Good leaders know how to say no


Bill has been struggling in his new Vice President role.  Three high profile projects have gone south under his leadership in the last 4 months. The COO and CEO are beginning to question their decision to promote him.  A self-professed people pleaser, Bill’s long hours and dedication come from a deep desire to prove his worth.  Then, up came an opportunity to participate in a 6-month leadership program put on by the international association that Bill’s company is a member of.  Bill sees this as a great chance to network with others, and learn new things about the business. But, truth be told, Bill is concerned how he will be perceived if he doesn’t attend this program that will require his focus and a lot of his time.

Rachel is a full professor at a prestigious healthcare organization.  Throughout her training and career Rachel has always done what she was told to do. She sought out opportunities and did them well.  She has paid her dues, and it has paid off.  Offers for membership into high profile committees and projects have started pouring in.

Both Bill and Rachel have tough choices to make.  Bill is at risk of damaging his reputation by taking on an intense training program, while Rachel could easily overcommit herself into a state of burnout. Both are motivated to do well and prove themselves, but both need to learn when to say no.

Saying no is one of the most important, and often hardest, things young leaders have to do. It’s an admission of one’s limits and fallibility.  In a world where all requests are met with a “yes,” everything is a priority; and an over-reliance on willpower is a recipe for unnecessary stress and failure.

Bill should say no to the training program, focus on getting his arms around his new role, and start approving of himself instead of seeking the approval of others.  Bill’s self-worth needs to be under his control instead of the control of others.

Rachel should carefully choose these new opportunities based on her passions and turn down those that don’t align with her career goals. She’ll have to discover and respect her limits and realize she doesn’t serve anyone well if she doesn’t serve herself.

The drive to succeed in only as good as the ability to make sound decisions.  It often comes down to knowing when to say yes and when to say no.