The Subtle Art of Saying No

Have you heard or read the following quote before?

"No is a complete sentence."

It’s much easier said (or read) than done, but it’s also critically important if you’re trying to be not just a productive leader, but an effective one.

As Les McKeown reminds us, saying yes to everything will keep you from success

And he offers four strategies for changing your behavior:

  1. Never Say Yes Alone.
  2. Never “Yes” Over Someone’s “No.”
  3. Never Out-Yes Your Team’s Yes.
  4. Master the “Silent Re-Entry.”
I encourage you to read the full post for details on each strategy — they’re so helpful! — but in this post, I’d like to explore the deeper consequences of saying yes to too many things (and therefore, showing up as less-than-your-best more often than you’d like).

Your approach and motivation for saying yes likely starts with your leadership style. 

  • Are you a Visionary who doesn’t mind risk and loves big, bold action?
  • Are you an Operator who is good at improvising just to get something done (and can then move on to the next yes)?
  • Are you a Processor who jumps at the chance to take an idea and systemize it and streamline it so it gets done “right” (by your own definition, at least)?
  • Are you a Synergist who naturally brings all of the styles together and keeps the overall team goals and needs ahead of any one individual?

Understanding what drives you to say yes in the first place can ultimately equip you with the questions, tools and follow-up to determine whether this “yes” is a good one…

…or one that will derail you.

Not sure what each leadership style is or how it shows up in both strengths and weaknesses?

Saying yes when you should say no — or even stay silent while others step up — can ultimately lead you to feeling burned out, uninspired, lethargic and creatively blocked.

And no matter what role you have now, your path to predictable success (and professional happiness) will certainly be delayed or even derailed, if you don’t address it as quickly as possible.

A recent study from the American Psychological Association found that:

  • 79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey
  • 36% reported cognitive weariness
  • 32% reported emotional exhaustion
  • 44% reported physical fatigue — a 38% increase since 2019

Burnout is NOT always correlated to the number of hours worked — many leaders who work 50-70 hours a week report feeling fulfilled and energetic, while others may be putting in much fewer hours but feeling more overwhelmed.

So, if you’re looking at your schedule or a to-do list that never actually gets to-DONE, you may want to consider thinking hard before your next “yes,” and considering what the consequences could be.

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