One of the things that undermines effective leadership is the unwillingness to deal with chronic problems. It might be a program that is under-performing. It might be a process that no longer generates the results it once did. It might be individuals who, for various reasons, no longer deliver the goods.
Why are we so reluctant to deal with things that are screaming for change? Well, sometimes we have some kind of sentimental attachment that we don't want to let go of. Or perhaps we fear that some unforeseeable fallout will outweigh any benefits in dealing with it. More often, we are afraid of hurting or offending people who are still invested in the situation.
In almost all cases, what we really lack is a straightforward process for bringing once-productive things to an end. In Luke 13, Jesus offers this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”
We can see some quick leadership lessons as we unpack this story:
- Check on things regularly. A routine system of review and analysis enables you to spot trendlines, and key-in on problems before they become entrenched.
- Have clear expectations and let the people involved know when they aren’t being met.
- Before pulling the plug, give people a chance to turn things around. But make sure they understand that if specific targets aren’t met within a specific deadline, then termination will be automatic.
And remember: you're just killing the tree - not the gardener! It’s understood that the old tree will be replaced by a new one that the gardener can be assigned to look after, and we can all get back to being productive once again.