“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” — Tony Blair
I’m not sure if I ever thought about leadership in exactly that way, but that’s pretty much it, isn’t it?
Of course, it can be difficult to say no to people. Maybe you learned growing up not to refuse requests, that you would be a good person if you help anyone who needs your help, that you should be generous, cooperative, and selfless.
But the fact of the matter is the inability to say no interferes with your ability to be a great leader.
Leadership is about having a vision, creating a system and a plan for making that vision a reality, and going for it.
When you say yes to everyone and everything, you distract yourself from the real goal. When you say yes all the time, it impacts every aspect of your life, personally and professionally: your leadership, time management, communication, relationships, health, finances, and whatever else you have going in your life.
Leadership is about having the courage to act in spite of the fears you may have. It’s about being able to identify what you want in your career and your life without apologizing for it and without reducing yourself because of what others may think about it. It’s about making sure you’re doing the right things for your organization and for your team.
So often, saying yes is your way to avoid uncomfortable situations, to avoid getting after what you truly want, to avoid facing yourself and your deepest fears. But you also know deep down that saying yes to everyone and everything is a guarantee that you will not succeed.
A key ingredient to being able to say no and strengthening your personal and professional leadership is focus. Once you have in place your vision and goals, you judge the requests for your time, money, and energy based on whether they will help you reach your goal.
The struggle comes when your feelings, emotions, fear, and past conditioning get in the way. You will rationalize, justify, and otherwise find a way to say yes if that’s been your mode of operation for most of your life.
But consider this: you will actually go much farther in reaching your goals and will probably help a lot more people along the way if you say no when you should than if you say yes to everything.
I’ve found that a major difference between successful people and the rest of us is that they know how to say no. They do the difficult thing because they know saying yes is easy but it doesn’t necessarily get them closer to their goal.
Think about where your time, money, and energy go. Think about what you have in your life right now and what you wish you had.
Now put the two together: Do you not have what you want because you’re saying yes to the wrong things and the wrong people? Is your decision making wrapped up in fear of failure, fear of what people will think about you, fear of not being enough?
Exercise a new kind of personal and professional leadership. Say no politely and effectively when you need to, when those requests being made of you don’t get you any closer to your goals.