Whether it’s an unhealthy relationship or a failing business strategy, we all face issues both at home and at work that suck the life out of our leadership. And yet, even when it’s clear that these things need to go, actually bringing them to an end can be an awkward and painful process, one that many of us would just rather avoid. But if we ever hope to be healthy individuals and effective leaders, learning to embrace endings and see the opportunity they bring will be an essential skill to cultivate.
Join us as we hear from Daniel Leavell, a wildfire expert and Oregon State University professor, about how forests need fire to stay healthy and promote growth, and how this natural relationship can help us better understand the necessary role endings can play in our lives and leadership.
Daniel Harkavy (00:02)
Up here in the Pacific Northwest, which is where I get to live. It’s known for its lush forests and when I drive through the cascade mountain range on my way to go either snowboarding and Mount hood or to head out towards bend in central Oregon, what I see is both sides of the highways thick with all sorts of firs bushes and Cedars. And when most of us see a densely packed for us like this bursting with everything green, we see something beautiful, we see it thriving, we see it healthy. But that’s not always what everyone sees.
Daniel Leavell (00:37)
So when somebody looks at a forest and they see a thick canopy of green, they think it’s healthy. I’m sorry, I’ve, I’ve been trained and experienced to look at that forest from a different perspective. And if I walk in that forest, I would probably see overcrowding stressed out trees.
Daniel Harkavy (01:01)
That’s Daniel Leavell. He’s an assistant professor at Oregon state university’s college of forestry and he has more than 50 years of experience in firefighting and natural resource emergency management. Daniel looks at for us a differently than do you or I, his eyes are trained to spot something in particular that is both a sign of an unhealthy forest and a risk factor for dangerous wildfires overgrowth. When a forest is crowded and overgrown, all of the excess material can serve as potential fuel for the fire and when not properly held in check, that extra fuel can help turn what could have been a more manageable wildfire into a devastating, uncontrollable blaze that can burn for weeks, wreak havoc on communities and cost tens of millions of dollars in damage to help reduce the risk posed by an overgrown forest. Professionals use a method known as prescribed burning,
Daniel Leavell (01:57)
So you literally diagnose a need for that system, forest or shrub land or range land or whatever it is you diagnose a need for fire relationship within that ecosystem. Once you diagnose that need, you prescribe a way to bring fire into that ecosystem.
Daniel Harkavy (02:21)
When Daniel refers to an ecosystem having a need for fire relationship, he’s talking about land managers that will go out and intentionally light fires to burn some of this threatening overgrowth back. It sounds a little crazy, right? I mean, it’s starting a fire and with all the fear associated with fire, especially in light of the huge devastating wildfires that have been in the news and in recent years, the idea of intentionally setting a fire to parts of the forest can seem like a very scary proposition, but what most of us see as threatening and scary Daniel sees is absolutely necessary for the proper of a healthy forest and this idea of taking necessary action to remove something that’s unhealthy. I believe it applies just as much to leadership and a business as it does to managing forests.
Hi, I’m Daniel Harkavy and this is the building champions podcast. Our goal with this podcast is to share our perspective on leadership and in life and to equip you to better lead yourself, your team and your organization. This episode is all about endings and how eliminating certain things from our businesses or our lives, even some of the good stuff, it can be hard, but it’s absolutely necessary to many leaders go through their days tired, busy and stressed out. And if we were asked what causes this stress in this busy-ness, I’m sure that there would be at least one or two things that would come to mind immediately. Maybe it’s a maxed out calendar full of activities that don’t seem to move the needle, and yet you somehow find yourself being pulled yet into another meeting. Or maybe it’s a teammate who’s poor performance or disruptive behavior.
It’s hurting the team, but for some reason you’ve avoided addressing the issue and it doesn’t always have to be something negative for some a, the issue could be that you’ve just got a ton of travel. You’re in the air every week, you’re going to different cities, visiting your teammates in different locations, or maybe it’s customer meetings and all of the conversations are really beneficial. But the pace it can grow to where it takes so much of your time and so much of your energy that there’s just not a lot left for anything else. So maybe your marriage starts to suffer or maybe you start to lose some of those innovative thoughts and ideas that come to you when you have more space in your calendar. What takes places, other areas of our business and our lives, they can’t thrive, whatever it is for you. We all have situations, activities or relationships that take up too much space in our lives and like overgrowth in a forest.
These things choke us and use up so much of our time and resources that we aren’t able to move forward and flourish as leaders and yet even when we feel the stress of this day in and day out, many of us find it hard to simply say no and make the necessary changes that will lead to a healthier life and a healthier business. Why is that? Why is it so difficult for us to bring the things that are holding us back to a much needed end? The answer. It’s not far off from the reason that so many people are uncomfortable with the idea of using prescribed burning in the forests. Here’s Daniel again to explain. I honestly think the primary reason is we don’t understand
Daniel Leavell (05:58)
What this system needs. If fire is a force that if somebody has not had experience with it, does not understand it, the reaction and probably rightly so is fear. While the idea is to get over that fear through understanding and education, but in the end, I honestly think the majority of those who own and manage land don’t completely understand the systems, how they work, how they function, and how disturbance plays a role has played a role and should play a role in all of that.
Daniel Harkavy (06:37)
For many people who are reluctant to embrace a practice like prescribed burning, they are hesitant because they only associate fire with fear and destruction. They haven’t learned the crucial role that fire plays in maintaining a healthy, properly functioning forest. That’s why for Daniel education is so important when it comes to our lives and our leadership. A similar sense of fear and uncertainty can keep us from embracing the necessary role that ending’s play in maintaining our health and our success. We tend to avoid endings because they scare us, they make us feel uncomfortable, and we usually haven’t been taught how to navigate them well. Maybe you’re afraid to say no to set boundaries with a boss or a colleague, or maybe you’ve adopted a mindset that says a leader should be able to do everything, and so you’re unwilling to say no to some of the good things in your business or in your life so that you can leave room for what might be great to push past our fear and hesitancy so that we can learn what goodness endings have to offer. We need a little education ourselves and again, we can look to the forest to learn a valuable lesson. In this instance, our teacher is a fire loving shrub called CNO. This
Daniel Leavell (07:54)
Fire has always been with us. It’s always been here. These species have adapted to that like see an office, for example, ceanothus is a shrub species. It’s perfectly adapted to fire in that it’ll have seeds, little tiny black seeds that’ll erupt from white flowers. When it ripens, the seeds will mesh into the duff of the soil and the thick duff for up to 500 years until a really hot fire passes through. Once the hot fire passes through, burns the duff off the seed coat breaks the ceanothus’ seedling germinates. It roots into the soil. The roots fixed nitrogen back into the soil and the shrub grows nurturing a seed bed for conifers to grow underneath it. And once the conifers over top, the ceanothus hates shades so much that it leaves the system, it just dies, fades out the seeds, stay in the soil for 500 years until another hot fire occurs and the cycle repeats.
Daniel Harkavy (09:09)
For ceanothus, the fire that many view as destructive and unwanted, it’s absolutely central to helping the plant flourish. Fire removes the many tall trees that block the sunlight from reaching ceanothus. This essentially creating the space the plant needs to grow and as the fire burns through and creates that space, it simultaneously provides the heat that’s needed to break the coating on the seeds so they can take root and produce new plants. It’s an amazing relationship and it’s a reminder to us that endings like fire have the incredible potential to open up space for growth in our leadership and in our lives by removing the things that keep us stuck. I want you to bring to mind one thing, whether good or bad, it’s taking up too much space in your life or in your business. It’s leaving you feeling unhealthy, maybe depleted or overwhelmed.
Now imagine that this one thing, it was suddenly removed from you. What would be different? How would you feel? Would you have more hope? Would you be more relaxed or more engaged? Would you be freed up to focus on what you believe is truly most important? Chances are there’s a sizeable gap between where you are now and where you want to be and even though it may be hard to hear, you need to know that sometimes the only way to bridge that gap, it’s through a much needed ending. Remember our friend ceanothus, it would shrivel up and die and remain a scattering of seeds in the ground forever waiting, never growing without a much needed fire. So hopefully now you’re more convinced that endings are a necessary part of life because they help create the space we need to grow and flourish and hopefully you have now in mind one or two key things in your life or in your business that need to come to an end.
But here’s the real question. How even when we’re convinced of the necessary role that endings play in our formation as leaders, there is still no denying that they’re just hard. This increased understanding doesn’t take away from the difficulty of having to eliminate a bad behavior or bringing to end a strategy that’s not paying off or maybe the delicate nature of confronting a problem team member when it comes to taking advantage of the endings in our lives. It’s more than just knowing that they’re needed. It’s the how to. That’s critical. It’s knowing what it takes to navigate endings both effectively and responsibly. That will determine whether the is a net positive or a net negative in your life and leadership. Back in 2010 my colleague and very good friend Henry cloud, who happens to be an executive coach and a New York times bestselling author, he wrote an amazing book called necessary endings in it.
He does a great job of helping you to see when you need to end something and then how you can go about doing it. Well. One key strategy Henry teaches you is that when you’re looking to end an activity or a relationship that might be holding you back, you need to have a very clear purpose and a plan that you’re going to execute on. When people like Daniel used prescribed burning to manage overgrowth in a forest, they don’t just waltz into the woods and start randomly setting things on fire. There’s a careful and precise method for how the fire is applied so that the forest experiences the benefits without being too heavily impacted by its negative effects. In the same way, when it comes time for an ending in your life, the process needs to be carried out with a clear goal in mind. It’s not enough to simply want the overgrowth out of your business or your life.
You need to have a clear vision of what the outcome will look like when the thing’s been removed and why. Once you’ve identified what needs to be ended and you know what you want the outcome to look like, it will then be time for some tough conversations, whether it’s being clear with your boss about boundaries between your home life and work life or ending a personal relationship that’s bringing you down. Henry has so many good things to say about navigating these conversations and I’ve said it before. Bringing things to an end is really difficult. I say we need to say no to the good so we can see us to the great saying, no cutting back, burning pruning. It plays a regular role in how we live and how we lead. If we want to create the space to grow this mindset and the discipline will truly help you to be the best you can be. In the second half of the episode you’re going to hear from one of our executive coaches on some specific strategies and actions you can take to apply this to your life and your leadership.
Todd Mosetter (14:16)
My name is Todd Mosetter, and I work here in the content department here at Building Champions and I’m excited to be joined by my friend and colleague Laurel Emory. I can’t think of a better way to start season two than the same way we started season one. Thanks for joining us again. So when we think about this idea of our lives, our businesses being overgrown, and where have you seen clients really struggle with that? What does that look like?
Laurel Emory (14:52)
Yeah. I think one of the things that I’ve really seen a lot over the last couple of years is this notion of we are so good at our jobs and so excellent that we ended up getting new responsibilities given to us. There is just this recognition of we can do it, so let’s give them more. Right? And so we get into this place then of we’re so excellent and do such a great job that then we wind up with too much on our plate and we can turn that into like, okay, I have to hold onto the control of this. Like this is, I’m so good at this, so I have to keep this. I can’t give this up. I can’t delegate it. I can’t pass it on to somebody else. Or I’m maybe letting my power get in the way, or the pride and my pride get in the way and not willing. I’m not willing to let it go.
Todd Mosetter (15:31)
So I love that. One of the things we’re going to try and do a great job of here in season two is pulling out tactical things that people can do, right? We want this to be something that they can implement. Yeah. I don’t want listeners to miss what you just said there before we say yes to something new. We should probably stop and say, why are we really saying yes.
Laurel Emory (15:51)
Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, a funny example when I started my PhD program, I remember our lead professors saying to us, as you’re starting this, find something in your life that you can quit. And he gave a plethora of examples of hire somebody to mow your lawn, hire somebody to do your irony and for you, you know, whatever it was. But that was the notion was, okay, you’re starting this huge thing. So what is it that you’re going to stop in order to create some margin for yourself? Cause you’re obviously gonna need it.
Todd Mosetter (16:22)
And that’s a great example. I think by nature most of us are much better adders than we are subtractors. Letting go, quitting things, necessary endings. They seem to be a lot harder than they should be. Can you help me understand how your clients kind of struggle with that a little bit?
Laurel Emory (16:38)
Yeah, I think one of the things that we talk about within Building Champions and I absolutely see play out with my clients, is that our behaviors are based off of our thinking and our beliefs. And somewhere along the way those thinking and beliefs become unconscious for us. Right? And so there is just that belief there that is like they can’t even explain how they do what they do or why they do what they do because it’s just become, you know, that unconscious aspect of themselves because you know, it’s driven by their thinking and their beliefs and changing those thinking and beliefs is often not an easy exercise.
I think we heard Daniel and Daniel previously talk about fear being a big component of it. So like, we use the example a second ago of not wanting to give up power, give up control, that sort of thing. So fear can definitely be coming into play in the mindset. Obviously also ego as well can come in. So I think it’s hard for people to identify that and to know how to, you know, deal with that or identify that overgrowth because of just that unconscious of what’s going on under the surface of their behaviors.
Todd Mosetter (17:57)
I think that’s so great to call out because we often fly on autopilot probably a lot more than we realize and the amount of influence that our thinking and our feelings and beliefs have on our actions, right? What we say yes to what we say no to. I love the examples you used to fear and ego. I’d love to throw out a third one and kind of get your reaction to it, which is this idea of responsibility that we don’t want to let people down. Right. They asked us for a reason. They probably need us. And there’s probably some pride in there, but there’s also probably just some responsibility that I don’t want to let this person down. Do you see your clients struggling with that one as well?
Laurel Emory (18:32)
Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. I think there’s a great example recently that I had with a client was a, the comment that he was making of his wife not wanting to hire a housekeeper because she felt like that was her role and her responsibility and my client is saying to his wife, no, this is, I need you to be focusing on our kids and our family and things that other people can’t do as well as you can, but somebody else can, you know, clean the house sort of things. So I know that’s kind of a minimal example, but it’s a good one in the sense of just figuring out like, okay, there, yeah, there are things that we take on because we have this belief that it is our role. It is our responsibility to do so.
Todd Mosetter (19:21)
I think a lot of us and our clients and our listeners do find themselves overwhelmed. So I think helping folks understand how to identify those things that are overgrown and eliminate them is key. Yeah. You actually just touched on one that I think would be a great place to kick off, right? Which is really understanding your unique value. Right? What are the things that you do better than anyone else or that adds the most value and making sure you have room for those before you take on, you know, other activities that, to your point, maybe there are some fears, some prides and ego, whatever. But when you step back, you go, you know what, there’s actually someone else that could do that or I could pay someone to do that. So knowing what are those activities that you and you alone can do and add the most value, that’s probably a great place to start.
Laurel Emory (20:06)
Absolutely. Yeah. I think we have a tool that we use that helps people to determine like highest and best use. What is the highest and best use of your time and taking inventory basically of looking at, okay, what is it that aligns with my priorities, my values, my convictions, and you know, my giftings that you know, no one else can do and the way that I’ve been uniquely created or qualified to, to do so. Absolutely.
Todd Mosetter (20:36)
I love that word. You used inventory, right? Because I think too often we may not see the breadth and depth of everything we do. When you work with clients, how do you help them really take an inventory to understand exactly everything they’ve committed to?
Laurel Emory (20:48)
Oh, that’s a good question. So we have a couple of great tools that we use for that that we can provide to our listeners. But I mean, something as simple as tracking your time and looking at what is it that I’m actually doing with my time. I just had a client that I spoke with, I had earlier today that he was saying, I got to the end of the week last week, and I was like, what in the world did I just do with my week? So being able to actually just look back and, and look at your calendar and identify, okay, what is it that I’m actually spending my time on? Then allows us to then determine, okay, what are the things I want to be spending my time on or need to be spending my time on? Are these activities and things that are the busy-ness that’s filling my calendar? Are they the right things? So that’s a great starting place.
Todd Mosetter (21:38)
I love that. I’m thinking recently I was approached with a, with a volunteer opportunity, which on the surface was great and my wife was wise and before we said yes, said, do me a quick favor and write down all of the volunteer activities you are currently involved in. And when I saw them on a list I was just like, wow. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to add one more to that too. There definitely is an awareness issue. In addition to that awareness and self reflection, what else have you seen clients do effectively?
Laurel Emory (22:09)
Well, getting feedback from other people is a really big one and an important one. Like you need to, just like you said in your example with your wife, it’s, you know, okay, I’m not just self-reflecting and doing my own self inventory, but I’m having somebody else speak into, you know, this is what I’m observing with you and how you’re spending your time and what you’re doing, you know, with your priorities. So getting, you know that overall feedback is a really critical and important to have from people so that it can help you again to break down not just the behaviors, but what’s driving those behaviors.
Todd Mosetter (22:44) If I remember correctly, you were sharing a story earlier about effectively doing this with a client recently. Can you help us understand what that looked like?
Laurel Emory (22:51)
Yeah, absolutely. So in that process, I actually spent time walking through with this client, both the self reflection, the inventorying as well as getting the feedback from others. So we combine the two together, spent time looking for the patterns, the themes that were coming from those, and then were able to identify what particular areas that she needed to focus on that would move her to that place of highest and best use of her time. And I think she was able to determine for herself like where that was coming from and what was driving that.
It was a really good exercise for her. A very enlightening exercise, not just from a priority management or a time management aspect, but from a holistic sense of getting to know herself on an even deeper level. And for this client in particular, what we working on as her being able to identify that she had thoughts and beliefs about herself and her capabilities and her areas of expertise that more or less made her feel like she had to be the one to do things and she couldn’t rely on others to do them. Like she was just so confident in her own capabilities that she just naturally or kind of had moved into a place of believing that others couldn’t do the same. So it wasn’t that she needed to stop believing in herself or stop being confident, but she needed to augment that thinking and be able to think, okay, others can contribute just as effectively as I can. And so I need to give them space and allow them to do so.
Todd Mosetter (24:34)
So I love that. We’ve touched on two big categories, right? We think about necessary endings and they’re not necessarily bad things that we need to end. Right? There are things that are just taking up space. Yeah. We’ve talked about tasks, habits, activities, commitments. We’ve talked about thinking, right and beliefs. I think there’s a third one that’s probably really important to touch on and it’s probably the trickiest and that is those relationships. We all probably have relationships in our life that at one point in time they were healthy, right? They were adding a ton of value, but over time things change, situations change and most of us have relationships in our life that if we’re being honest, they probably it’s time for them to end. Can you touch on where you’ve seen that impact either yourself or your clients?
Laurel Emory (25:17)
Yeah, absolutely. I have a client actually that we just went through this exercise within the last year and a half that he had a woman in his life that it was time to move on and he knew it intuitively and cognitively, but there’s that heart piece, right? That is like, okay, what? What does that mean for me and for her? And is this healthy for both of us and is this going where we want it to go? And again, kind of drawing from that purposeful and intentional, like, and going back to our conversation about the convictions and the values, does that relationship align with your convictions, your values, the intentions that you have, you know, for yourself? So very difficult to exercise for sure. And in that particular situation, because I am not a licensed therapist, I certainly advised that that he engage in some help in that regard because that’s a healthy thing to do as well. But certainly as something to consider and to be able to think through of, okay, what does this look like for me and what is going to be, again, healthy for me.
Todd Mosetter (26:31)
That’s a great example. And I know that a lot of listeners are probably dealing with heavy relationships like that, but even on a, on a more surface level, who’s your friends, your group? Gosh, challenging you. I think too often we end up surrounding ourselves with folks that just, if we’re being honest, probably don’t encourage or lift us up or push us the way we could, but we’re comfortable in those relationships and it’s so hard to take a critical eye to them, but so necessary.
We love self-leadership here at building champions. Yeah, we’ve talked a lot about self leadership proceeds, all other types of leadership, but I don’t want us to miss the opportunity to really focus on how this idea of necessary endings and having more margin really impacts your ability to lead others well, especially your team. Can you help us unpack that a little more?
Laurel Emory (27:18)
Yeah. I mean, I think we could talk about multiple different things in that, but I think a big one, kind of going back to the example of the lady client that I mentioned, like that was such a big component for her ever realizing that she was holding other people back from really utilizing their gifts and living into their gifts and skills because she was staying in control and she was the one who was doing all of the heavy lifting and keeping the responsibility and keeping the power.
And so just for us as leaders to realize that we are contributing to the success of our people by us backing off and us ending quote unquote our involvement in certain things and giving other people the opportunity to live into that and empowering other people and our team members to take on that responsibility to have some of that control over things.
Todd Mosetter (28:18)
I think that’s a great example. The other one that comes to mind from you, Laurel, is as a leader, if I’m so busy filling up all my available space with doing sometimes ending things can give me space to think. To have white space to have conversations with teammates to, to focus on strategy, to innovate, to you’re able to give more to your team and your organization if you have margin. So sometimes if we end something, it doesn’t mean we should naturally fill it with something else.
Laurel Emory (28:50)
Amen. Yes. Yeah. Leaving white space on the calendar is a good and positive thing for sure. I don’t, I mean I think, haven’t we all see in stuff that says, you know, Warren buffet and bill Gates spend four hours a day reading or you know, things like that and that those are not just silly cliché, you know, examples like those are real true examples that, that we should follow after maybe four hours probably isn’t feasible for most everyone, but just building in the discipline of allowing that space to be there so that we have time to think, to have a, you know, deep thoughts, time or deep work time for sure. I think we almost in that drive to be busy, we undervalue that sometimes.
Todd Mosetter (29:42)
All right. So let’s assume that we’ve moved people to a spot where they say, yes, I’m going to end some stuff. I’m cutting it out. It’s good for me. Yeah. So we now have this space like we just talked about, and the natural reaction is going to be the one to fill it and we’re going to get overgrown again. So are there a couple of practical tips or strategies that once I’ve gotten things trimmed down, how can I help ensure they just don’t get overgrown again?
Laurel Emory (30:01)
Yeah. So Daniel, in the, our first part of the segment, share it about just having a vision of what it’s going to look like going forward. So that is critical and crucial of just being able to have that identified, know what it is that you’re, you’ve aimed toward and you’ve now created it. And so you want to be able to have that as a something to check yourself against and to be able to say, yes, I’m living within that vision that I created for myself. So it can be that, you know, good. Just measure, measure for yourself. A second one is identify somebody who will partner with you in your new vision and what it is that you’re wanting this to look like for yourself. And somebody who won’t go easy on you, but that will actually look at you and be able to say, Laurel, you said that this X is what is important to you. And I see right now that you’re actually falling back into your former you know, method or mindset and you know, you need to correct that somebody that will actually be that, that firm with you or that helpful with you as a pretty big one. For sure.
Todd Mosetter (31:12)
I love those. One last one that would come to my mind is there seems to be a, a growing movement around grit and perseverance. And you know, we shouldn’t quit things, but maybe in the light of this conversation, maybe embracing the mindset of a quitter, not because something’s hard or not worth it, but if we’re always just trading activities, right? So if I’m evaluating taking on something else, so I’m going to let go of something. It’s a one for one and we never get that margin we talked about. Yeah, so maybe there’s some, some wisdom in just letting go of stuff even before it needs to be let go. Yeah, just being disciplined to say, I’m going to make sure I’m not holding onto things for the wrong reasons. Anything over done can be dangerous, but what if instead of using busy as a badge of honor, we started using, I’m a quitter as a badge of honor.
Laurel Emory (32:02)
I think there’s a book out there with that title by, I think John Acuff actually has a book called quitter.
Todd Mosetter (32:09)
Laurel, thank you again so much for taking time out.
Laurel Emory (32:11)
Daniel Harkavy (32:15)
Thanks so much to our guest, Daniel Leavell, for sharing his deep knowledge of forests, their relationship to fire and how these things can teach us something really valuable for how we need to bring things to an end and thank you for taking time to listen and learn with us. I hope you took away something valuable from this episode that will produce fruit in your leadership.
As a reminder, you can listen to other episodes and access relevant by visiting building champions.com forward slash podcast and we’d love it if you could share the podcast and leave us a rating or review. Doing so helps people to find us and it helps us learn what we’re doing well and how we can continue to grow and provide our listeners with content that will truly transform their lives and their leadership.
And a big thanks to Lucian Green who helps us with the research and the writing for the podcasts and my long-time friend Scott Higby, who does the audio and production and he has Studio C Creative Sound down in San Diego. Thanks again.