A Leader Must Be Prepared to Say No

Leaders Should Not Say Yes Too Often

As a leader, you are tugged in different directions all the time. Some people want you to do one thing, and others want you to do something else. You are constantly being asked to do things that are outside the scope of your focus. And your default answer must be no.


It’s not easy saying no. But that’s why you’re the leader. It’s important for you to focus on where you know you need to go. You can’t do what others will suggest most of the time. That’s why you have to be prepared to say no most of the time.

There are three reasons why your default answer must be no.


1. Saying no raises the bar


If you’ve ever seen pole vaulting, you see how these athletes will take a running start, stab a pole in the ground, and then hoist themselves over a horizontal bar hanging between two vertical bars. The key is to go over the horizontal bar without knocking it down. What distinguishes pole vaulting athletes is getting over the bar even when the bar gets raised.

If you say no most of the time, the people around you will raise the bar for themselves. They will not bring cockamamie ideas to you. They will know that you will not say yes to just anything they bring to you. As a result, they will be more selective of what they suggest to you. They will have to make sure that it clears their own bar before they are willing to try to get it over your bar.

When people around you realize that you will say no to most things, they will realize they have to work harder to convince you that it’s the right thing to do. They will know that before they come to you, they will have to do their homework. You will get better and more thought-out ideas brought to you. They will know that your default answer is no, so they will have to work harder to make it a yes.


2. A default answer of no means a stronger yes


D.L. Moody said, “Give me a man who says, ‘This one thing I do,’ and not ‘These fifty things I dabble in.’” He understood the importance of having a default answer of no. He knew that the person who will say no to the fifty things will have a stronger yes to that one thing.

When you are in the position of always saying no, then it’s a big deal when you do say yes. That means you will be more committed to the few things that you say yes to. And you will avoid being pulled in many different directions.

When I work with clients on strategic planning, I tell them that the benefits of a strategic plan are manifold. Strategic planning helps you revisit (but not necessarily revise) your core fundamentals, i.e., mission, vision, values, customer, and purpose. Then based on those fundamentals, strategic planning helps you determine your priorities by evaluating your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. And based on your priorities, you can develop your goals and objectives for the coming years. As a result, strategic planning identifies the few things you will say yes to, and it gives you the perspective to say no to everything else.


3. Saying no protects what’s important


The Apostle Paul said, “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul had a singleness of focus which allowed him to say yes to the call of God and say no to everything else.

You will provide more stability to those around you when you are committed to fewer things. They will know your priorities, and they will know you can be counted on to protect those priorities. They are looking for you to provide direction. And they need to know that your priorities will stay fixed and they can rely on your leadership to be solid.

It is important for you as a leader to be consistent in saying no. People need to know to do their homework before they come to you. They need to know that when you say yes that you mean yes, and that you will definitively say no the rest of the time. Your team is counting on you.


Did you know …

I am an experienced facilitator who can help navigate you through the process of strategic planning and guide you through the successful completion of your plan.

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Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies improve their employee cultures to make the companies healthier, more productive, and more profitable.


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