How Pruning Can Lead to Hope and Growth

One of my favorite memories of my Papaw is that he had some of the most incredible rose bushes I have ever seen. Also, he would mow his yard in shorts, black dress shoes and tall white socks. It was quite the fashion statement! Anyway, I was at their house one summer when I was probably 12 or 13 years old, helping him outside with chores. He grabbed a pair of clippers and started cutting on this beautiful red rose bush.

“What are you doing?” I asked him. I thought he had lost his mind.

“Pruning.” He was a man of few words. But when he had something to say, you listened.

“You’re going to cut it? Why?” Suddenly I found myself, who as a middle school boy didn’t give a flying rip about anything, fighting for this rose bush’s life! What he said next I’ll never forget.

He responded, “I prune a little bit every year, and have since I planted this here when it was barely a foot tall. If I don’t do this, as big as this rose bush is now, it’s as big as it will ever get and eventually it will start to die. Rose bushes can only grow when we prune what isn’t promoting growth.”

It was a lesson I didn’t fully understand until reading Necessary Endings. Henry Cloud uses this same example to describe endings and how important they are to growth - both personal and in business.

When you prune a rose bush, you engage in a proactive ending. This intentional cutting off of branches and buds falls into 3 types of categories:

  1. Healthy buds or branches that are not the best ones (rose bushes produce more buds than the life of the plant can sustain)

  2. Sick branches that are not going to get well (this enables the plant to pour even more life into the healthy buds).

  3. Dead branches that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive (healthy branches need room to reach their full length and height).

Here’s a great question to ask before you just take off with a pair of clippers:

“What does a healthy rose bush look like?”

Framed another way - what am I aiming for? Whether it is your life or in regards to the business, without spending time gaining clarity on your desired future, you are creating endings without purpose. Your rose bush will be a disaster. If it’s your life or a team member or culture, you will discover similar results.

Make endings a normal occurance and a normal part of business and life, instead of seeing it as a problem. Then and only then can you align yourself well with endings when they come...If a situation falls within a range of normal, expected, and known, the human brain automatically marshals all available resources and moves to engage it. But if the brain interprets the situation as negative, dangerous, wrong, or unknown, a fight-or-flight response kicks in that moves us away from the issue or begins to resist it. Execution stops or automatically goes in the other direction. Put into the context of endings, if you see them as normal, expected, and even a good thing, you will embrace them and take action to execute them. You will see them as a painful gift.
— Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings

Let’s look at a few examples of pruning opportunities from everyday life and leadership.

In Life

When you think about your life, what requires your resources - time, energy, talent, emotions, money? I’ve done exercises before with money and time where I mapped out where they were being leveraged. What I realized is that when I am not intentional about them, they end up getting invested in areas and things that actually don’t help me become the man, husband, father and friend that I believe God is calling me to become. It creates chaos, confusion, and stress for me and everyone around me.

What about for you? What is most important to you? What do you want to be able to say these things in the end? This is a great first step in bringing clarity around vision. Then, it’s about getting really honest with yourself. Is there anything in my life that is preventing me from becoming this person?

When it comes to sick and dead branches in our personal lives, it sometimes looks like a habit, an addiction, an attitude, or a behavior. These are things that are preventing growth and some can even be harmful to us and those around us. Sometimes, it’s a relationship with someone who’s life is heading a different direction than where you want to end up. At times, these relationships may be abusive, whether emotionally or physically, and an ending is needed but oftentimes extremely difficult to go through with.

There is nothing easy about these endings. If you’ve ever quit an addiction like alcohol or pornography, or created boundaries or ended an unhealthy relationship with someone , you know exactly what I mean. Even behaviors like ending watching TV for hours each night or staying off social media can be like trying to break a chronic addiction sometimes. Don’t believe me? Try to unplug for a week.

I get to walk-alongside people as they navigate endings every day as part of my job. One of my favorite endings happened a few years ago when a parent of a 26-year-old, “stay-at-home-son” as she called him, finally had a pruning moment. She told her son that she loved him and believed in him, and that he had 90 days to find a job and a place to live. He had developed an unhealthy dependency on her and she realized that she had enabled it to a large extent. He was shocked and didn’t talk to her for a few weeks, until he came home from a job interview and thanked her for giving him a reality check. She didn’t disown him, take him out of the will, or anything like that. The pruning moment was a behavior ending - for both of them. He is thriving now, met his now-wife at the new job and now she is getting to enjoy grandkids!

In Leadership

There are also necessary endings when it comes to business and leadership. The same principles apply: What does the company, department, team that you are wanting to become look like? Is there anything, anyone, or any behaviors that are preventing that growth?

I led a team of 14 people at a restaurant I managed while in college. I had one employee that I wanted to succeed so bad. He had a young family at home and all the potential in the world. Problem was, he had a hard time showing up for work on time. When he was there, he was on his phone and completely disengaged. I passively tried to manage through it, but eventually I had to lean into it because the other 13 team members were looking to me for leadership. Our team was suffering. And so was our culture.  

I finally had the conversation that was about six months in the waiting. Instead of telling him everything that he sucked at (that was a long list), I laid out a path of success for him. I told him that I believed in him, but that I wasn’t going to accept this behavior moving forward. I shared with him what I expected from our team members and that he was no different.

We laid out a plan. He told me that he understood and had clarity around expectations, and we set up a time where I would follow up with him. It was the first time I ever remember learning about the term “Compassionate Accountability” in leadership. I was trying to live out my faith and call to “love people”, while also holding him accountable for his actions and decisions. I had struggled to find that balance, but knew if I couldn’t figure it out, there would be an ending in the future, and it would probably be my own.

The first week after our meeting was awesome. He was on time, engaged and he seemed to be making efforts to change. But by the end of week two, some of the same old behaviors started to show up. Week three was worse. I called him into the office when he walked in 45 minutes late. I didn’t get emotional and I wasn’t mad at him. I hated that he was making these choices. I told him I believed in him and I thought he had the chance at a great future. It just wasn’t going to be on my team.

Imagine if a tornado married the Hulk, who became very angry in a room filled with pizza boxes stacked to the ceiling. He cussed me up one side and down the other. Red faced, he left a mess on his way out and slammed the door shut. I looked at my assistant manager and said, “I think that went well.”

Over the next few weeks, multiple team members thanked me in private. I realized that by not executing an ending sooner, I was creating a culture that in no way reflected what I wanted it to become. I was stunting the growth that team, to the point that a few said they had already been looking for another job. Our team responded by having the best two quarters that store had ever had. I left that job to come to Simmons, but I think God allowed me to have those experiences to prepare me for the work of the Chaplain.

I caught up with this guy a few years ago. He went on to go back and finished college and eventually his Masters degree. He apologized for “acting like a child” that day and thanked me for firing him. I asked him what he meant. He said it was the first time that anyone ever cared about him enough to have a hard conversation and hold him accountable. That ending gave him a chance for a new beginning.

Hope or Hopeless?

This is really the key questions when it comes to necessary endings: Is there still hope? As a Christian, I had a hard time with the situation above because i wanted there to be hope for him to figure it out. But there was nothing in reality or in his past that pointed towards this being any more than a wish. I wasn’t loving him by allowing him to continue to misbehave - I was being selfish and protecting myself by being passive and not dealing with the problem. I was trying to fabricate hope, when it was truly hopeless for him to continue working there and be successful.

I have also witnessed relationships and team members who seemed hopeless, who chose to end certain behaviors and habits that allowed them to re-enter a marriage or a team and thrive! I wish I could tell you all the stories I have witnessed since being at Simmons of the lives, marriages, and careers that have been positively transformed because they were willing do to the hard work of pruning.

If you are considering an ending, I encourage you to pray about the situation before acting on it. There have been times in my own life when things seemed pretty bleak, that I had to just put my hands out and give it up to God. I have watched as He has brought healing, forgiveness, and restored relationships when I thought there was no hope. He has also encouraged me through some really hard endings as well. The benefit of perspective is that I can look back and see the growth that came as a result, and I am so thankful that He gave me the courage to lean into fear and prune what was unhealthy or harmful.

For those of you who have an ending ahead of them, please feel free to reach out to a Chaplain and let us walk alongside you through this. Endings are hard enough. You don’t have to do it alone. We’re here to help.

Without pruning, the results of your efforts will be average. Not average compared to other people; average compared to who you could be or what you could do - average compared to your own potential.
— Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings

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