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.”
10 reasons leaders can’t say no:
- Unfocused values.
- Lack of courage.
- False belief that saying “yes” is nice.
- Societies expectations that women should be compliant.
- Fearful board members who play politics not business.
- Out of control desire to be helpful.
- Fear of missing opportunities.
- Need to please.
- False belief we can have it all.
- Love of money, power, and prestige.
Bonus: Leaders can’t say “no” if they don’t have a big “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.
John suggests three key activities after finding your big “YES.”
- Be strategically stubborn. Figure out how to make your “YES” happen.
- Stay passionate about specialization. Let others climb their mountain. You climb yours.
- 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
I prefer it is “possible”or “do able”. “No” tends to be written in stone and when dealing with clients they like solutions! Sometimes to many No’s will cost you the job. Learn to be selective when using “no”, sometimes you have “no” choice.
Thanks Tim. I hear you on the negative impact of saying “no” to someone too many times.
How very true…
I frame it this way – I’m not saying no. I’m just helping us move to a better “yes”. If we hit the big, big goals – our stakeholders will amost always be happy.
I like the acknowledgment that genders are often raised with different yes/no expectations. “Women Don’t Ask” is a great book about how to overcome high context speech and people-pleasing in the workplace. I recommend it! http://www.amazon.com/Women-Dont-Ask-Negotiation-Strategies/dp/0553383876
I agree that we need to learn when and how to say No. Many times, we invite trouble just because of not saying No, when situation demands. And you are right when you say, that there are lots of factors. In the organisations, one factor is fear from people who can influence your growth, many be board members. It is important to understand the personal situation and environment before saying either yes or no. When situation is shaky and environment in not responsive, then it is important to analyse benefit of saying yes or no. And one should go for better benefit. At the same time, when leaders are more prone to some situation, people or class, it is important to understand the decision decided by the leaders. In such situation, going with the decided decision is better option.
It means, individuals have their own limitation. I do agree that many times, such limitations are created by self. Similarly, organisations have its own limitation depending upon what kind of leadership exists there. I think it is important to take stand in the culture which is open, transparent and credible. Toxic culture and power centric leadership do not permit to express differing opinion. So, it is crucial to understand culture and leadership.
A company is on the path to specialization when it has said “no” to the right things. Coca-Cola, the beverage specialist said “no” to anything people could not drink. PepsiCo, the generalist is a beverage AND food company. Coke’s sales are lower than Pepsi’s but profit and market cap is higher. In-N-Out is a burger specialist with only 4 main menu items versus McDonald’s 100+. In-N-Out’s sales per outlet = McDonalds.
In a world full of yes men, saying NO is one of the hardest things to do. Great article
I love the “Yes” attitude! Asking a client, “What CAN you do TODAY that will move you closer to (solving a problem or achieving a goal)?” changes the mindset of an individual, team or office culture to a positive one. And, that’s when creative thinking can occur.
Another great article, Dan! Saying “no” helps to prevent the good from being the enemy of the excellent — the big YES.
A very ;good book entitled “Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life” proposes that we visual our work and limit work in progress to focus on completing our most important work and improving our throughput — measured by how long it takes to actually finish what we start.
The Project Manifesto offers four values that support accelerating throughput:
1. We value priorities over responsiveness
2. We value finishing over starting
3. We value speed over deadlines
4. We value shared goals over individual goals
Personal Kanban and The Project Manifesto offer effective approaches to to focus on the big Yes and to say no to the rest.
Dan, I have jokingly accused you on several occasions of having my office wired for sound. Now I am starting to wonder if it isn’t my head that you have bugged. (Oh my! If it is, you poor soul! 😃 ) Seriously, this is one of your instant resonance, immediate application posts destined for the Rock Wall. I see it working both ways for the servant leader. That is, finding the big YES isn’t just for the leader. It is his/her role to help their team members find that too. As always, thanks for the recharge.
Knowing when and how to say “no” is not just about strategy. Accepting too many tasks/orders can prevent delivering effectively on any of them, disappointing all of the customers.
I hear you, Douglas. Here’s the thing about strategy. Clear and coherent strategies tell people what “not to do.” Often, this cuts down on the number of tasks because they are outside of the strategy that everyone subscribed to.
This reminds me of one of the guidelines from Dale Carnegie in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. To increase your influence your goal is to get the other person to say yes. This occurs by asking questions or making suggestions that you know will result in a yes response 🙂
Good morning Dan
I truly believe the advice and direction in todays blog may very well be what separates good leaders form great leaders. Giving ‘The Green-Lite’ to beneficial organizational projects and ideas is no less important than ‘Pulling-the-Plug’ where effort and impact DO NOT align with vision or mission.
‘Time’ is an extremely important issue that leaders need to remain constantly aware of. Today’s business climate does not afford organizations the luxury of time to test every New-Idea. Although trail and error is probably the greatest way for us to learn what works, and what doesn’t work. There’s no guarantee time and effort won’t be wasted on idea’s that will never work.
(WARNING), Trail & Error ‘can be’ costly. It is so very important we choose ‘proven’ leaders that ‘objectively consider’ new idea’s and approaches (before) committing effort, energy, and often scare manpower to every project that come across your desk.
Leaders that learn to master the ability to “weed through the fluff” & focus on whats really important, expedite more effectively. They also eliminate effort and attitudes that hinder progress and organizational success.
“YES, or NO”, is sometimes a simple decision. But when leaders rush judgement without considering facts, implications to scarce resources, time constraints, and $COST$, “it often cost leaders there jobs while there organizations suffer.
Y E S , OR , N O… “Doesn’t seem quite so simple after all does it?”
P.S. Have you heard of, or know anything about ‘TEDx’? This is what I was referring to in regard
to auditioning for 10 minutes of ‘FREE’ Televised air time. The premise is, “If you were given
10 free minutes of Televised airtime, what would you share with your fellow man (that had the
potential), to enrich the lives of others?” I’ll give you one guess what my ‘topic of choice’ was?
As always, I covet your insight and advice…
There seem to be two sorts of problem people around this: those who cannot say “no” (often a subject in assertiveness courses) and those who work on the principle that “the answer’s no, what’s the question?”. The problem seems to be getting people to look at the position rationally and decide to say yes or no based on facts, business positions and reasonable considerations. It’s a big ask, I know…
“Societies expectations that women should be compliant.”
Talk about a hot button. Although more often then not, those expectations don’t come from “society,” but from women themselves, who will sometimes accept “no” more readily from a male leader than a female leader. I’ve seen this often, working in a female-dominated field. Your results may vary.
Saying no is what I am re
Retraining my colleagues especially when it comes to bullying and harassment. Thank you.