There seems to be a popular movement afoot that believes the word “no” is the super antidote to the far inferior word “yes.” There are many well known axioms espousing the benefits of learning to use the word no with greater frequency. In fact, there are some very bright people who believe you cannot become a good leader without developing a mastery for using the word no as evidenced by the following quote from Tony Blair: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.” I couldn’t disagree more…In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on what I refer to as the fallacy of no.
While inherently obvious, it should not go unnoticed that the use of the word no is 100% negative. The word no ends discussions, stifles creativity, kills innovation, impedes learning, and gates initiative. Put simply, the word no advances nothing, grows nothing, builds nothing and incentivizes nothing. No is not all it’s cracked-up to be…Still don’t believe me? Let me ask you a few simple questions: How do you feel when you’re told no? Does it leave you feeling inspired or dismissed? Does it make you feel like your contributions and opinions are valued? Smart leaders create and foster a culture of “yes” rather than use the word no as a tactical weapon just because they can.
Unless accompanied by a tremendous amount of reasoned dialog, the use of “no” is rarely informative much less instructive. Most leaders simply don’t take the time to have the needed conversation surrounding a no. Moreover, when those conversations do occur they tend to be focused on admonishment rather than teachable moments. Teaching someone how to get to a yes is one of the most valuable things a leader can do. It was Sir Richard Branson who said: “I have enjoyed life a lot more by saying yes than by saying no.” Saying yes is both valuable and fun, so why not learn how to help people to a yes?
Let me put it to you another way…If as a leader you find yourself always saying no, what does that tell you about your leadership ability? It means your vision is not understood, your team is not aligned and your talent is not performing up to par. It means you’re not teaching, mentoring, communicating, or leading. The perception that strong leaders say no and weak leaders say yes is simply flawed thinking. A constant stream of “no’s” is not a positive sign, it’s a warning sign that needs to be heeded.
I have found that the most common reasons people tend to cite in support of using no are as follows:
- Excuse: It helps to keep them from wasting time – Reality: For a leader to believe their time is somehow more important than other’s time is usually not correct, and is often the height of arrogance.
- Excuse: It somehow manages risk – Reality: A quick no often keeps opportunities hidden, creates information deficits, and causes blind spots – all of which actually increase the potential for risk.
- Excuse: It builds character – Reality: While it’s true adversity builds character, so does empathy and understanding. Life brings about enough adversity on its own – leaders who manufacture it as a teaching method have missed the point.
- Excuse: It helps them focus by not biting off more than they can chew – Reality: if your only way to prioritize is by saying no, then you are missing out on a lot of what life has to offer. Rather than prioritize by exclusion, use systems, processes, etc., to prioritize by inclusion.
While saying no might be more convenient, the aforementioned agendas are better accomplished with clear communication, effective collaboration, and prudent resourcing – not by saying no. Great leaders help people get to a yes - in other words, they teach them how not to receive a no. Rather than just kill something with a quick no, a good leader uses every adverse scenario as a development opportunity to help people advance their critical thinking and decisioning skills.
While I understand that there are times when using no may be your only option, those times should be the exception and not the rule. It’s also important to note that the use of “yes” and “no” are neither universally right or wrong, but there is much greater upside to enabling a yes. Bottom line…Yes is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of intelligent leadership. Next time you’re tempted to say no, do yourself a big favor and find a way to work around the obstacle and toward a yes.
What say you?