Saying Yes is Harder than Saying No

Don’t pat yourself on the back if you’re skilled at saying no and lousy at saying yes. Weak leaders hide behind bureaucracy and love making people beg.

The more times you say no, the more powerful and protected you feel.


“Definitely not,” is quicker, simpler, and easier than, saying, “Tell me more.” But…

A quick “no” devalues and deflates teammates.

5 reasons leaders consistently say no:

  1. You have the wrong people on the team. Leaders release the right people and restrict the wrong.
  2. You prefer the safety of the status quo. “Yes” upsets things.
  3. You haven’t clearly articulated mission and vision. Off-the-wall suggestions indicate the people in the ranks don’t see the big picture.
  4. You minimize the value of diversity.
  5. You don’t want to look weak by saying yes, too much.

The good side of “no” is it protects.

3 dangers of off-handed yeses:

  1. Diluted resources.
  2. Distracted focus.
  3. Divided energy.

Leaders who can’t say no end up over-committed, under-appreciated, and ineffective.

Saying yes skillfully:

Forward moving leaders embrace the inconvenience of exploring yes. But, saying yes to everything is foolish.

Rather than a quick no, explore yes.

8 questions to yes:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish?
  2. How does this align with mission or vision?
  3. Who does this idea impact? How?
  4. How will this impact what we are currently doing?
  5. What resources are required to pull this off?
  6. How does this move us toward simplicity and clarity? But, remember new ideas often feel complex at first.
  7. Is a test-run appropriate?
  8. How will we determine success or failure?

Leaders who say yes end up doing what others want. That’s a good thing.

Leadership tip: Save time and maintain stability by developing and distributing a series of questions that every new idea must answer.

Added resource: “The Idea-Driven Organization,” by Robinson & Schroeder

What does an “exploring yes” system look like to you?