When Less is More

Less is more - a hard idea for most people to embrace. We live in a culture that advocates the opposite. We falsely assume that more words, more activity, more things, more programs, more products and even more relationships will be a good thing. I’ve been as guilty as the next person on this one, but Henry Cloud helped me tremendously when he wrote Necessary Endings. He’s convinced me that a leader’s ultimate success will, in large part, be determined by his or her ability to embrace the idea that less is not only more, it is essential!

Here’s the metaphor that Henry uses throughout his book: pruning. Think about rose bushes. Have you ever seen a rose bush that has not been pruned? Chances are, it was not pretty, and the flowers were not the glorious variety you give someone on Valentine’s Day.
Here’s the problem, rose bushes, like people and organizations, can create more ‘buds” than we can sustain. In organizations, this can take the form of too many programs, systems, or products. In my life, it can be too many commitments, too many hobbies, even too many relationships I’m trying to manage. The antidote – pruning.
What do you prune? Here’s a quick summary of Henry’s recommendations.
Prune that which is already dead. This should be the easiest. It certainly is if you’re talking about rose bushes. The dead branches are easy to identify. However, when you’re talking about organizations, it can be harder; not necessarily the identification of the “dead,” but the leadership courage to prune them. Perhaps it’s a program or a product that’s become part of your culture. Maybe it was your idea to start with! Any of this scenarios makes pruning even the dead much more difficult.
Prune that which is so sick it won’t ever recover. Again, the judgment required to do this for roses may be easier than in our lives. Leaders are generally optimists. We want to believe the best. We want to believe that a failing business unit can be salvaged or an employee that has failed to grow can be re-energized. If something is sick beyond recovery, overall health will be improved if it’s pruned.
Prune the healthy that is restricting your opportunity to do something of greater value. Of all the scenarios that Henry describes, this is the ultimate test of leadership insight, wisdom and courage. We must attempt to discern when the good has become the enemy of the best. I believe this is what separates the top leaders in the world from all the others.
Keeping with the rose bush metaphor, pruning is not a one-time event. As long as we want to thrive as leaders, we’ll need to keep pruning.
Although countercultural and counterintuitive, less really is more. My recommendation is that you order Henry’s book today. Necessary Endings may be the most important book you’ll read for years to come.[GLS_Shield]
What do you personally need to prune in your life?

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Doug Smith

11 years ago

I am learning this lesson right now. I am about to get married and I will be starting a new season with what Bob Biehl would call a "new normal". As I enter this season, I am realizing how much I am going to have to cut out of my life. I remember Bob Biehl telling a story of his friend telling him about the best question he has ever asked himself. When Bob asked him what it was, the man responded, "What's important?" Bob responded, "What's important? Well, what's the answer?" The man said, "Less and less."
Thanks for this post! I'll pick-up a copy of Necessary Endings!


11 years ago

Doug, thanks for your comment and congratulations on the upcoming wedding!

Deepak Dhungel

11 years ago

This adds value if we wish to try for betterment.

Five Blogs – 21 July 2012 « 5blogs

11 years ago

[...] When less is more Written by: Mark Miller [...]

Dick Bowley

11 years ago

Thank you for sharing this message Mark. It is easy to prune someone else. It is my biggest challenge to prune myself!

Great Leaders Serve | By Mark Miller | Today’s Challenge: Leading a Turnaround

8 years ago

[…] on this topic is Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings. I wrote a post about it entitled, When Less is More. Every leader should read Henry’s book – […]

Great Leaders Serve | By Mark Miller | De-Clutter Your Leadership

7 years ago

[…] me remind you, I’ve written two other posts about this challenge: What Should I Stop Doing? and When Less is More. Both these posts may help you as you work to enhance your effectiveness by removing clutter from […]


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