Why We Can’t Say “NO” and How to Find “YES”

Focus is finding a big “YES” and saying “no” a thousand times.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m learning to say, ‘No’.” They haven’t found their big “YES.”

 focus on finding a big yes

10 reasons leaders can’t say no:

  1. Unfocused values.
  2. Lack of courage.
  3. False belief that saying “yes” is nice.
  4. Societies expectations that women should be compliant.
  5. Fearful board members who play politics not business.
  6. Out of control desire to be helpful.
  7. Fear of missing opportunities.
  8. Need to please.
  9. False belief we can have it all.
  10. Love of money, power, and prestige.

Bonus: Leaders can’t say “no” if they don’t have a big “YES.”

Finding “YES”:

I asked John Bell if “yes” comes before “no.” He said, “Yes.”

The easiest way to find your big “YES” is trying things. You won’t find your “YES” sitting under a tree contemplating the meaning of your naval. Go do stuff!

Allow your big “YES” to find you while you’re busy. Start rejecting less meaningful activities. John Bell, wrote a book titled, “Do Less Better,” to enable business leaders to cut through complexity and find competitive advantage.

Find a big “YES” before saying “no.”


Every big “YES” includes doing things you don’t like.

I love meeting and learning from interesting people. Additionally, giving a presentation energizes me. I joke that I’m my own favorite speaker. But, I’m not so keen on getting on commercial airplanes.


Talk more about “YES” than “no.” Stop talking about what you aren’t doing. “Not doing” only works if you’re engaged in meaningful activity.

After “YES”:

John suggests three key activities after finding your big “YES.”

  1. Be strategically stubborn. Figure out how to make your “YES” happen.
  2. Stay passionate about specialization. Let others climb their mountain. You climb yours.
  3. Limit innovation to your specialization. Don’t chase every good idea.

How might leaders learn to say “no?”

What advice do you have for finding a big “YES?”


John R. Bell, the author of Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World, is a retired consumer packaged goods CEO and a global strategy consultant to some of the world’s most respected blue-chip organizations. He can be reached at www.dolessbetter.ca or www.ceoafterlife.com.

Follow John on twitter: @JohnRichardBell