I’ve talked a lot about the importance of making it safe to say no. If the people in your team don’t feel safe saying no, you have no idea what you can trust. They only have the option of giving you a yes, whether they mean it or not. Saying no came up in an interesting conversation this week. The leader was reluctant to say no. They wanted to be viewed as flexible and accommodating. This is a fine reputation, but at what cost?
When the leader has to say no
The conversation allowed us to explore the situation where it is the leader who is the one to say no. How we show up in everyday interactions trains the people around us how to work with us and get what they want. If the leader usually says yes, they are in effect training the people around them to make more requests of them. This usually doesn’t end well with the leader and their team becoming overwhelmed, as they try to do all the things they’ve agreed to.
The answer isn’t to gain a reputation as an unhelpful person who always says no. In this situation, people will work around you, for example going straight to your team or through your boss. The answer is to consciously start saying no more often, including to some things you can do but seem to be of lesser value. By saying no you are adding tension to the system. This tension creates enough of a challenge to weed out the things other people aren’t comfortable being challenged on. This is usually the things that have questionable value and are nice to have, but not important.
Supporting your team
There is an added bonus when you start saying no more often. Your team will see this and begin to follow your lead. They will also feel you are supporting them because everyone has more than enough to do these days.
One last thing. Don’t forget to check in with your stakeholders and ask for feedback. Don’t tell them you are saying no more often, ask general questions and listen to their responses. Use their feedback to adjust your approach. If you don’t hear anything about it, maybe you can say no a little more often?