The Cost of Withdrawal


How long is your list? How many Post-It Notes adorn your computer monitor? How many slips of paper are being shuffled around on your desk? Nearly every leader I know has a list of things to do, responsibilities, and commitments that is inhumanly long. The only possible way to overcome the list would be for time itself to stop, while you get to continue on for a few days, or more, getting things done. That’s not reality though.

We’ve all been in this situation. In fact, I’ll bet that most of you have occasionally found the oldest things on your list and just crossed them off, as if they were done, while thinking, “If no one has noticed by now this isn’t done, no one will ever notice.”

This isn’t a new scenario. Leaders have always been overwhelmed with “the list.” However, as I was lamenting with a fellow leader this past weekend, technology has made it worse. Cell phones, mobile computing, and remote computer access all exacerbate the problem by making it a 24/7 phenomenon.

Currently, I am reading Robert Greenleaf’s classic text, Servant Leadership. Among several great insights in the first chapter, Greenleaf addresses the importance of the ability for leaders to withdraw to “sort out the more important from the less important—and the important from the urgent—and attend to the more important, even though there may be penalties and censure for the neglect of something else”.1 It is that last part, that I think leaders struggle with most.

Good leaders know the value of stepping back, withdrawing for a while, and resetting the compass. They understand that life gets cluttered, very quickly, and that we must frequently reconnect with what’s important (values), why we do this (mission), and what the payoff is (vision).

However, they intuitively understand there is also a cost for doing so. They know that when things get added to the “Stop Doing” list, there will be backlash. (See my article, “Stop Singing.”) They know that the next time they say “No,” heads will turn. They know that when things get delegated to junior leaders, there is a risk involved.

Here is something new to consider: What is the cost of not saying “No”? What is the cost of not delegating? What is the cost of letting that list get longer and longer?

Is your marriage worth it?
Is it worth missing your kid’s concert?
Is it worth another heart attack?
Is it worth being so overworked that your effectiveness and output is actually reduced?

What is one thing you can stop doing today that will help you refocus on what’s important—no matter the cost?

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo “Filey Compass” by John Cooke. Available at

1: Greenleaf, Robert K. Servant Leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1977, p. 33.

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