How to Say No Like a Leader

Tony Blair said, “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.”

Warren Buffett’s success is attributed to saying no to a thousand deals in order to say yes to a few profitable opportunities. Buffett is credited with saying, “All I have to do is say yes four or five times in my life and I’m a billionaire.” (William Ury on Youtube.)

Danger of yes:

Saying yes – when you should say no – dilutes your leadership and distracts you from what matters.

Saying yes when you should say no is:

  1. Frustrating.
  2. Contemptuous of yourself.
  3. Disempowering.
  4. Scornful of your values.
  5. Disrespectful of your time.

It’s never fulfilling to live someone else’s life, but that’s what happens when you can’t say no.

Saying yes when you should say no lets others steer your life.

Note: Leaders often need to respond to others and meet pressing needs. I’m not suggesting you shirk responsibility by saying no.

Driven by yes:

A good no is about saying yes to what matters.

Let no flow from yes.

I recently finished, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, by William Ury. (Recommended reading.)

William Ury suggests the No Sandwich.

  • Yes. I have a very important family commitment this Saturday.
  • No. I can’t work this Saturday.
  • Yes. I can work late on Monday and Tuesday. I’ll get some colleagues involved. We’ll get the work done.

William Ury quotes:

“Saying no is today’s biggest challenge.”

“Perhaps the biggest obstacle for people in the process of getting to yes is that we don’t know how to say no.”

“True leadership is not so much about saying yes. It’s about saying no.”

“The key to success is saying no to many things and saying yes to what matters most to you.”

What keeps you from saying no?

What suggestions for saying no in a positive way do you have?