Leaders know what to abandon.

The idea of measurement in organizations is directly connected to the whole concept of renewal, one of the essential ingredients of which is abandonment.  What are we going to give up?  What are we going to abandon?  ~Max De Pree

Max De Pree is probably most well-known for his book, Leadership is an Art, published in 1989 and considered a leadership classic, and serving as CEO of Herman Miller. Max’s father, D.J. De Pree, was the founder of Herman Miller, contract furniture manufacturer. Herman Miller has been consistently recognized as one of Fortune Magazine’s “Most Admired Companies,” having placed at the top of the list for furniture companies for more than 18 years.

There were three words in this quote from Max that stood out to me: measurement, renewal, and abandonment. Those are three words that I typically don’t see used in the same sentence. After I thought about it, I began to realize that connecting the dots among measurement, renewal and abandonment, actually makes a lot of sense even though at first glance it didn’t seem that obvious.

If I’m seeking renewal, of just about anything, I typically begin with determining what I’m going to measure. If I want to renew my health, I may start by measuring my weight; if I want to renew my business, I may start by measuring my degree of personal reward/fulfillment with the ROI of my time; if I want to renew a relationship, I may begin by thinking about the quality of time vs. the quantity of time I spend in that relationship.

Then comes the hard part, if I’m seeking renewal, what am I going to abandon?  The word abandon is far more specific and extreme than say, “reduce” or “decrease.” Max is suggesting that I need to determine what I’m going to cease, eliminate, stop, walk away from, etc. Suddenly, everything seems important, necessary, maybe even critical, so how can I abandon anything? If I don’t abandon something and only “add-on,” then have I really “renewed”; or have I just modified or tweaked what I’ve always been doing but with the expectation of being renewed?

Letting go is hard, really hard. But if we want to experience renewal on a personal level, a department level, or an organization level, we must come face-to-face with the idea of abandonment.

If a city wants to begin an urban renewal project, where do they begin? They typically begin with an area of the city that has been abandoned. If you own a trademark and don’t file the appropriate renewal forms, your trademark may be considered abandoned and therefore cancelled. We could probably think of a number of examples where once something is abandoned, the only recourse is to seek some form of renewal.

Renewal follows abandonment. Leaders, what in your life and organization are you willing to abandon in order to experience renewal?

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