Tech Leadership in So Many Words…#19 No

Andrew Weaver
August 28, 2023

My biggest flaw as an entrepreneur was a lack of judgment about when to say yes (a natural inclination) and when to say no (suffering from FOMO).

The uncertainty of start-up life meant that I wanted to keep all options open as long as possible which of course, proved completely counter productive as it diluted the narrow focus I needed for any kind of success.

The importance of judging how and when to say no is equally important in managerial and leadership roles because a key challenge we have as developing leaders is how to manage the people-pleaser element that doesn’t want to upset others or let them down, alongside that fear of missing out.

NO might be the smallest word we use, but it’s often the most important one to master.

As you grow into a strategic role within your organisation, the importance of time management, delegation and learning when to say no increases exponentially.

So what stops us from saying NO?

Often, it’s as simple as not knowing how to do it.

What’s the best way to tell people you don’t have the time, or it’s not a good idea or frankly, you just don’t want to do it?

One key consideration is not just saying no, but to explain why you’re saying no — what is the context behind your decision.

It helps if you’re working in a psychologically safe environment where mutual trust allows the team to feel comfortable about stating their capacity and ring-fencing their priorities.

Another key area is managing the iterative feedback loop with stakeholders where you’re under pressure to say yes but at the risk of trying to be all things to all people, an anxiety compounded by the power dynamic of a paying client?

The key is taking time to digest what you’re being asked and avoid rushing into a yes.

How do you say NO and mean it?

I leave you with six bullet points:

1. Learn how to say no politely. Be direct and stick to facts in your answer.

2. If an opportunity or meeting presents itself, before saying yes, ask yourself how much time it will require and whether the potential outcome is worth it.

3. Manage your energy. Understand the rhythms of your day; block out time when you’re most productive and protect it.

4. Prioritise, Prioritise, Prioritise… damn those “to-do” lists, but they are essential.

5. Protect your team. Say no on their behalf to ensure they’re not working over capacity.

6. Provide a role model that empowers others in the team to learn the art of saying no.

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself”

Paolo Coelho

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