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I had never really grown anything that needed pruning until a few years ago. We had grown four basil plants. At the time, it felt painful to prune. My son and I were so excited to watch this small plant had grown up, but then we had to cut away what had grown.

We didn’t want to. We feared we might kill it. Some of the plants we pruned less because it felt like we were hurting the plant. Over the following months, however, we observed the results. Those plants which we were diligent in pruning grew to be more healthy and more fruitful.

Around the same time, a series of medical problems had sidelined me significantly and caused a lot of physical and emotional pain. I had to do a lot less, say no to opportunities and people, step back from treasured hobbies, let go of many of my plans, and learn to endure patiently. God used that journey to prune me.

This process of pruning is painful, but it gives space for growth to occur.

Why prune?

Pruning reduces to allow for more. We need this because we are finite in multiple areas:

  1. Resources (money, time, talents, opportunities)
  2. Intellect (concentration, focus, intelligence)
  3. Capacities (physically, mentally, emotionally)
  4. Relationships (family, friends, teams, colleagues)

What does pruning do? It frees us up to invest in the best things.

In his book "Good to Great" Jim Collins says, "Good is often the enemy of the great." When you say yes to one thing, you often say no to something else. While you shouldn’t see everything as a zero-sum game, choices still need to be made. You need to consider how to steward both who you are and the things entrusted to you.

Though this process of pruning is painful, it gives space for growth to occur. It will take time, and there will need to be some endurance during this time.

One of the key characteristics of companies in "Good to Great" was their relentless focus. It came through pruning, choosing to do the good so they could achieve the great.

How to prune?

If you are to cultivate leaders, this pruning must first start with yourself. Consider what I call the convergence of design and opportunity.

God-given design in our lives includes:

  1. How has God made you?
  2. What talents, passions, or dreams do you have?
  3. What themes of redemption, love, and grace have been woven into your story?

God-given opportunities in your lives include:

  1. Who have you been entrusted to lead?
  2. Where can you make an impact?
  3. What are the needs around you?

A 5-day journey to living from your priorities

It’s easy to spend our day reacting to what comes at us. What if you could be proactive, intentionally making decisions based on your priorities? It is possible!

Our five-day short course guides you through the process of identifying your life priorities and scaling them day to everyday decisions. You’ll learn how to establish a rhythm to build good habits and grow a team that will be with you in the journey.

But what do I prune?

You prune structures, tasks, roles, really anything that is preventing you from reaching maturity.

When you see things that may need pruning in someone else’s life, you need to be careful. You don’t just come running at them with the proverbial pruning shears!

It’s likely going to be hard for them. Most people will need guidance, maybe some hard truth, and probably time to process. Come with questions to guide them to see the cost of their recent decisions, even if they are positive decisions.

Even when someone knows they need to change, it can still be challenging. Help the person envision the change and the result. Different people will be motivated differently. Some focus on long-term impact; others look for the immediate effect of the change. Some are driven by the practical, others by the impact on people and relationships.

A tool like Myers Briggs helps you understand what will resonate with a person to enable them to make a difficult but right choice. As an INTJ, long-term outcomes motivate me, and I want to steward well for the long term.

It is still their choice, and as adults, we must give them the space to take responsibility for their decisions. We can’t make it for them. We also want to come to this with humility and a learning attitude. The situation is probably more complicated than what we can currently see.

Pruning looks like death but brings life

A listening ear is vital. You and this other person are on a team together for a reason. You are purposefully part of one another's stories, and you have a role to play. Be sensitive and listen to understand their experience.

While serving overseas, I realized that some things needed to change in the ministry. There were attitudes and structures which had grown over time and were choking the ministry. It was being strangled and going to stagnate or die if nothing changed. As I began to prune, it felt like I was killing what was important to me; some even voiced accusations using that same vocabulary. However, today, I wish I had been bolder in my pruning. The overall size is much smaller, but it is healthier and more focused.

You prune key leaders because it will allow a higher capacity for growth. Sometimes a plant may die, and it will almost always look that way after pruning, but usually, it will come back healthier. Don't be careless, but also don't be afraid. Pruning is worth the cost and effort.

This process  of pruning  is painful but  it gives servant leaders space  for growth to occur.
What growth do you hope will come from pruning your leadership?
Fro a servant leader pruning  looks like death  but  brings life
Where do you need to prune in your leadership?


Want to know more about how to cultivate leaders? Download the eBook.


This post is part of my cultivating servant leaders guide where I share lessons learned from 20 years of leading and helping other leaders grow. You can explore other guides at everyday.design or download the eBook.