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As a leader, practicing abandonment is difficult. We grow attached to things that have worked in the past; remembering the value they brought to our lives and organizations. We remain dependent on things that are decelerating in their effectiveness; wrenching every last ounce of comfort from their diminishing returns. Endings are difficult, especially when they include products, services, people, or organizations that have added value to our lives. But just like every toddler eventually learns to leave their blanket behind, great leaders know abandonment is necessary to pursue new growth.

I was with just such a leader several weeks ago when I facilitated a StratOp for Fairmount Wesleyan Church in Fairmount, IN. Fairmount Wesleyan has stood as a pillar of its community for over 150 years. Pastor Jeff Luedtke has served as its Lead Pastor for the last four. Pastor Jeff is like many other leaders. Each day, he faithfully serves his organization and its stakeholders; making the sacrifices he feels are necessary. But Pastor Jeff is unlike many other leaders in that he is leading his team to experience missional success.

It is easy for great institutions with significant histories to get stuck in the past, but Jeff and his incredible team are successfully leading their organization into a new season of growth and influence. The key to significant growth is their ability to practice abandonment. While Jeff has launched several new initiatives and services during his tenure, it is his dogged determination to abandon things that don’t directly contribute to their mission that is producing the best results.

Jeff is deeply committed to his organization and to the role it plays in his community. It’s this commitment that drives him to practice abandonment. For this reason, and others, I think Jeff is a great leader, and after three days with his team I’m confident they agree. My visit with Jeff reminded me of these three reasons great leaders practice abandonment.

1. Great leaders understand that if you don’t abandon yesterday, you can’t create tomorrow.

Effective leaders have to get many things done. Therefore, they concentrate. The first rule for concentrating leadership efforts is to abandon what has ceased to be productive. This doesn’t mean abandoning people; it’s quite the opposite. The most valuable resources, especially those of human strength, must be put to work on pursuing the opportunities of tomorrow rather than protecting the practices of the past.

Without purposeful abandonment, events overtake organizations, resources are squandered, and opportunities are missed. Far too few leaders are willing to drop what worked yesterday, and, as a result, far too few have the resources necessary to create tomorrow. Ask yourself, If we did not do this already, would we go into it now? If the answer is no, it may be time to stop.

2. Great leaders honor their organization’s past by pursuing its future.

Remember Kodak? Founded in 1888 by George Eastman, Kodak fueled the rise of amateur photography. For generations, a “Kodak Moment” was synonymous with a moment worth freezing in time. So what happened to Kodak? Well, you could say that Kodak happened.

Most people don’t realize that Kodak invented the technology that would eventually be its demise. In the mid-1970’s Steve Sasson invented the digital camera while working for Kodak as an electrical engineer. However, Kodak’s attachment to its legacy product (35mm film) blinded it to the potential digital imaging had for its future.

I don’t want to detract from Kodak’s legacy. It was a great company that changed the world. I just wish we could refer to it in the present tense. There is nothing more honoring to an organization’s past than being active in the present. Great leaders pursue the future even if it requires them to disrupt the present and abandon the past. If you want your organization to stay in the present tense, you must practice abandonment.

3. Great leaders view necessary endings as new beginnings.

My grandmother understood this principle better than most. She displayed her understanding with skill as a gardener. For a gardener, pruning is intentional and forward-looking. Grandma proudly showed her fresh cut flowers; their fragrance permeated her little country house. She harvested each bloom at the peak of fruitfulness to make room for new growth. It was Grandma’s willingness to cut the past that created space for new life to begin.

Leaders who move forward with precise vision, bold desires, and measurable objectives are like my grandma. They are like Pastor Jeff. They are the master gardeners in the field of life, seeing their rose and cutting where necessary to produce new life.

People who lack the ability to end things, stay stuck. They never become who they are meant to be. Leaving the full fruit of their potential accomplishments buried where they last invested them.

The challenge of abandonment is one of the reasons I have devoted my life to helping people who are stuck. Letting go of the past can be difficult, especially when your vision for the future is unclear. My Life Planning, Church Consulting with The Unstuck Group, and Leadership Coaching experiences are designed to help you gain the perspective necessary to know what and when to prune. If you or your organization is stuck, let’s talk. If you’re moving forward with clarity, keep it up! Chances are you’re enjoying the benefits of some healthy abandonment.

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