[Advice] Leadership Through a Positive “No”

Strategic, thoughtful leadership is all about saying “no.”

Most leaders don’t do this well and they don’t because they view the word “no” through multiple lenses:

  • They view “no” as a word of power, giving them control over a situation, a person, or an outcome.
  • They view “no” as a word of separation, giving them emotional distance and feeding into their fears about the outcomes, or consequences about a situation, or a person.
  • They view “no” as a word of delineation (which it is) and as a word of escape (which it isn’t).

Most leaders don’t focus on the positives behind the word no. Instead, they tend to focus on the negatives, leading to more conflicts, not fewer.

The positive version of “no goes something like this:

Thank you for coming to me with [insert whatever the topic is here]. No, I don’t have time to talk about this right now. But, please come back [name a definitive later time here] and I will talk with you then.”

Most leaders end the “no” process here (hoping that the other party will take the hint and just go away). Then, they never perform the necessary follow-up. Without the follow-up, a cascade of psychological and organizational issues arise. Plus, the leader’s commitment and consistency (mostly the latter) gets questioned by the person who brought them the request in the first place and the likelihood of another request coming to that leader to meet a potential “no” decreases exponentially, drip-by-drip.

People leave bosses and leaders, but they work for organizations and cultures. In a leadership scenario, where time is of the essence and where a “no” is the only way out, leaders must grapple with their own perceptions of the word, other’s perceptions of the word, and the outcomes that a “no” produces.

Otherwise, when it’s time to say “yes” to something else (either explicitly or implicitly) the leadership might look around and not see anyone following them.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
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