John Maxwell’s Hatchet Committee
Frazzled ineffective leaders can’t say “no.”
Leaders who can’t commit to priorities end up over-committed to trivialities.
Over-committed leaders fall short of their potential.
Bag it before you snag it:
The power of “no” is it’s ability to create clarity by eliminating options.
Choose what not to do so you can decide what to do. Throw most options in the garbage before you decide which option to snag.
Progress begins by leaving things behind.
Come at decision-making from the back door. If you can’t decide which option to choose, eliminate less desirable options. Eventually – through the process of elimination – the best options emerge.
I asked John Maxwell how he made choices in a world full of options. He told me about the hatchet committee.
Maxwell in his own words (1:44):
If you can’t say “no,”, form a hatchet committee. Gather some tough-minded advisers, who don’t have a dog in the fight, and ask them which options are least desirable.
Don’t keep all your options open. Sometimes it’s easier to figure out what you don’t want to do.
A good “no” often reveals a great “yes.”
Tom Peters said, “What you decide not to do is probably more important that what you decide
Power of no:
A good no…
- Narrows focus.
- Eliminates waste.
- Maximizes energy.
- Clarifies results.
Deciding what to do is easier if you decide what not to do, first.
Stop and chop before you go and grow.
Today’s decision-making tip is, “Learn to eliminate options. If it’s difficult to say “no” on your own, form a hatchet committee.
How has the power of “no” helped you?
What decision-making tips for choosing between several options can you add?
Read John Maxwell’s latest book: “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership.”
Dan, learning to say “no” is an important discipline for all of us.
Proper and timely use of the word “no” can protect our integrity and enhance our reputation.
The word “no” may be the most important word in the English language.
Thanks for this important post!
Thanks Jimmy. You expanded the conversation which is something I really enjoy. Best
I’ve learned to love no. Saying no and hearing no. I get frustrated and lose confidence in those who can’t muster the nerve, vision, respect to tell me no. They devalue their own opinion by withholding what they think may be the unpopular portion of that opinion. We must lead with no. Streamline your goals by encouraging no in your organization and reap the rewards of not wasting your time on lousy ideas and activities. We must remove ego from leadership insofar as understanding that confirmation bias will feed your ego but starve your endeavors.
True, Serena. Learning when and how to effectively use “no” without destroying the moral of your fellow workers is what separates the good and effective from the bad and ugly. Unfortunately, I am a slow learner, but I am still working on it! I want to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday!
Great insight, Dan. Do you think culture and upbringing has an influence on our willingness to say “no”? In the Asian business culture (and possibly in the Western world too, in a subtle manner) the power of hierarchy often prevents people from saying no although that may be the right thing to do. I think your suggestion of highlighting options and pointing out disadvantages of those options to show what not to do may be very useful in such cultures.
Thanks Venki. Glad you brought up the idea that our views of authority make saying no difficult. I think in many Western organizations the hierarchy silences dissent. It’s not just Eastern culture. Power is hard to stand against when it signs your pay check in any culture.
It seems to me that saying No should be a part of the natural progression in critical evaluation of the strategy, and not just a desire to portray oneself as ‘decisive’. Some strategy options will be discarded through a train of logic thought, some through common sense and some through lack of resources.
The problem though is that when one says No, on should in fact say No, But…
The reason being is that as you said last year, Future rides on a horse called Innovation
One aspect of ‘corporate culture’, accentuated in the military, is that people think they are in ‘control’, and in leadership roles that offer the mandate to ‘command’ (direct) as the preside over the strategy process. But, in fact there is no way to control the emergence of innovation. Even the people that work in dedicated research don’t have a good control over the creative process because some of the greatest innovations were accidental.
Often what one said a No to last year because the best solution seemed unaffordable, inefficient and ineffective, becomes the best course of action when some ‘tinkerer’ way down the chain of corporate hierarchy discovers a way to do the ‘impossible’ that by experimenting in his or her living room. This is called – competitive advantage.
What was a No last year, becomes a resounding Yes. This is the value of agile leadership, the ability to look beyond constraints to exploit opportunities as they present themselves. Entrepreneurship is not limited to start-ups, but is in fact leadership opportunity SEEKING.
Doggedly pursuing a set strategy while ignoring all else is likely to result in watching others pass you by on the road to success.
So, No, But…
Thanks denpobedy. Interesting that you add innovation to the conversation. You might think of innovation as always saying “yes.” I’m a huge fan of yes…but somewhere along the path progress is enhanced by cutting free from too many options.
Your sign off, “So, No, But…” made me smile. Cheers
No is so negative. Is there really a progress through negativity?
In reality though options are choices, meaning a path, once chosen must be pursued to its logical conclusion…or a dead end.
Alternatives are the parallel paths kept in sight just as on proceeds along a prior choice, but always available for ‘switching tracks’.
The process after all is not about the process, but about the output.
It seems to me a categorical No is only warranted where implementing the suggestion would leave all involved worse off than they started.
This is such an important topic for leaders Dan, thanks for bringing it to the forefront. In my work as an executive coach I find that leaders who have difficulty saying “No” also has a problem when it comes to taking care of their own needs.
Their needs get put on an indefinite hold and they pay a price for it in terms of peace of mind, getting proper rest, exercise, family time, or the solitude they need.
Also, if we can’t say “No” as often as we need to, we might want to ask ourselves if it’s because our self-esteem is too tied to others “liking” us or to a sense of being over-responsible.
The mindset of “But they need me!” is interesting. As good as we might be, if we left this planet today, the world would find a way to go on and do quite well.
Thanks Alan. Connecting our inability to say no to needing approval is powerful and challenging.
“The world will find a way to go on…” 🙂
I am a big yes person should probably say no more often- hatchet committees seem like great food for thought. love maxwell’s ideas on things.
Thanks Adriana. I’m a big yes person too. Some of it is a passion to achieve and some of it is a need to please. Best wishes with your future nos.
When I was a professor, I always had the notion that when I had the opportunity I would make my faculty the hatchet committee and have similar groups among the graduate students and undergraduate students. I did that and you would have loved the uproar it caused! ;~)
Each group operated independently of the other two. Occasionally, the faculty and graduate students or the graduate students and the undergraduate students would decide that what was being discussed was so important that they wanted to discuss the matter in a group of the three committees and asked me to be present. In those four instances, each group made a presentation about what they believed were the important points on which to base the decision and were stunned when I asked them to take a vote of all three groups and to give me the breakdown simply between the yesses, noes, and maybes/uncertain without respect to which group had cast which votes.
It was clear that the majority wanted to do the same thing I had in mind, but I didn’t say that until after they closed the discussion and took the vote, when I observed to them that, as a graduate student I’d served on a similar committee and proposed that a college-wide curriculum be completely pass/fail with an evaluation letter written by each professor for each student in his/her classes. That college which was founded with the curriculum we proposed and, with a complete pass/fail system, is still running today on the pass/fail system.
I’m also pleased to say that the faculty with whom I’ve served and who received their undergraduate educations at that college were and are among the most highly skilled teachers I’ve ever had as fellow faculty members. Further their students always made the most lively comments on curricula that it’s ever been my pleasure to listen in on. The point is that leadership almost ALWAYS comes from those being led when they’re given a chance which bodes well, at least in my view, for the future of higher education in this country.
I’m jes’ sayin’….
Thanks V. Wonderful story and illustration of inclusive leadership. I’m with you flat is usually better than hierarchical. I look forward to hearing more of your experiences.
As usual as excellent post. Sometimes you have the power of “no” thrust upon you and I have had to watch from the sidelines for the last months while doing my own thing. I haven’t been idle and have had a very productive time with my writing and photography but found it too difficult to work with the chaos of others.
During this time, I was reminded of how Michelangelo fashion David out of that infamous block of marble. It was by subtracting the excess stone to reach his vision, not constantly adding to it. Finding clarity.
This is much harder to achieve in practice with so many competing demands for our time. Discernment being a much needed skill.
I intend to print this post out.
Thanks Roweeee. Congrats on putting “no” into practice. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I find little bits of “no” on a daily basis. I watch how my schedule is put together, how much I’m taking on myself and how much I’m giving to others. Even so, things get pretty hectic. Time to say yes to saying no.
An interesting & useful post! The best way to say NO is to go with your day’s plan and priorities. People don’t feel bad if the refusal comes with a reason and conveyed with politeness. However, work place priorities are at times decided by your seniors and saying NO is difficult! Yet, create your own identity of reasoning out if you are preoccupied. Even the bosses do appreciate of your not agreeing things at the first instance.
Do what you like or supposed to do and have the courage of disappointing few for the sake of your own happiness and ensuring the productive use of time.
Thanks Dr. Asher. You are so right. Saying no to a boss is really tough. I remember the first time I said no to a boss. It was surprising because I was always a “yes” person. Frankly, I should have brought up issues way before they built up and I felt the need to say no. (That’s another issue)
Saying “No” can be hard sometimes but we need to do it as you point out Dan. John Maxell’s advice is a great guide to know when to say no so we can be helpful..
Thanks Tom. I enjoyed learning from John. Stay tuned. More to come.
This is spot on thanks for the insight. There’s a sales corollary to this as well. Get your customer to say no as fast as possible. You can then find out what it would take for them to say yes.
Thanks Ian. Cool insight. Identify the concern/no so you can address it.
I’ve struggled with saying “no”. If you do not say “no” to some things, some people will take advantage of you willingness to do everything whether it is your responsibility or not. If you are not confident in who you are and what you stand for … you’re apt to say “yes” to please others. Know yourself thoroughly and know what your limits are. Before saying “yes”, examine your priorities and your capacity to take something on without over extending yourself. You want to optimize the quality of your work … saying “no” is like weeding a garden to make sure that you have the strongest growth as a leader.