The Power of ‘No’

You can’t say “yes” to everyone and everything.

On some level, we all know this to be true. Yet many executives, business leaders and managers seem to have a “yes” addiction.

And that can create all kinds of problems for your business, your employees, your schedule, and your mental health.

I completely get how it happens. You adopt a service-mindset early on because great service is how you generate engagement with any stakeholder you’re dealing with – whether it’s a current customer, potential client, professional in your network, or a staff member. “Yes” essentially becomes the answer to every question asked and every idea posed.

I can say I have absolutely seen people build successful businesses based on this principle and mindset. But I’ve also seen a fair share of those businesses flame out as their leaders burn out.

Do you have a tendency to say yes only to end up feeling either overextended, resentful or quickly full of regret? Beyond a commitment to service at all costs, here are the two other main reasons why I believe most people can’t easily say no – along with some tips on how to make a change.


When you’re not crystal-clear on your core business objectives, then anything and everything could potentially be a “yes” – even risky distractions. The problem is that if you’re saying yes to things that are not in alignment with a well-conceived overall plan, you’re likely wasting time, money and resources on pursuits that are, well, not really worth pursuing. While it may sound counterintuitive, a truly great new idea can burden your organization if it’s not a great new idea that’s also steeped in strategy.

How to fix it:

  • Reexamine what matters most to your business (and you).
  • Aim to firm up any objectives that are vague or squishy.
  • Remember that investing time into casting a clear-eyed vision and committing it to paper in detail is a key habit of the most accomplished, results-oriented leaders.
  • Don’t succumb to shiny object syndrome.
  • Forget the fear of missing out (or “FOMO” as the kids say). Give yourself permission to potentially miss out on some projects, events or business endeavors that end up being a success. And then be OK with it.


Rejection often begets rejection. Knowledge of this can lead some people – yes, even high-powered business folks – to say yes simply because they aren’t fully comfortable with A) disappointing others or B) being disliked for a decision. For a great many people, social acceptance issues didn’t vanish once they found success.

How to fix it:

  • Look in the mirror and ask yourself if pleasing people has been a long-time tendency or if it’s currently a theme running through other areas of your life. If so, explore why that might be with a business coach or therapist.
  • Value the benefits of efficiency and focus over the need to be seen as “accommodating.”
  • Accept that regardless of how high an achiever you are, you simply you can’t do it all and you can’t be all things to all people any more.
  • Practice saying no. Start small if need be. Turn down a networking event you’d normally attend. Or tell an employee that, unfortunately, no you can’t delay the start of a team meeting for 10 minutes because they got stuck in traffic. The goal is to start to break the reflexive impulse to say yes even when it’s inconvenient or strategically unwise.
  • Be respectful, but recognize that saying no doesn’t require an immediate apology.

The bottom line: Time is money, invest wisely. Don’t be afraid to say yes to no.

For more business leadership advice, check out my Day in a Canoe podcast now!

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