Say “No” More Often
No one likes to say “no.” Whether it’s “no” to joining some board next year or “no” to taking on additional responsibilities in your leadership job, saying “no” can be tough. But it may be the best word you can learn to say this year, particularly if you’re feeling overcommitted, spread too thin, and all over the board in terms of where you’re spending time, energy, and other precious resources. So how do you know when it’s time to say “no”? Try developing a litmus test to help you make your decision. For example: Does the request align to your Vital Few? Or does it support your vital goals or vision as a leader? If the answer is “no” to either or both questions, then take a rain check on the request, say “yes” but delegate the commitment to someone else on your staff, or just say “no,” period. One of the great skills that many leaders could stand to strengthen is saying “no.” Do this right and you will discover you can then say “yes” more often to what is vital and do a better job focusing on whatever that is.
Here are three areas in which you might need to say “no” more often:
Solving people’s problems. This includes doing the jobs of others, everything from tangible, physical tasks to problem-solving for them. For example, if you feel like your staff members are always dumping their problems on you and expecting you to solve them, start pushing the problem-solving responsibility back onto your people. Make it a new rule that if they plan to bring you a problem, they must bring you several viable solutions along with that problem. Also, explore time-sucking tasks that your direct reports could take on for you, as an opportunity to free up your time and to enable these staff members to get out of their comfort zone, develop as professionals, and expand their skill sets and talents.
Serving on committees or boards. How many boards and committees do you sit on today? If it’s more than a few, it’s probably too many, particularly if they’re not related to what’s vital in terms of your leadership goals, your company’s mission, or your personal values. It’s possible that you may need to quit a few of those positions or say no to the influx of requests because chances are, as a leader, you probably get asked to serve on boards and committees on a fairly regular basis. If you don’t want to quit but aren’t sure how to manage making all those meetings and responsibilities, once again, here’s a great chance to delegate. For example, one government department head, realizing his staff member was totally capable and excited about participating in higher-level meetings, recently assigned her to step in and represent him as the department head. She expanded her professional reach, and he was better able to focus on more leadership-centric responsibilities.
Adopting new, “great” ideas. A great idea without a proper plan for execution and the right resources to implement and execute it from start to finish isn’t much more than a dream. While you want to remain open and excited about new ideas, watch out for the tendency that many leaders have to jump on an idea, get emotionally or otherwise invested in it, and then have it fail because they can’t execute it properly. Learn to say “no” or at least question great ideas if you aren’t 100% sure that they can be implemented and executed well, e.g., through a strategic goal-setting system that will track and uphold accountability. But learn to say “yes” to those you can, making sure you’ve got all the right resources available to put your plan into action and drive it to a point of success.
When have you recently said “no” in your leadership career–and why?