The Why, When and How of Saying no as a leader

If you want to be seen as a leader, you have to stop doing the things that aren’t in your wheelhouse or don’t need you, just need someone. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, so if you are still a person who thinks they need to do everything in order to be seen as a leader, this article is especially for you. If you know you have to say “no” and just don’t know when or how, you’ll love this too!

Why we can’t say yes to everything:

Let me tell you a story. Quite a while back as someone who was new to starting a business, a client of mine did all her own administrative work, networking, marketing, performing her services, and all the bits that come with business. She loved crafting her own schedule and offering the services she did, however, the invoicing, social media, sending out appointment information and the administrative things were stressing her out. When I broke down the time spent on tasks with her, it was easy to see that she could be more profitable and more focused on the tasks she likes, while off-loading or minimizing the pieces that stressed her out. It’s made her more excited about running her business which has her out talking more about it and networking more, getting more clients…  all of the things that are actually worth her time.

It’s not just about start-ups – big companies need focused leaders.

In bigger businesses, leaders can say yes far too often. Usually, they are compassionate leaders that want to help out the team by saying yes, or people who think by saying yes all the time that they are benefitting the company. The truth is, being overwhelmed and stressed is not going to help most companies in the long-run. Plus, leaders are more likely to be seen when they do one thing truly well rather than all the things just to have them checked off the list.

What happens when you say no:

  • You give someone else the opportunity to step up to the responsibility
  • Other people get to learn the skills that you have so you can let go of responsibilities that no longer excite you
  • You get to put your focus on what is most important or exciting for you
  • You enjoy what you do more because you say yes to only what’s important
  • People can easily describe you as a leader. (That’s Pete, he’s really great at helping us understand the finances of our company.)
  • You get more work-life balance
  • You say no to mounds of stress that come with a long to-do list of things you don’t care about and don’t like doing

That all sounds great doesn’t it?

Being known for a great skill, letting go of responsibility and less stress is the focus on any great leader. Saying no to more than you say yes to is how you become one. So I invite you to create a list — scratch that, make two. These lists will be boundaries to help you decide in the moment, whether you want to say No or Yes.

List 1: How I will know to say no:

List 2: How I will know when to say yes:

Here are some for me:

  • I will say no to anything that takes hours of my time and does not provide me with business or personal benefit.
  • I will say no to anything requires my time outside of 9-5 unless it is within my specific focus of business coaching, or has significant meaning to me.
  • I will say yes to speaking to people about coaching leaders as long as the financial exchange covers my time and travel.
  • I will say yes to only 4 free gigs this year as long as they are for causes or events that I fully support.

Learning to say no is a challenge for many of us who did everything to become a leader. Now that we are leading, it’s important to know our limits and focus on our strengths and the areas that are most beneficial.

Some ways to make No easier:

Simple No: While a straightforward no is often the easiest and most honest way, it may not always feel that way, or we might feel the need to explain. Try just saying “no thanks” and see if you can hold the space of not justifying.

Defer the decision: If you really don’t know if you want to say yes or no, or if the person is a little relentless, you can just ask that they wait until a later date for a commitment. Sometimes they find someone else in the meantime, or completely forget to follow up.

What you can offer: This one is helpful in close relationships when saying no or I can’t support you seems hard. Instead of saying yes, you can say that it doesn’t fit for you however, maybe you know who could help them or you could show them how to do it for themselves (if you can commit to that). “I can’t have that conversation but if you need my office for it, you can use it.”

Put it back on them: I would love to say yes to that and before I could consider it, I would need x, y, z information or commitments. Often when we ask for the other to do the first bit, the commitment can go away before it was even created.

No doesn’t have to a relationship breaker if we are compassionate and courteous about it. It means you take your commitments seriously and don’t want to chance ruining someone else’s project or outcome by making commitments you can’t give your focus to. No is a freeing word, if you let it be.

I have A free toolkit for you!

I’m offering a workbook to help you find the areas where you can implement more “no’s”. This workbook will help you dive deep into all the things you love, all the bits you don’t and what you could be saying no to.  It’s a free 5-page workbook to help you get clear of where your YES is most valuable.

Download it here.

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