Short on letters; long on impact.
As leaders, we don’t like to hear “no.”
We want all of our ideas to be “yeses.”
Yes seems easier. Yes seems powerful.
But here’s a secret: “no” is where the growth is.
And if you’re not growing, you’re never going to become a better leader.
Here’s why it’s actually good for you to hear “no” more often.
Becoming a Better Leader: The Secret Benefits of Hearing “No”
1. It’s a sign of clear roles and priorities
We spend a lot of time in our organizations straightening out who should do what, when. There are whole departments and bundles of consultants totally focused on organizational structures, processes and project management systems.
And still, how work works inside our companies gets confusing.
So when someone you lead has the confidence and courage to come to you and renegotiate a new assignment, request, or project, you should smile.
It’s a good thing.
Because what just happened is that person showed you what they understand about their role, their priorities, and how they can make their best and highest contribution to the organization, in a way that works for them, too.
It also shows you they’re not working blindly, following any orders without consequence. They’re thinking. They care. They’re engaged.
Aren’t those the qualities you’ve been trying to build in your team?
Now, the request may also tell you where your team member is not clear on their top priorities, or doesn’t understand how the work at hand fits into the bigger picture.
Or it may tell you that you’re both seeing the request differently. For example, you think the project is made of just five steps, but your teammate sees forty-five.
Again, a good thing. Really. Don’t stress.
Conversation –and sometimes, conflict–paves the way to clarity. If you want to be a better leader, don’t shy away from those discussions.
2. It helps prevent burnout, overwhelm, and turnover
“My biggest fear is that my top people walk in one day and tell me they’re leaving.”
If you lead a team, surprise turnover may be one of your biggest fears, too. (If it’s not, it’s a sign you have the wrong team.)
As a leader, one of your best tools to prevent unexpected departures is to watch carefully for the terrible twins: burnout and overwhelm.
And your best, smartest performers are at the highest risk.
Yes, they’re the ones you love–because they always say yes.
But too many yeses soon becomes a danger zone.
Your people–especially your best people–need to know they can say no to you. They need to know they’ll have your support to figure out the right yeses.
People often say yes (or don’t say it at all, but just start pushing through the work) because they don’t realize they have another option. (Scripts and options here.)
When you create a relationship that allows room for a “no,” you’ve handed them a powerful tool to adjust their own pressure valves so that they don’t unexpectedly blow and make the decision that walks them out your door.
3. It’s reminder that you need to say no sometime, too.
As a leader, you’re human, too. You get asked to take on assignments, do reports, attend meetings, and do other wonky worky things.
But do ALL of these things matter?
Is the work aligned with your top priorities? Are these actions in your superpower space? Or are you, too, doing busy work?
Will anyone miss it if it doesn’t happen?
Or better, what more significant thing might happen in its place?
Our best leaders are role models for the behaviors and attitudes that make work work. Perhaps its time for you to work on your own use of the word no, and start setting the example for others.
(I’ve written here about what to do when you have too many priorities.)
YOUR TURN: How can hearing “no” help you become a better leader? Share your stories with us in email, LinkedIn or on Facebook.
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