent if you are depleting or damaging your resources.  Areas of life that might be on an unsustainable path include your emotions, physical state, relationships, professional state, spiritual state, financial state, energy, or your strengths.  In what ways are you overextended?  This does not mean sacrifice or proactive decisions to go forward when it costs.  This is an important requirement for maturity.  "What I am talking about is a passive and negative state that you find yourself in over time, a state with no benefits and nothing but diminishing returns.  That is not sustainable." (226) 


Conclusion: It's All About the Future

1. Do the very best you can at every step in your life.

2. When it is time, have the courage to take the next step.

3. Pour yourself into the new situation and make it all that it can be.