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Leadership: What If You Said No?

What would happen if you said no? Would you begin to panic once you heard the words leave your mouth? Start to scramble to backtrack and end up doing what you said no to in the first place?

What would happen if you said no? Would you begin to panic once you heard the words leave your mouth? Start to scramble to backtrack and end up doing what you said no to in the first place?

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Part of my last piece about react vs. respond encompasses this very question. I watch clients every day react to being tasked with something they really can’t do. Either they are already so bogged down with work this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back or they have no resources to do it properly in the first place and no clear mandate as to why they have to do it. And yet they automatically say yes.

When I ask them the question, “What if you said no?”, most of the time the answer I get back is “I don’t think I can say no” or “It never occurred to me to say no or that I could say no!” or “I’ve automatically said yes for so long, it’s a habit and I’m no longer aware I’m doing it.

Think about it for a moment. Hasn’t that happen to you more than once when you wanted to just kick yourself?

What would happen if you pushed back and said “What can I drop in order to do this?” How many of you have the guts to say no, it can’t be done and not fear for losing your job? What does leadership have to ‘get’ in order to accept that not everything is possible right now? Once that tiny three-letter word (yes) leaves your lips, it’s rare you can go back, and yet isn’t this one of the quickest reactions of all jumping in without testing the waters first?

Has it ever happened to you and if so, what did you ultimately do about it?

This can be one of your most amazing learning curves. Not an easy one, granted, but definitely a steep curve. That dialogue has to happen. It has to happen when there are no pressures, as a hypothetical conversation that shows example. Then it’s much easier to implement when you have that dialogue to refer to. When you set boundaries and say no strategically, leadership will learn that you’re not saying no randomly. You’re saying it for valid reasons and unless there are some fundamental changes in the status quo there is no way you can do one more thing without burning out or burning everyone else around you and as well, giving shoddy results. Where’s the win-win in that?

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So how do you say no and not only live with it but thrive because of it, as saying no leaves you space to say yes to the things you should be doing. That’s what priorities are all about. Defining those priorities is one of the key skills of leadership. If they don’t know that, this could be a great learning curve for them as well.

Thoughts on this?

Donna Karlin • Executive and Political Shadow Coach™ • Ottawa, Canada • •www.abetterperspective.com

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About the author

Donna Karlin CEC, Diplomate IABMCP and founder and principal of A Better Perspective® & The School of Shadow Coaching, has pioneered the specialized practice of Shadow Coaching® with global political, government, business and senior organizational leaders in the public and private sectors. Donna capitalizes on almost 30 years of experience in coaching, consulting and training to help clients and their organizations evolve into their level of excellence

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