Saying “No” So You Can Say “Yes”

Last Updated: Oct 19, 2020 | Executive Coaching, Leadership

By Deborah Howard, PCC. One of the biggest challenges many of my clients who are senior leaders have is being able to say, “no” at work. They believe that to be successful and be seen as a high performer, they have to say “yes,” to whatever project is put in front of them. Sometimes, they even volunteer for projects they haven’t been asked to do. Then, unsurprisingly, they find themselves overwhelmed, stressed, and sometimes, unable to meet deadlines. As a result, rather than being seen as a high performer who can produce results, they are often seen as rushed, unavailable to their peers and direct reports, and unable to reliably meet deadlines. What’s worse, is they are unable to say “yes” to what may be more important to them in the long run.

In most cases, it is this willingness to take on so much work that brought them to their current leadership position. They performed well and produced excellent results. And as a result, they were promoted. However, while this strategy may have worked to get them to where they are, now, in their current leadership role, it is working against them. 

What I work on with these clients, therefore, is to reframe their definition of “success.” Rather than seeing success as being a worker bee, their success as a leader requires that they be able to prioritize, delegate appropriately, strategize, and enable their direct reports to succeed. We focus on the ways they are valuable and productive outside of the sheer number of projects they work on. 

So, instead of engaging in their knee-jerk response of saying “yes,” to whatever request is made of you, take a moment to stop and reflect on:

  1. What do you need to be to putting most of your time and energy into to be a good leader?
  1. How will saying “yes” impact the needs of your team and your overall goals and priorities? Will taking this work on impinge on the time you need to spend on more important projects?
  1. How might you say, “yes, but,” instead of “no.” It’s perfectly acceptable to make constraints transparent. For example. “Yes, I’d be happy to take this on. I just need additional time so that I can complete what’s already on my plate.”  Or, “I’d be happy to do this. However, I already have these other projects on my plate, how would you like me to prioritize them?”
  1. Whether there may be some alternative option that you can offer that will take less of your time and energy instead of the original request.

How can you begin to start saying “no” to what does not serve you, your team, and your priorities so you can be free to say “yes” to what’s most important? For more about prioritizing, read Arden Coaching’s “How to Get the Big Things Done!”

To learn more about how to say “no” so you can say “yes,” and other ways to further develop your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Deborah.

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