Great Leaders say "No"

We talk about credibility as a cornerstone of leadership.  Clearly, if you don’t buy that the leader is authentic and reliable, you will not follow them.  The problem for many of us is that reliability can be hard to deliver.  Some leaders are naturally organized and consistent and tend to get stuff done in an efficient manner.  I, on the other hand, have the best of intentions and try hard to be organized and still sometimes I don’t deliver on my promises.  I have noticed that there are several reasons why this happens:

1.       I get excited about a new project and leave the less interesting tasks for “later”.  We all know that later never arrives.

2.       I want to help everyone so if someone else needs help in a hurry I drop what I’m doing and jump in to help.

3.       I generally do a poor job of keeping track of all the tasks I need to do and I’m overly optimistic about how much I can get done.  I just take on too much.

So I try to use the magical word “No” to help me with this problem.  I say ‘No” to myself when I find myself drawn to the fun and sparkly tasks, rather than the mundane but really important (often overdue) tasks.  I say “No” to others when I feel the need to help is trumping other important promises I have made.  This is a tough one for me as the need to help is core to my being.  What helps is that I keep in mind that I’m not the only person on earth who can help in this situation (my ego gets in the way here) and I try to problem solve with the person about who else could help them, or what other options they have.  I’m still helping but I’m not making myself the point person.  This enables the person to be more self-sufficient and in the end if far better for everyone.  Finally, I just say “No” to non-urgent and less important projects or tasks so that I’m not taking on more than I can do. 

I recognize that not delivering on my promises is not a minor issue.  This is the basis of my credibility as a leader and cannot be taken lightly.  When you think about the saying, “Do what you say you will do”, it is an equation with two parts.  You can manage the doing (and you must) and you can also manage the saying.  You can say “No” as a way of ensuring that you can deliver on the doing and become the credible leader you strive to be.