There comes a time when letting go is necessary. The problem is that all too often ‘letting go’ is seen as capitulation, as giving-up and the lesser of the options available. We are usually encouraged to ‘hang in there’ and to persevere regardless of the situation –this we are told, is the essence of winning. The stories that are written are of those who hung-on and who never gave-up, those who fought to the end.
But ‘letting go’ is not necessarily giving up. There are times when letting go may take more courage than hanging on. Knowing when to let go is something that we all need to nurture, especially those tasked with the responsibility of leadership. If we do not let go, we make prisoners of ourselves.
In his magical book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, the late Gordon MacKensie tells the story of a dog he once encountered in a roadside restaurant he had stopped at on his way to a conference in Wisconsin, USA. Whilst having lunch he noticed a dog standing under a pool table at the far end of the room. Only the dog’s legs were visible and they were completely motionless. MacKensie recalls his intrigue with these legs that remained so still to the point where, on leaving the diner, he went over to the pool table to see for himself just what was going on.
There he discovered the dog with its jaws wrapped around one of the pool balls lodged in the pocket. MacKensie describes the situation as thus: ‘This dog had reached his mouth into the tough of the pool table and locked his jaws around one of the sunken balls. No way was he about to let go of his prize – but neither could he remove his mouth. His jaws, opened wide to accommodate the ball, were consequently opened too wide to allow him to escape from the confines of the trough. So there he stood, dead still, except for the now-and-then, hope-against-hope wag of his tail’.
There were some locals playing at the pool table and when Mackensie pointed out the bizarre behaviour of the dog, the locals simply shrugged and said that the dog did this all the time. They said the dog would sometimes stand for over an hour in that locked stance, hoping that someone would eventually play with him.
Letting go is sometimes necessary to moving on:
We need to let go our egos so that we can empathise with others.
We need to let go our biases, the cataracts that blur us seeing other realities.
We need to let go our past success so that we can build future success.
We need to let go our strategies, in order to be flexible, adaptive and open.
We need to let go what we know, in order to learn what it is we need to know.
We need to let go our grievances and grudges, so we can be free.
We need to let go our sense of normal, so we can discover other ‘normals’.
We need to let go our insecurities so that we can love and be loved.
I know of a few people who are facing a very uncertain future as they deal with life-threatening illnesses. In such circumstances sometimes (but not always), letting go is what is necessary.
Don’t let anyone tell you that letting go is easy. It is often the hardest thing to do and yet it is often the thing that we most need to do.
So what might you need to ‘let go’ of – in life and in your leadership practice in order to move on?
What is keeping you from letting go? Is it the fear of losing what you have or maybe the fear of what awaits? Either way, fear is a poor reason to be holding on.
Keith Coats, author of today’s tip highly recommends the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by the late Gordon MacKensie. Members of our Future of Work Academy can access our latest book review on this book, together with a discussion guide.